Classic Yankees: Mike Mussina

New York Yankees pitcher Mike Mussinaeditor’s note: Mike Mussina got quite the standing ovation when he went out to the mount to throw out the first pitch yesterday, so we though our readers might enjoy looking back at his career with us. So enjoy while Mike takes a look back at the man ESPN NY recently named the no. 50 greatest Yankee of all-time.

Williamsport, PA is the home of Little League baseball. One member of their international board of directors is Mike Mussina, who lives in Montoursville, not far away. Montoursville is a small town. So small that you could take the population of the town, put all the people into a sold-out Yankee Stadium, and that population would be just about 10% of the total attendance. Although Mussina hit the big-time, he never left Montoursville and still lives there today.  Montoursville became famous worldwide when, on July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded off East Moriches, New York, with the loss of 230 lives. On board were 16 students from Montoursville High School and their five adult chaperones that were on a class trip to France as part of a student exchange program. Buster Olney wrote about that tragedy, and how it affected Mussina, in a 1997 article (open the hyperlink for the article, which I encourage you to read).

Mussina won 20 games for the first and only time in his major league career in 2008. He then retired, becoming the first pitcher to retire after a 20-win season since Sandy Koufax did so in 1966. It also happened to be the final year of the Old Yankee Stadium. The one thing Mussina wanted as a remembrance was the flagpole. I haven’t driven past Williamsport or Montoursville in a while (I used to drive past there as I made my way from the Lehigh Valley of PA to Penn State University) but wonder if that flagpole has been erected. It would be great if you could actually see it from I-80.

Mussina will throw out the honorary first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day this year. With the questions surrounding the Yankees’ starting rotation, there are already jokes about the 42 year old Mussina auditioning for the #5 spot in the Yankees’ rotation with the pitch.

What Mussina could be doing instead, is an early audition for Cooperstown. It will be a close call.

Mussina won at least 11 games in 17 consecutive seasons, a record. He won 270 games, was a five-time All-Star, won seven Gold Gloves, and was steady as she comes from 1991 to 2000 with the Orioles, and 2001-2008 with the Yankees. Should the “Moose” get elected into the Hall of Fame, the choice of his cap could be a very interesting one.

Mussina was a very intellectual athlete, graduating from Stanford with an economics degree. He was known to love doing crossword puzzles in the clubhouse.

His rookie year was 1991 for the Orioles. He started 12 games, and although his record was just 4-5, his ERA was a superb 2.87 (ERA+ 139). The next year, in his first full season, he went 18-5, 2.54, ERA+ 157. His winning pct. led the majors. He was an all-star, finished 4th for the CYA, and 21st for the MVP. What an introduction to AL batters.

1993 brought a 14-6, 4.46 record, ERA+ 100. Still, he was an all-star.

In 1994, “Moose” went 16-5, 3.06, ERA+ 164. If not for the strike, Mussina might not have had to wait until his final season to become a 20-game winner. His ERA+ was 164. He was once again an All-Star. Mussina finished 4th in the CYA voting (which he never won) and 20th in MVP voting.

1995 and 19 wins (although a 20-game winner only once, he won 19 twice and 18 three times). His record was 19-9, 3.29, ERA+ 145. He led the majors in wins. Once again, his bid for 20 wins was thwarted, this time by a 144 game season due to the remnants of the 1994-1995 strike. It cost him three or four starts. Mussina led the majors with four shutouts that year, led the league in walks per 9 inning ratio, and finished 5th in the CYA voting. It was Mussina who started and won the game in which Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak.

Mussina made his first postseason in 1996 after a year in which he once again won 19 games (the Orioles’ bullpen blew what should have been Mussina’s 20th win). The ERA was a bit high, 4.81, ERA+ 103. He led the majors in games started with 36. Despite the ERA, he still finished 5th in CYA voting, and won the first of his seven Gold Glove Awards. In the postseason, he had a ND (6 IP, 4 R, 3 ER) against the Indians in the ALDS. He started Game 3 of the ALCS against the Yankees and took a 2-1 lead into the 8th. He got the first two men out. After that, the Yankees exploded. Jeter doubled. Bernie tied the game with a single. Tino doubled and Bernie scored on an error by 3B Todd Zeile. Fielder homered. Mussina was pulled. The 2-1 Orioles’ lead became a 5-2 Yankees lead. Mussina went 7 2/3 and got the loss, giving up the 5 runs. It was in the middle of that year when Mussina’s hometown suffered its tragedy.

Mussina went 15-8, 3.20 in 1997 with an ERA+ of 137. All-Star, Gold Glove and 6th in the CYA vote. He had a superb ALDS vs. the Mariners, winning both starts. Both times he outpitched Randy Johnson. He got no decisions in his two ALCS starts, despite pitching to an ERA of 0.60. Mussina couldn’t pitch any better than he did. In Game 3, he gave up just 1 run on 3 hits in 7 IP. He walked two and struck out 15. In Game 6, he tossed eight shutout innings, giving up just one hit, walking two and striking out 10. Despite his efforts, the Orioles lost the ALCS.

In 1998, Mussina went 13-10, 3.49 (ERA+ 130) and won another Gold Glove. In 1999 he went 18-7, 3.50, with an ERA+ of 134. This brought another Gold Glove, another all-star selection, and a second-place finish to Pedro Martinez for the CYA. 2000 brought a losing season of 11-15, 3.79 with an ERA+ of 125. Despite the losing season, Mussina finished 6th for the CYA, and led the AL in IP.

He then became a free agent and the Yankees won the bidding.

Mussina rewarded the Yankees in 2001 by winning another Gold Glove, finishing 5th in the CYA voting and going 17-11, 3.15 (ERA+ 143). Down two games to none against the A’s in the ALDS, Mussina turned in one of his signature Yankees’ moments, tossing 7 shutout innings in what would be a 1-0 Yankees win. Mussina gave up just 4 hits. The Yanks got only two hits themselves, but one was a HR by Jorge Posada. This game is remembered for Jeter’s flip to Posada to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate. Mussina went on to beat Seattle in the ALCS, pitching 6 innings and giving up just 2 runs. He finally made it to the World Series, but was just 0-1, 4.09 in that Series, losing Game 1 and getting a ND in Game 5. In one game during this season, Mussina was just one strike away from becoming the fourth Yankee to pitch a perfect game when he threw a one-hit shutout against Boston in Fenway Park.

Mussina went 18-10, 4.05 in 2002, ERA+ 109. He gave up 4 runs in 4 innings and got a ND as the Yanks lost in the ALDS.

2003, and Mussina was 17-8, 3.40, ERA+ 130, another Gold Glove. Despite pitching well (7 IP, 3 R) he lost his ALDS start. He went on to lose Games 1 and 4 of the ALCS. But with the Yanks trailing 4-0 in the top of the 4th in game seven, Mussina came out of the bullpen to relieve Roger Clemens with two on and no one out. The game and the pennant were slipping away from the Yankees. Mussina got a K and a GIDP to stop the bleeding. He pitched three scoreless innings of relief, buying the Yankees time to claw back into the ballgame. This, of course, was the “Aaron Boone” game in which the Yankees won the 2003 AL pennant. Although Mussina was just 0-2, 4.11 in the ALCS, his relief job in this game will be forever remembered. Mussina won his WS start, giving up just 1 run in 7 innings in Game 3 of the 2003 WS, but the Yankees lost the Series.

Mussina struggled through 2004, going 12-9, 4.59, ERA+ 98. It was the first time in his career that Moose’s ERA+ dropped below 100. He was 35, and from this point on wouldn’t be quite the same pitcher. Despite a good ALDS start (7 IP, 2 R) he took the loss. He started two games against Boston in the ALCS, going 1-0, 4.26.

Mussina was 13-8, 4.41 in 2005, as once again he was effective, but age was making him a middle of the rotation pitcher and not the ace he used to be. Once again the ERA+ was a tick below 100, this time at 96. He went 1-1, 5.40 in the ALDS, losing the fifth and deciding game when he was knocked out in the third inning.

Mussina went 15-7, 3.51 in 2006, a bit of a comeback for the aging veteran. The ERA+ was 129. He lost his ALDS start, giving up 4 runs in 7 innings.

In 2007, it appeared as if Mussina’s best days were behind him. Things got so bad that he was pulled from the rotation for a while, and he didn’t merit a postseason start. He had a winning record, 11-10, but the ERA was an unsightly 5.15 (ERA+ 88). He pitched in relief in one ALDS game, getting a no-decision.

Mussina started 21 postseason games and relieved in two more. Despite a fine ERA of 3.42, he was just 7-8.

In 2008, the Yanks missed the postseason for the only time between 1995 and the present year of 2011. They also closed the Old Stadium up. Mussina made it known that 2008 would be his final year and his last pitch came just a few months before he would turn 40. In the final game he would ever pitch, Mussina pitched six shutout innings to become a 20-game winner for the only time in his career. What a way to end it. He went out with a bang, finishing up his final year with a 20-9 record and a 3.37 ERA (ERA+ 132). He once again won the Gold Glove, was 6th in the CYA voting and finished 19th for the MVP. Upon winning 20, Mussina became the oldest first-time 20-game winner in MLB history.

For his career, Mussina finished more than 100 games over .500 at 270-153 with an ERA of 3.68. His ERA+ was 123. He threw 23 shutouts. He stuck out over 2800 batters while walking less than 1000. Five times he was an All-Star. Nine times he got CYA consideration, and three times MVP consideration. He won seven Gold Gloves.

After the 2013 season, Mussina will be up for Hall of Fame voting. He may have to wait a while to get in, if he gets in at all. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both 300 game winners, also saw 2008 as their last year in the majors. As for the second year Mussina would be on the ballot, well, that year sees Randy Johnson eligible for the first time. We won’t even get into Roger Clemens, who becomes eligible for the first time the year before Maddux, Glavine and Mussina (given his problems, it’s highly doubtful for Clemens). Wikipedia states: Of the 23 eligible pitchers who have at least 265 wins and an ERA of 3.69 or less, 20 are in the Hall of Fame. Only five pitchers in the history of major league baseball have as many victories as Mussina and a better winning percentage: Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson. Every pitcher who has 100 more wins than losses is in the HOF. We will see about Mussina and Andy Pettitte (240-138). It may be tougher for Pettitte, since Pettitte has 30 less wins than Mussina, and also a higher ERA (3.88, ERA+ 117 to Mussina’s 3.68, ERA+ 123).

Hopefully one day Mussina gets in.

Mussina started his career wearing #42 in 1991. In 1992, he switched to #35, which he wore for the rest of his career.

This entry was posted in Classic Yankees and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.