Now as long as Mike Mussina stays retired and doesn't pull a Brett Favre ...
Figures that a man most appreciated for throwing one of the best curveballs of his era would throw one last bender in saying goodbye.
|Mike Mussina leaves with numbers comparable to those of HOFers. (Getty Images)|
At 39, Mussina had become the oldest pitcher in history to win 20 for the first time.
What makes his departure different from that of Koufax is that Koufax was forced out by an arthritic elbow. Mussina leaves in one piece, amid questions as to whether he'll eventually land next to Koufax in baseball's Hall of Fame. Early indications are, yes.
Tyler Kepner, Yankees beat writer for the New York Times, surveyed some 40 Hall of Fame voters earlier this week, and of those, 17 said they would vote for him, eight said no and 15 said maybe.
CBSSports.com colleague Danny Knobler and I responded to the survey. My answer was yes, I do think Mussina is probably a Hall of Famer. Danny, who wrote a quick analysis of Mussina's career earlier Thursday, responded with a maybe, leaning toward yes.
"It's not my decision to make," Mussina said diplomatically on a conference call Thursday afternoon, during which he revealed that he made his decision to retire last January and pitched all of '08 with that secret. "That's an argument where people are going to have an opinion on both sides. I never had a chance to win a world championship. I never won a Cy Young award. The last day of my career I finally finished with 20 wins.
"But there are some other things I've accomplished that I'm pretty proud of. My numbers match up well with some guys in the Hall of Fame. Of course, there are some guys with better numbers than mine. I think I've done as much as I was capable of doing. And if that creates a good argument, then that's all the better."
According to research from the Newark Star-Ledger's Ed Price, every pitcher who finished 115 games or more above .500 and is eligible has been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
To me, Mussina compares favorably with several pitchers already in the Hall of Fame, especially Bob Feller, Juan Marichal and Jim Bunning.
Check out these career records:
And the career ERAs:
Mussina's ERA is the worst of that bunch. But when you compare each man's ERA with the average league ERA when he played, Mussina comes out on top:
Mussina: -.83 (his 3.68 ERA was .83 lower than the league average of 4.51)
Feller: -.72 (3.25 vs. 3.97)
Marichal: -.66 (2.89 vs. 3.55)
Bunning: -.44 (3.27 vs. 3.73)
Certainly, Mussina's case isn't airtight. No Cy Youngs, and he finished as high as second only once (1999). And I still bristle at the lack of complete games produced by today's starters. Mussina finished with only 57 (in 536 career starts), as compared to Feller's 279 (484 career starts), Marichal's 244 (457 career starts) and Bunning's 151 (519 career starts).
But it's a different era -- and not simply because of the modern bullpen. No, when it comes time to consider Mussina's Hall of Fame candidacy five years from now, two key facets must be considered:
1. He pitched in the Steroid Era, facing who-knows-how-many batters who were juiced. And though I'm skeptical of much of what I've seen over the past 10 years, I believe Mussina was clean. There was never any noticeable change in his body.
2. He pitched his entire career in an AL East that was stacked with some of the game's top payrolls and best talent via free agency.
For Mussina's career ERA to be that much lower than the league average, and for his career record to be 117 games over .500, given the above two facts to me make his career even more impressive from a distance than it has been up close watching him for the past 18 years.
"That's a nice accomplishment," Mussina said of the 117-games-over figure when asked which numbers from his career make him the most proud.
Two things stood out to me as Mussina discussed the end of his career.
The first came when he opened the conference call with an apology to "everyone" who asked him retirement questions all year because "I lied to all of you." Generally speaking, I'm not in favor of lying, but in this case, good for him.
"I knew it would be my last year since my first day of spring training, and I didn't want it to be a part of the season," Mussina said. "I just wanted it to be baseball, go play the game and enjoy it."
The better-known Sinatra song around Yankee Stadium is New York, New York, but they could have cued up My Way right about then. Maybe it would have been nice for opponents and fans to have the chance to publicly say goodbye to Mussina as he toured the league for the last time, but individuals are not what the Yankees are about. Nor Mussina, a private guy who retreats to small town Montoursville, Pa., and family life at the end of each season.
The other thing that struck me came when someone asked his favorite moments as a Yankee. Yes, win No. 20 for the first time in his career two months ago is right there at the top -- alongside his three scoreless innings in relief of Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, the Aaron Boone game that sent the Yanks to the World Series.
It was one of only two career relief appearances for Mussina. Relieving isn't what he was about. He didn't even get the win. Yet, "it made a huge contribution to us winning that game and getting to the World Series," Mussina said.
Besides his 20th win this year, Mussina said, "that was the most exciting, memorable event for me in New York by far."
That's a pretty cool sentiment from a guy who finishes his career on Cooperstown's porch.
The feeling here is, five years hence, the front door will be opening.