Mussina proud to join 'best who ever played'

July 21st, 2019

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The hallowed halls in Cooperstown gained a pillar of consistency on Sunday as Mike Mussina, one of baseball’s most dependable starters of the last few decades, took his place among the game’s all-time greats.

Mussina -- a durable, cerebral Orioles and Yankees right-hander of the 1990s and 2000s -- was enshrined as part of the Hall of Fame’s second consecutive six-player class, and one of its most eclectic.

Mussina was inducted alongside former Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera, late Phillies and Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez and Today’s Game Era Committee selections Lee Smith and Harold Baines.

“I was never fortunate enough to win a Cy Young Award or to be a World Series champion,” Mussina said during his 12-minute speech in front of an estimated crowd of 55,000 at the Clark Sports Center. “I didn’t win 300 games or strike out 3,000 batters. And while my opportunities for those achievements are in the past, today I get to become a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"Maybe I was saving up from all of those ‘almost’ achievements for one last push, and this time I made it.”

Mussina was the first of the six players inducted, and he stood in front of the 52 Hall of Famers on the stage and marveled at the journey.

“I’m standing up here with the best who ever played the game,” Mussina said. “Some are former teammates, some are former opponents and some I grew up watching on television. So the obvious questions are, what am I doing up here and how in the world did this happen?”

A native of Montoursville, Pa., Mussina talked of growing up playing Wiffle ball for hours on end, though his baseball career almost didn’t get off the ground; he reported for his first practice as an 8-year-old so early that nobody was at the field when he arrived.

After riding back home on his bike, Mussina was told by his mom to turn around and try again. And he never looked back, winning a state championship in high school and a national championship at Stanford.

“Thank you to my mom for convincing me to get back on my bike and go back to that first practice,” Mussina said, “and for finally allowing me to stop taking piano lessons, because that just wasn’t working out.”

Mussina went on to become a five-time All-Star who finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting six times. He 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. All told, he went 270-153 with a 3.68 ERA and 2,813 strikeouts across 18 big league seasons, the first 10 with Baltimore and the last eight with New York.

From 1992-2008, Mussina ranked second among MLB starters in wins (266), third in starts (524) and innings (3,475), fifth in Wins Above Replacement (80.7) and eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (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.

Only four Major League pitchers made at least 500 starts with a better winning percentage than Mussina: Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Pete Alexander. All but Clemens are also Hall of Famers.

"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," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who signed Mussina to a six-year, $88.5 million contract after the 2000 season. "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."

Mussina retired on his own terms after a resurgent age-39 season in 2008, when he eclipsed the 20-win mark for the only time in his career. He then embarked on a methodical march toward Cooperstown, earning 20.3 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility in 2014, 24.6 percent in 2015, 43 percent in 2016, 51.8 percent in 2017 and 63.5 percent in 2018 before cracking the required 75% threshold last November.

"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,” Mussina said.

Both Halladay, who spent most of his career with Toronto but threw a perfect game and postseason no-hitter with Philadelphia, and Mussina entered the Hall with no logo on their plaques. The uncommon distinction felt particularly fitting for Mussina, who split his career almost evenly with the Orioles and Yankees. 

“Both the Yankees and the Orioles were instrumental in my reaching Cooperstown,” Mussina said. “I am proud to have played for these great organizations, in front of the tremendous fans in Baltimore and New York, and I am honored to have the opportunity to represent them both in the Hall of Fame.”