O's or Yanks cap to adorn Mussina's plaque?

Right-hander says both were instrumental in his HOF career

January 23rd, 2019

NEW YORK -- In draping a Hall of Fame jersey over his shoulders on Wednesday afternoon, Mike Mussina quieted a conversation that had become a consensus, and with it, solidified his place in Cooperstown. Now comes the debate.

Which cap will adorn Mussina's plaque when he is enshrined this July? Not even Mussina knows yet, and if he's leaning one way or the other, he's not letting on.

"The situation is unique. I almost split my career down the middle with two organizations," Mussina said. "Right now, I can't sit and choose one or the other. Both were instrumental to me sitting here."

Mussina elected to HOF in sixth year on ballot

It's the Hall of Fame that ultimately chooses which cap an inductee goes in with, but players like Mussina, whose careers are so evenly split, are given significant say. For most, the decisions are mere formalities, and Mussina had to look only to his immediate right and left on Wednesday to find two such examples. There is no question which teams Edgar Martinez and Mariano Rivera will represent in the Hall. Roy Halladay's family decided his plaque will bear a blank cap. That leaves Mussina, who presents one of the more interesting cases in years.

On the surface, it would seem the Hall created the concept of blank caps for players like Mussina, who spent 10 seasons with the Orioles and eight with the Yankees while starring for both. But they are an uncommon compromise in recent years; Halladay will be the first to go in with a blank cap since Tony La Russa and Greg Maddux in 2014. Before that, the last player to do so was Catfish Hunter in 1987.

"Both places were huge factors in my career," Mussina said. "It's a tough decision. I'm going to need some guidance, help, opinions, options, before we ultimately make that decision."

Behold the cases for both.


The numbers: 147-81, 3.53 ERA, 288 games started, 2,009 2/3 innings, 45 complete games, 15 shutouts, 130 ERA+, 3.63 FIP, 1.175 WHIP, 3.29 K/BB, 48 WAR

The accolades: If volume, production and awards are the main criteria, Mussina is probably more qualified to go in as an Oriole. The right-hander led the American League in a major pitching statistical category six times, and five of those came with the O's: Mussina paced the AL in winning percentage (.783), wins (19) and shutouts (4) in 1995, starts (36) in '96, and innings (237 2/3) in 2000. All five of his All-Star appearances came with the Orioles, as did five of his six top-five finishes in the AL Cy Young Award voting, and four of his seven AL Gold Glove Awards.

Mussina started 40 more games, threw nearly 500 more innings, and he prevented runs at a 16 percent lower clip, compared to league average, in Baltimore.

The intangibles: Simply put, Baltimore is where Mussina became a star. The Orioles actually drafted him twice, in the 11th round in 1987 and then again with the No. 20 overall selection in the 1990 MLB Draft. He was in the Majors the following year, then he went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA over his first 44 big league starts, at ages 22 and 23. Mussina was the O's Opening Day starter by 1994, and for the next seven years, the ace for a team that would go on to make two postseason appearances.

"The place you start, the team that drafts you, brings you to the Major Leagues, gives you an opportunity," Mussina said. "They put me out there to pitch and said, 'You're going to do this until you prove you can't.'"

New York

The numbers: 123-72, 3.88 ERA, 248 starts, 1,553 innings, 12 complete games, eight shutouts, 114 ERA+, 3.50 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, 4.02 SO/BB, 35 WAR

The accolades: We have to start with the contract. It speaks to how touted Mussina was that, in a free-agent class that included Alex Rodriguez, Mike Hampton and Manny Ramirez, he was one of the first calls manager Joe Torre made after the Yankees clinched the 2000 World Series.

"They hadn't taken a break yet, and they wanted to talk to me," Mussina said. "I thought that was a big deal."

Mussina ended up signing a six-year, $88.5 million deal with New York, and he immediately became the ace of a staff already featuring Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Mussina was a workhorse with the Yanks, but he never carried the load and he didn't make an All-Star appearance in pinstripes. He did collect three more AL Gold Glove Awards and twice placed in the top six in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

Across his eight years with the Yankees, Mussina led all qualified AL hurlers in wins, while he was second in starts, fourth in innings, fifth in ERA+ and third in WAR.

The intangibles: If Baltimore is where Mussina became a star, New York solidified his status as such. It was in the Bronx where Mussina earned the most money and most often found the spotlight. New York was where Mussina made 17 playoff appearances (compared to just six with Baltimore) and where he became a 20-game winner, for the first time, on the last day of his career.

When asked on Wednesday to recall the most memorable moment of his career, Mussina named two. Both came in pinstripes: beating the Red Sox for his 20th victory on the final day of the 2008 season, and his three-inning relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, which the Yankees eventually won on Aaron Boone's walk-off homer.