August 07, 2008
Before they go and tear down Yankee Stadium, the Answer Man had to get in at least one Q&A on the hallowed baseball grounds. The victim was Yankees ace/smart guy Mike Mussina, who sat on the historical Bronx Bombers bench to talk New York City's fragrances, the validity of his "Moose" nickname and — sure, why not? — economics in the 21st century.
That's a lot for anyone, but Moose handles it with the expected aplomb of an 18-season veteran who also happens to have a Stanford economics degree. There's also a baseball question or two in there, for those of you who like and expect that sort of thing.
Q: Aren't we doing something incredibly short-sighted by tearing down Yankee Stadium?
Mike Mussina: [Furrowing his brow with incredulous look]. Short-sighted?
Q: OK, Bob Feller has been quoted as saying, something along the lines of, "In Europe, they hold onto their history and don't tear down significant buildings, but in the United States, we don't place the same value on old things."
MM: I would agree that we tend to tear stuff down and build something new.
Q: Is it good or bad in this case?
MM: Is it good or bad? It's probably both, depending on who you're asking. Depending on whether you grew up with Yankee Stadium, depending on if you believe in the history of things, or in the evolution of things. Or if you believe in not looking back and only looking ahead. It depends on who you are and what kind of person you are.
Q: Are you terribly sentimental?
MM: I'm not going to say I'm terribly sentimental. There are certain things that are good to still have around. It would be nice because this is one of those places — but that's not the way it's going to be.
Q: Any piece of memorabilia from here you want to take with you?
MM: I haven't really picked one out. I'm sure there's going to be something, ultimately, that I'm going to take. I didn't grow up in New York, so it's not a part of all my 39 years out here. It's my eighth year playing for the Yankees, and it's been a pretty big part of my career, so I assume I'll stroll out of here with something.
Q: What's one not-so-obvious way you miss Joe Torre?
MM: My locker's the first one around the corner from his office. I'd often walk by and he'd just say, "Moose" and I'd stop and backpedal and talk about whatever was happening that day. It still happens, because it's still the manager's office. It's just different a little bit.
Q: So, it's a myth that you throw a knuckle-curve?
MM: It's not a myth; I just don't throw one anymore. When I throw a curveball, it's still described as a knuckle-curve — that's the myth. It's not the same curveball that I came to the big leagues with. It's not the same pitch. I don't hold it the same way.
Q: Did that happen over time, or did you just drop it one day?
MM: I had the other curveball, I just didn't use it. I didn't have a lot of confidence in it. As time moved on, the one curveball moved in and the original knuckle-curve got phased out. It's probably happened inside the last five years.
Q: Was the original knuckle-curve, was that like the Burt Hooton-type pitch?
MM: I don't think Burt Hooton held it the same way, but it's the same idea; to get the ball some topspin without having to hold it like a curveball. Same idea, I just think I held it a little differently.
Q: What NYC touristy thing have you still not done yet?
MM: All of them. I haven't done hardly any of them.
Q: Statue of Liberty?
MM: I have not been to the Statue of Liberty. I've not been to the Empire State Building. I've been to Rockefeller Center, I'll say that, as a Yankee. When you're a visitor, you stay down at Times Square most of the time, so that's right in your lap. I have ridden the subway — when I was a visitor. Some of the bigger things, the museums, I haven't done any of them.
Q: Not your cup of tea, or not any time for it?
MM: Probably a little bit of both. I live outside the city and I enjoy the trees and the country. Less traffic. We have to go into the city once in a while. We have to get to LaGuardia, so we'll skirt around town a little bit, so it's from the Bronx and north and back and that's it.
Q: Since you signed with NY, and moved here during baseball seasons, how much more have you asked yourself — "What's that smell?"
MM: Not since I moved here [laughs]. But as a visiting player, every time I'd enter the subway to go anywhere in the city, you have to ask yourself that very question. And, depending on the level that the train is — how deep you have to go — the smells are a little bit different.
Q: What do you think the smells are?
MM: I have no idea and I don't want to know. The No. 7 Train going to Shea smells different than the No. 4 train, from Grand Central, going to Yankee Stadium.
Q: What's the dorkiest [should have said "nerdiest"] magazine you subscribe to?
MM: The dorkiest. You mean, like, "Popular Photography"?
MM: That's probably the dorkiest.
Q: You an amateur shutterbug?
MM: Very amateur, I would say, but I enjoy shooting the kids. I have my camera out more often than the average guy.
Q: Does having a child who's turned 18 make you feel old?
MM: Not yet. I still get to go out here and do this, play ball for a living, just like a kid. I don't feel old yet. I'm doing OK.
Q: If it's not controlled, what do you suppose the rent is like to live in the Giant Bat?
MM: I don't even know what rent goes for in the city, but if you put a condo in that thing for the ball season, I can't imagine. Whatever season tickets are going for, that'd be a good start. You'd save on the commute here, but getting out and food? Parking might not be a bad deal, either.
MM: Months? I'm not really a Web guy.
Q: Does Baltimore seem like a million years ago?
MM: Yes and no. When you play a long time, the seasons kind of mesh together, but the eight years in New York — now that I sit here — have flown by. For that reason, Baltimore seems like it was just yesterday. But then you think about all the things we've done in the past eight years here — trips to the playoffs — yeah, it seems like a long time ago. There's hardly anyone over there on the other side (Baltimore) — a couple of trainers and a coach or two — that I remember. Other than that, everybody's different. It was a long time ago and it was yesterday.
Q: Why don't people go to Orioles games anymore?
MM: I don't think fourth place every year really brings in the fans.
Q: But that was a place to be.
MM: It was a place to be, but when they built the new stadium, for the next five or six years, there was excitement because it was a new place to watch games and also the team was competitive. It was at or near the top. But that changed in the late '90s and it hasn't gone back since.
Q: How many points did Camden Yards put on your career ERA?
MM: Oh, I don't know. I didn't have anything to Compare it to back then, and now I'm older. It probably added a couple, but there's a lot smaller ballparks out there these days than Camden Yards.
Q: Do you dislike that some Orioles fans look upon you as traitorous?
MM: Traitorous, yeah [nodding head]. No. The people who grew up loving the Orioles in Baltimore, it seems like, once you go and play for that team, "Why would you ever want to leave?" When you're a player, you have to take other things into account. I had to take other things into account. It was time to try something new, so I did.
Q: The Onion has written a few satirical stories with you as a character.
Q: The Onion, the satirical newspaper that writes fake joke stories? You don't know the Onion?
Q: Wow. Well, there was this one headline: "Mussina Convinced He's Won a World Series" and it quotes you as believing you were on the 2000 World Series champs.
Q: All right, moving along ... Do you think you're the least- "Moose"-like Moose in the history of the nickname "Moose?"
MM: [Smiles]. Probably. Because most of the time "moose" means the opposite of what I am. I'm 6-2 and 195 pounds. Most "Moose" are 6-5 and 300. That's not who I am, but when you have the name that kind of leads right into it, it kind of led right into it.
Q: But Moose seem to be solitary creatures, and you've been described as a loner, so maybe you are like moose?
MM: That's not where it came from [laughs]!
Q: Where did your come-set and spy-on-the-guy at first come from?
MM: My Triple-A pitching coach, Dick Bosman. It was a way of checking on a guy at first but I cut out a bunch of parts and it evolved into what it is. Now it's just habit. It works and it gives me time to get the right grip on the ball. It actually does provide a benefit.
Q: Are you and Tiger Woods in like a secret Stanford club for elite sports guys? Like the Masons?
MM: No ... Well, maybe we are and just haven't been told. Or I haven't gotten the ring, the secret decoder ring. Haven't gotten one. I honestly have never spoken to Tiger. If we're in some secret club, we've got to get a meeting.
Q: You finished your degree in 3 1/2 years. Did you not drink a single beer in college?
MM: Um... how do I answer that? Yes I did, "drink a single beer."
Q: Which crossword is most challenging?
MM: Sunday Times [the incredulous look returns]. Sunday New York Times.
Q: Are you much for Sudoku?
MM: No. 'Cause it only has to be 1-9. Your options are limited. There's 40,000 words or more in the English language. Sudoku's 1-9.
Q: I don't know half of 'em.
MM: One-through-nine or half the words in the English language [laughs]?
Q: Ha! Very good. So what if you haven't won 20 games in a season?
MM: It's a plateau that a lot of people gauge accomplishment on. It's much more difficult to do today than it was years ago. We only get 33, 34 starts a year, whereas they [guys from the 1970s, etc], would get 38, 40. We just don't have as many opportunities. There's much more specialization. You come out sooner in games, in close games, so it's harder. If I don't win 20, so be it, I don't win 20.
Q: How clearly can you recall your first major league appearance?
MM: Very clearly. It was a Sunday afternoon in Chicago. I went 7 2/3, I gave up four hits — Frank Thomas had three of them — and Robin Ventura had the other. I walked the first guy of the game, Tim Raines. I struck out one guy and walked four, which is completely the opposite of what my career strikeout-to-walk ratio is.
Q: What did I put on my hotdog?
MM: That part I don't remember. My own hotdog, I put on mustard.
Q: OK. You're not a ketchup guy, on hotdogs.
MM: Not on hotdogs. Hamburgers, yes. Not on hotdogs.
Q: Have you ever been mistaken for Robin Ventura?
MM: I have not.
Q: Back in a sandwich shop in Montoursville [PA], a guy once said of you. "He can handle anything, except for the cash register." Econ degree, no can handle register?
MM: I cannot run a cash register. I never learned! I haven't spent that much time at the sub shop. Gimme a couple days, I can probably get it.
Q: How can some people say we're not in a recession?
MM: I think the only reason they can say that is because the numbers haven't moved the right percentage to officially be called a recession. But when the price of gas goes up 200 percent in four years, homes are going under and people are struggling, I don't know how you can't call it one now. OK, the world keeps spinning and I must [jumps down from bench] be going!