November 20, 2008
Somebody must get Mike Mussina to reconsider this whole retiring business.
Not that Mussina will change his mind. He doesn't seem like the Brett Favre-type to do so. No, not at all the kind to wait until mid-season, have a mini-auction for his services before announcing triumphantly from George's Box that he's "back!"
That's not Mussina's style. When he says, "I'm done," he probably means it. Too bad, because baseball needs more guys like Mussina. He's a smart cookie with a quirky personality who seems to make for a solid teammate and those are fine reasons to have him around. So is his unfulfilled personal quest to be on a World Series winner.
But there's another reason he should stay.
Baseball needs durable, consistent, good and sometimes-great pitchers. We whine about it all of the time, how things ain't how they used to be with pitchers, how there never will be another 300-game winner (except for Randy Johnson ... well, maybe, hopefully) because pitchers just don't do that anymore.
The game needs a few good men. And Mussina needs the game, if just for a little longer.
Mussina is, as any reasonable statistical analysis would show, a Hall of Fame pitcher. I'm just not sure the rest of the world — specifically the Hall electorate, which isn't always easily swayed or reasonable — is convinced.
He doesn't have 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts and he's never won a Cy Young Award. Those facts alone will prevent many of the writers from casting a vote for Mussina, who has 270 victories, 2,813 strikeouts and one second-place finish in the Cy. He also only has one 20-win season — the just completed 2008 — to his name.
And now, he's retiring, within whispering range of those arbirtary and artificial but undeniably important milestones.
True, Mussina wasn't as great as Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens at their greatest, but there is something great to be said for being consistently good for a long time. Nine times he's finished in the top six in Cy Young voting. Five times he was an All-Star. Seven times he won a Gold Glove.
Mussina's not going to hang around just so some stubborn writer becomes convinced he's a Hall of Famer. If he wasn't a Hall of Famer before, don't vote for him because of something he did at age 40 or 41, he'd probably say.
But Mussina wouldn't just be hanging around.
Mussina still can pitch. Many thought his career was toast during the 2007 season, when his ERA screamed to a career-worst 5.15, and his strikeout rate dropped a disturbing amount (if you are disturbed by stikeout rates, which some of us ARE). His 2008 season was pretty close to run-of-the-mill for Mussina.
The good news is that he leaves on a high note, finishing with 20 victories for the first time, and with the last of his Gold Gloves.
The bad news is that I'm just not sure it was high enough to get into the Hall, a spot where he definitely belongs.