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Jim Palmer: Former Orioles RHP And Baseball Hall Of Famer Mike Mussina Was 'Special Pitcher'

January 23, 2019
Jim Palmer had been the only longtime Baltimore Orioles pitcher in the Baseball Hall of Fame since his election in 1990.

That changed when this year's results from the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot revealed that former Orioles right-hander Mike Mussina will be joining Palmer in the Hall of Fame this summer. Mussina garnered 76.7 percent of the vote, just more than the 75 percent threshold needed for induction. It was Mussina's sixth year on the writers' ballot.

"I always think when you think of the great pitchers from the early 90s and into the 2000s, he certainly was one of them," Palmer said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 22 before the election results were announced. "He wasn't an obvious choice. Of course in that era, you were being compared to Randy Johnson, who has over 300 wins with all the strikeouts throwing 102 [mph] …, Greg Maddux with 355 wins or [Tom] Glavine with 305 wins, you go down the list. 

"But [Mussina] was a very special pitcher. He also pitched during the steroid era and they never tested until 2005. Camden Yards, anybody who's ever gone there knows it's a great place to hit."

Palmer first got to know Mussina during spring training ahead of the 1991 season. Palmer was attempting a comeback at the age of 45 after originally retiring after the 1984 season. Mussina was preparing for what would be his rookie season in the big leagues, during which he went 4-5 with a 2.87 ERA during 87.2 innings in what was the club's final season at Memorial Stadium.

Palmer tore a hamstring during spring training, prematurely ending his comeback bid. But he had a front row seat for Mussina in the nascent stages of his development, and Palmer said "all I had to do was watch his sides and you knew how good he was." Palmer also watched Mussina's first major-league start, during which Mussina gave up one run during 7.2 innings against the Chicago White Sox. 

Mussina was the losing pitcher in the 1-0 loss. The lone run came courtesy of a home run by Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas.

"He beat him with home run over the center field fence," Palmer recalled. "You get him two runs and he wins that game."

Palmer rattled off the qualities that allowed Mussina to rack up a 270-153 lifetime record with a 3.68 ERA and 2,813 strikeouts: "precision control" of his fastball, two devastating knuckle curveballs, a cut fastball intended to produce weak contact, a changeup he could throw in any count, a clean delivery and the ability to control the running game and field his position.

Mussina had something else, too.

"The other thing he had, I always thought he had the ability to make adjustments," Palmer said. "He didn't have that many bad games, but I remember one game in Camden Yards he gave up like four runs early on. I think for a lot of guys, you figure, 'This day is over. It's not what I set out to do. That's two or three more runs than I anticipated giving up.' But he could make in-game adjustments as well as anybody."

Mussina, 50, grew up in Montoursville, Pa., and was originally drafted by the Orioles in the 11th round out of high school in the 1987 MLB Draft. Mussina instead opted to attend Stanford University and was again drafted by the Orioles in 1990, this time in the first round (20th overall).

Now, he's joining Palmer in the Hall of Fame.

"If somebody had said when he's playing Little League in Pennsylvania, 'You know what? You can get the big leagues. You can be a No. 1 draft choice. You can end up winning 270 games. You may not be the best pitcher every year, but you're going to be in the top three or four or five.' Wouldn't you sign up for that? And that's kind of what he did," Palmer said. 

For more from Palmer, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles