Newly-minted Hall of Fame pitcher Mike Mussina split his 18-year career almost equally between New York and Baltimore, pitching in the postseason for both organizations.
Former Orioles radio broadcaster Fred Manfra and current Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman had up-close views of Mussina during both portions of his career. Both recalled his excellent attention to detail, meticulous preparation and workhorse role during his career. Mussina won at least 10 games in a record 17 consecutive seasons, including 20 in 2008, the final year of his career.
"I really loved being around Mike Mussina," Waldman said on
The Bat Around
with Stan "The Fan" Charles Jan. 26. "He'd figure out what was working for him, how to set up that knuckle-curve -- if it's working, where it's working -- and then you'd see that little smirk. He would have that tiny little smirk when he got all of the pitches and he knew what was there for the day."
Baltimore went to the playoffs just twice during Mussina's 10-year run with the team (1991-2000). The Orioles had a .510 winning percentage during that span, but Mussina won 64.5 percent of his decisions with the club.
Manfra said every time he took the mound you expected "one heck of a ballgame," even if the team had been struggling.
"You figured it was going to be Mussina who was going to be the stopper," Manfra said. "He was going to be the guy that went out there and shut out the other team for at least seven or eight innings."
Mussina's departure via free agency hurt many Baltimore fans, given he joined archrival New York. Manfra said he'd always ask those fans whether they would take a significant pay raise to leave their job, and nine out of 10 would admit they'd follow Mussina's path.
Mussina signed with the Yankees for six years and $88.5 million after the 2000 season. The Orioles' highest offer was reportedly six years and $78 million.
"I was never one of those fans that begrudged Moose for leaving Baltimore," Manfra said. "He made $10 million more with the Yankees contract."
It took six years on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for Mussina to earn the requisite percentage of Hall of Fame votes (75 percent). Waldman said she figured he'd be in much sooner given his body of work.
Waldman wished Mussina's stats would be considered with additional context, since he faced difficult American League East lineups and battled hitters who may have had a little extra help, with the majority of his career occurring during the steroid era. She added that Mussina would also pitch to the score, potentially depressing his rate statistics in favor of longer outings.
"If you don't take the whole thing into account, what's the point?" Waldman said. "You can sit here and go through stats, WHIPs and WAR and all that junk, but if you're not watching the game and you don't understand who he's facing and what he's doing and where he's pitching, you don't get the whole story."
Mussina threw nearly 100 innings of postseason ball for New York, which included two World Series appearances. Waldman said former manager Joe Torre believed his most trustworthy pitcher should start the third game of a playoff series, resurrecting the team if it was down 0-2 or keeping the opponent on the ropes if it was up 2-0. More often than not, that third starter was Mussina.
"Usually you knew what you were going to get," Waldman said. "Sometimes when you have guys throwing in the upper 90s, they don't know where it's going to be. If they're not on, they can't make it work. Mussina always could."
For more from Manfra, listen to the full interview here:
For more from Waldman, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles