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At the Very Least, Former New York Yankees Pitcher Mike Mussina Deserves to Be Part of the Hall of Fame Debate

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COMMENTARY | There are few topics in baseball that stir up the emotions of fans more than the debate over who should and who shouldn't get into the Hall of Fame.

In New York, that usually means another round of Don Mattingly talk. The former first baseman who played his entire 14-year career for the New York Yankees, is, and will always be, a Yankee legend. But based on his playing career, he's not making it to Cooperstown anytime soon.

From 1984 through 1987, you could argue that Mattingly was the best player in baseball. In 1984, he led the American League with a .343 batting average and 44 doubles. In 1985, he led the league with 145 runs batted in and 48 doubles. In 1986, he led the league with 238 hits and 53 doubles. And don't forget how great he was in the field, winning nine Gold Glove Awards.

While he still had a few more productive seasons in him, back injuries took a toll, and Mattingly was never the same. For four years he dominated his sport, but he did not have a Hall of Fame career.

Mattingly's best chance of getting in will come if he wins a few World Series as a manager. That's how Joe Torre, who will be inducted this summer, made it. Whether it's with the Los Angeles Dodgers or another club, Mattingly, who is only 52 years old, will have to be as great in the dugout as he was on the field during the mid-'80s.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America just announced the Class of 2014. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas are in. Mattingly is not.

In New York, while Mattingly routinely dominates the chatter, the more compelling case can be made for Mike Mussina.

Mussina, who played with the Yankees for eight seasons, won 11 or more games in 17 of his 18 big league seasons. He won 15 or more games 11 times. In his final year, 2008 with the Yankees, he won 20 for the first time. He finished his career with 270 wins and a 3.68 earned run average.

Mussina was never the best pitcher in the game, he was never dominant over a long period of time, and by no means is he a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame.

But here's the case you can make: Mussina played his entire career in the American League East. He played his entire career during the Steroid Era. He played his entire career in an offensive era, when baseball did, and continues to do, just about everything it can to help the hitter.

He was a consistent winner, averaging 15 wins per season. His ERA might be a bit high, but it's almost a run lower than the average for AL East pitchers over his career. He gave you innings, 11 times reaching 200-plus. And he had seven postseason wins with a 3.42 ERA in October.

I wasn't expecting Mussina to get the necessary votes, and he didn't (116 total; 20.3 percent of the vote with 75 percent needed for induction). It didn't happen this time around and it may never happen. He didn't win 300 and his ERA would be high for a Hall of Fame pitcher. There was only that one 20-win season and he was never the best pitcher in the sport. He was very good, but not great.

He may not be a Hall of Famer. I'll give you that.

But at least make him part of the debate.

Charles Costello has followed the Yankees for 30 years and was a beat reporter assigned to cover the team during the 1997 and 1998 seasons. He writes about the Yankees and New York Giants on the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @CFCostello.

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