Mussina elected to HOF in sixth year on ballot

January 22nd, 2019

For one of the most accomplished pitchers of his generation, the climb to Cooperstown was methodical. On Tuesday, Mike Mussina completed that march toward immortality. The Baseball Writers' Association of America voted Mussina into the Hall of Fame, where he will be inducted as part of a six-man class this July.
A model of consistency during his 18-year career, Mussina appeared on 326 of 425 ballots. That earned him 76.7 percent of vote, just past the 75 percent threshold for induction, in his sixth year of eligibility. His election puts a bow on a career Mussina essentially split between Baltimore and New York, winning 270 games, posting a 3.68 ERA and earning five All-Star selections.
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Mussina will be enshrined alongside his former teammate in New York, Mariano Rivera -- who, in his first year of eligibility, became the first player ever to be selected unanimously -- as well as Mariners DH Edgar Martinez (85.4 percent), late Phillies and Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay (85.4 percent), and Today's Game Era Committee selections Lee Smith and Harold Baines.

"When you start doing this for a living, you don't ever think you'll be talking about the Hall of Fame," Mussina said. "I'm honored and thankful and blessed that a kid from the country got a chance to go out, play a game and accomplish something like this."
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A first-round Draft pick by the Orioles out of Stanford in 1990, Mussina spent much of the next two decades thriving as a pillar of dependability in the ultra-competitive American League East. From 1992-2008, Mussina ranked second among full-time starters in wins (266), third in starts (524) and innings (3,475), fifth in WAR (80.7), seventh in winning percentage (.643) and eighth in strikeout-to-walk rate (3.61). He is one of seven pitchers since 1969 to put together nine seasons of at least 200 innings and a 125 ERA+, and he did so during one of the most hitter-dominant eras in baseball history.
Moose's highlights on path to Cooperstown
Six of those campaigns came in Baltimore, where Mussina built a reputation as one of the game's smartest pitchers and fiercest competitors. He spent a decade with the Orioles, going 147-81 with a 3.53 ERA and finishing at least fifth in Cy Young Award voting five times. He also won the first four of his eventual seven Gold Gloves with the O's, and remains among qualified franchise leaders in a slew of major categories, including wins (third), starts (288, fifth) and WHIP (1.18, sixth).

His production hardly wavered with the Yankees, who signed Mussina to a six-year, $88.5 million contract after the 2000 season. He'd go 123-72 with a 3.88 ERA across eight years in pinstripes.
"Unlike the big arms that dominate today's pitching landscape, Mike was a quintessential craftsman, who played up to his strengths and hunted for the weaknesses in his opposition -- before that level of preparation was a commonplace thing to do," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "More importantly though, he was a gamer, plain and simple. He wanted the ball, and did everything within his power to get himself ready to contribute."
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Because of the symmetry of his production, which cap Mussina's plaque will be adorned with remains an open question.
"We got a little time to figure out what the best plan is," Mussina said. "I know a few guys have gone in without anything on their hat. Both organizations were tremendously valuable and important in my career. I wouldn't be sitting here if it weren't for Baltimore and New York."
The right-hander was his reliable self in a significant postseason sample size, going 7-8 with a 3.42 ERA across 23 playoffs games (21 starts). Mussina served as the ace for playoff-bound teams in Baltimore in 1996 and 1997, and his playoff ERA shrunk to 2.53 in six starts for the O's. But his shining postseason moment may have been for the Yankees, when Mussina tossed three innings of scoreless relief to keep New York in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
"Moose was the most intelligent pitcher I ever caught," former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "He made catching fun, because he was so well prepared. When we took the field together, he was always two steps ahead of everyone else wearing a uniform."

In all, Mussina ranked among the AL's top 10 pitchers in bWAR 11 times, WHIP 12 times, strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings 10 times, and walks per nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio 15 times. He punctuated his career by becoming a 20-game winner for the first time, in 2008, at age 39. Mussina then promptly retired, 30 wins shy of 300 and 187 strikeouts away from 3,000.
But his inability to reach those milestones has mattered less and less to voters over the years, as the BBWAA's ever-progressive electorate grew to value more advanced statistics. Many point to markers like ERA+, WHIP, Fielding Independent Pitching and Wins Above Replacement as truer indicators of the value Mussina provided during the hitter-happy era in which he played.

In many ways, the consistency with which Mussina's Hall case trended upward mirrored the steadiness of his on-field production. Support for Mussina grew regularly since he debuted with 20.3 percent in 2014, his first year on the ballot. That improved to 24.6 percent the following year before mushrooming to 43 percent in 2016. Mussina enjoyed bumps to 51.8 percent in 2017 and 63.5 percent in 2018. He earned 58 more votes this year, despite an increase of only three ballots cast.
"I'm honestly honored, surprised a little bit," Mussina said. "It's been a steady climb and I appreciate people staying with me, doing the research and feeling that I'm worthy of this honor."