There is one thing that will make you a villain in this town and Mike Mussina did it.
After spending 10 years in an Orioles uniform, he bolted for the Big Apple and all the money that came with joining the enemy, the New York Yankees.
Truth be told, the guy who graduated with an economics degree from Stanford made the right decision. Choosing $88 million over six years is pretty good economics.
When Mussina joined the Yankees, the Orioles had just come off their third straight losing season. The club was in a free fall, and all throughout the 2000 season Mussina had haggled with the Orioles to try and get a contract signed.
He saw the direction the club was going in, not just on the field but also with his negotiations, so he left for greener pastures. He did exactly what you and I would do if given the opportunity and the choice.
No, he hasn't won the World Series, which many people, including himself, thought would've happened by now. But, Moose is also very logical and realistic about that.
"I think everybody got a little spoiled with the three in a row and the four out of five [World Series appearances] and to have five years without winning a title seems like an eternity for this organization," said Mussina. "The truth of the matter is, you just want to be one of the eight teams standing at the end of the year with a chance.
"I am just really glad that I have been involved in Augusts and Septembers that mean something. It's fun to go out there and play at the end of the season. To be one of those eight teams still standing five years in a row is special. I have been to the seventh game of the World Series with the lead in the ninth and it just didn't work out. But, two trips to the World Series and five trips to the post season--it's been fun."
Compare that to what has gone on here in Baltimore the last eight years and it seems even more fun.
Mussina looks at the Orioles' situation from afar now and like many of us, is still trying to figure it out.
"I think things go in cycles," he said. "To be in fourth place out of five teams for most of those years since 97, it's a little surprising. They've got some talent, they've got good players. Whatever the one missing ingredient is for a successful team, they haven't been able to find it, latch on to it or hang on to it. It can go like that for a while."
Mussina won a total of 147 games in an Orioles uniform, and the failure of the ballclub and Peter Angelos to get a new contract done is something that to this day still mystifies him. But looking back on it, he knows he is much better off.
"Sitting here today, I'm kinda glad it didn't work out because it's been great playing for the Yankees," he said. "At the time it's frustrating. When you have been with an organization for ten years and done what I was able to do and go through everything that we went through with this team you would think they would look at you a little differently more than just any other player."
"That's the frustrating part, but that's the way the business is sometimes and I had a chance to go out there and see what else was out there and it worked out very well."
Mussina has battled some injury issues the past two seasons and spent a stint on the DL in 2004 with a tender elbow. This season, he is off to his best start in quite some time going 7-1 with a 2.42 ERA heading into this week.
"It's amazing what can happen when you are completely healthy," he said. "If your body feels good and you don't have to worry about aches and pains, you are going to play better because it's one less thing you have to worry about. Up to this point I have been healthy, I am throwing the baseball really well, I know where it is going and knock on wood, it stays that way."
Mussina said he would like to play another two, maybe three years if he can stay as healthy as he is now. The Yankees hold a $17-million dollar option for next year which he knows won't be picked up but he is hoping to re-sign with the pinstripers.
"I think that it's the right fit and the right situation for me," he said. "I want to be on a team that has a chance to win the World Series every time we go out there."
Whenever you bring up the name Mike Mussina, people always say he has never won 20 games, he has never won a Cy Young award and, of course, he has never won a World Series.
Yet, he has 231 career wins. He has been as consistent as any pitcher in the game over the span of his career and quite frankly, that's enough for Mussina.
"I would rather go out there and pitch consistently well for 15 or 17 or 18 years as opposed to throwing one flash of greatness out there for a year or two," Mussina said. "People still talk about Guidry's one season, but he did a lot more than just that one year but people forget about the other stuff. Boomer Wells has won over 200 games and yet everyone still talks about the perfect game.
"I don't want to just be remembered for one flash in a moment in history. For my own sake, I just want to be remembered for pitching from 1991 until 2000 and whatever and being one of the better pitchers in the league for that whole stretch."
His entire career should have played out in an Orioles uniform. When your favorite team isn't doing what it needs to do to win and shows no signs of getting it right, you have a tendency to root for people.
Enemy or not, I root for Mike Mussina.
About Craig Heist
Craig grew up in Baltimore and attended Kenwood High School. A graduate of Salisbury State University, he got his start in radio on WKHI in Ocean City before moving back to the Baltimore-Washington region. Craig is currently a sports anchor for WTOP Radio in Washington, and is also the Mid-Atlantic correspondent for several national sports radio networks including ESPN Radio.
Issue 1.7: June 8, 2006