Moose hunting around Cooperstown

Sorry it’s been a while. Life refuses to slow down, but not for this one!

Tim Kurkjian, baseball writer and analyst for ESPN, says that Mike Mussina is a Hall of Fame pitcher.

Mussina, who announced his retirement earlier this week, pitched for 18 serviceable, quality seasons: ten with Baltimore and then eight with the New York Yankees.

I tend to agree with Kurkjian, Mussina was always a crafty pitcher. He didn’t have great velocity, but had a sick amount of movement on nearly everything he threw. He’s truly going out on top, his final season was the first in which he reached the 20-win milestone. He’s in good company in terms of wins (270), strikeouts (2813), innings pitched (in the five-man rotation era, a respectable approx. 3563) and was a quality, respected pitcher throughout the entire steroid era, keeping his home run totals in check when balls were flying long and often like a 24-hour Tokyo driving range.

Mussina is a five-time All-Star, never won a Cy Young award or MVP and fielded his position well enough to earn seven Gold Gloves. A great career for a guy who was consistently overshadowed by colleagues the likes of Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, et al. One glaring omission, though: Mussina never won a World Series.

So how is it that Mussina is considered to be enshrined in Cooperstown (in time), while guys like Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven perenially fall short?

Blyleven pitched for four more seasons than Mussina, struck out nearly a thousand more batters and too had the movement on his pitches that buckled knees and dropped bats. Blyleven, too, never won a Cy, was overshadowed by other luminaries on the hill (Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, et al) and only went to the All-Star game twice. Twice, equalling his number of championship rings (’79 and ’87).

Like Carlton Fisk (who was a no-brainer in the eyes of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the voting bloc for the Baseball Hall of Fame), he was good long enough where he became great (as was said about Fisk in his SportsCentury bio.) Fisk isn’t even in consideration when it comes to the top three catchers of all time, unless we’re talking about name recognition and the infamous stay-fair home run at Fenway. (For the record, Johnny Bench, Ivan Rodriguez and guys like Mickey Cochrane or even Roy Campanella would merit consideration for my top three.) Nothing against Fisk, he was a great player and belongs. In the same way, Blyleven followed Fisk’s trajectory. There’s no reason to keep him out, if Mussina is going to get in.

The same goes for Jack Morris: his numbers are nearly identical to Moose’s, and he won a world championship through sheer strength of will with Minnesota in 1991, along with rings with Detroit in ’84 Toronto in ’92 at the twilight of his career. A three-time 20-game winner over 18 seasons (like Mussina), along with being the consummate (or ‘conthonnant’, with apologies to Dusty Rhodes) big-game pitcher, Morris had a killer instinct few pitchers possessed in the 80s.

The BBWAA often has no rhyme or reason to why they will grant access to some but not to others, and baseball itself is to blame for keeping great players out of the Hall: Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Pete Rose, amongst others; while their refusal to grant Buck O’Neil enshrinement into the Hall for his incalcuable contributions to baseball history with the Negro Leagues, integration and education until his dying breath is absolutely abysmal.

Mussina belongs, but not without those who made his career worthy of HOF consideration in the first place. One cannot honor him without dishonoring them.


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