Mussina Could Have Had His Own O's Statue
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
It's ironic, isn't it, that an Oriole that could have been bronzed this summer will instead accept his induction into the Orioles Hall of Fame this weekend, amid the summer-long Orioles Legends Celebration Series honoring six Hall of Fame Orioles with statues at Camden Yards?
Michael Cole Mussina -- one of the greatest pitchers in Orioles history -- will have to settle for this honor, because his decision to leave the Orioles for the New York Yankees after the 2000 season sealed his fate as the closest thing to the other six in franchise history.
Mussina, who held a 270-163 record during his 18-year career, was a two-time draft pick of the Orioles. During the 1987 draft, Mussina had the talent to be a first-round draft pick, but he had a partial scholarship to Stanford University and it was expected he would go to college.
Baltimore selected him during the 11th round, and Edward Bennett Williams, the Orioles' formidable negotiator/owner, attempted to sway the Mussinas. Try as they might, the Orioles couldn't convince the family that what they offered measured up to a Stanford education and a shot down the road at being a No. 1 pick after leaving college.
Williams was creative in adding in an amount of money that the club would have contributed to his education, once he signed. The two sides agreed to disagree.
After drafting right-handed pitcher Gregg Olson out of Auburn in '88, and overall No. 1 pick Ben McDonald out of LSU in 1989, the Orioles drafted Mussina as their No. 1 pick in 1990, out of Stanford. Williams, who had passed away in August 1988, wasn't around long enough to see his team get Mussina's signature on the dotted line.
What transpired was a meteoric rise to the big leagues, and a sensational run of 10 years wearing No. 35 for the Birds, during which Mussina went 147-81, a winning percentage of 64.4. After his one losing season, 2000, when he went 11-15, Mussina signed a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees. He went on to spend the next eight seasons in pinstripes, adding to his legend by going 123-72, a winning percentage of 63.0. Mussina, who will be eligible for his plaque in Cooperstown after the 2013 season, finished with a career winning percentage of 63.8.
Mussina sized up that the Orioles would not be competitive enough for his taste and thirst for a world championship, and he signed with their bitter rival, the Yankees, for six years and $85.5 million. Ironically, he never did win that elusive championship ring, but Mussina did win 20 games during his last season (2008) for the only time during his career.
Many Baltimore fans felt that the M in Mussina ultimately stood for "mercenary," as he left for the evil empire just after the Yankees had won four World Series from 1996-2000. The Orioles have not had a winning season since 1997, and even though Mussina was a member of some of those losing teams, the club's failure to understand how significant Mussina was to the team's record is part of what led it down the disastrous path of the past 11 years. It is only this season, as Mussina enters the Orioles Hall of Fame, that the Orioles have managed to maintain a winning record and possibly get into the postseason for the first time since 1997.
O's fans have been critical toward owner Peter Angelos for his role in getting rid of former manager Davey Johnson, former team broadcaster Jon Miller, former general manager Pat Gillick and even former announcer John Lowenstein (who also played for the Orioles from 1979-85). But the fans have somehow made Mussina the villain in his exit drama.
The events today and tomorrow will no doubt lessen some of the angst on both sides. Mussina may never have a bronze statue at Camden Yards, but he does deserve some bit of added honor beyond his induction into the Orioles Hall of Fame. I would suggest, at the least, his No. 35 could be retired, along with the six that do have statues of their likenesses.
Since Mussina left in 2000, Greg Aquino, Josh Towers, Brad Bergesen, Daniel Cabrera and now Omar Quintanilla have worn his jersey number, which doesn't feel right to me, even if he did leave Baltimore for the Bronx. Mussina deserves better, and the Orioles would be smart to nurture this relationship before his entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Posted Aug. 24, 2012