In choosing to don a cap with no logo, New York Yankees great Mike Mussina made the absolute right call for his Hall of Fame plaque.
The Moose is loose in Cooperstown, and I’m not talking about one Bullwinkle J. who hangs with a hyperactive flying squirrel! Former Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees righty Mike Mussina made headlines for two reasons this week.
First, Mussina joined former teammate Mariano Rivera in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2019 class. However, that’s not the most interesting part of the story.
The Hall of Fame announced Friday Mussina would have a blank cap on his plaque come this summer. Neither the Orioles nor the Yankees will be represented.
“Both the Yankees and the Orioles were instrumental in my reaching Cooperstown,” Mussina said. “I am proud to have played for these great organizations, in front of the tremendous fans in Baltimore and New York, and I am honored to have the opportunity to represent them both in the Hall of Fame.”
Now, in case it wasn’t blatantly obvious, I’m a Yankees fan. I watched Mussina dominate on the mound both in pinstripes and for Baltimore. The man was great and deserves his Hall of Fame induction.
And in making the decision to don a logo-less cap on his plaque, he made the absolute right decision.
Great on both sides
The truth of the matter is Mike Mussina probably could have picked either baseball cap and made a fine choice. He was equally great with both Baltimore and New York. He could have picked either cap and all he’d have to worry about is some hurt feelings from the fans of the team who lost out.
That just happens with the Hall of Fame. Reggie Jackson wears the Yankee cap on his plaque despite his prime years coming with the Oakland Athletics. Nolan Ryan dons the Texas Rangers cap even though his best years came with the Houston Astros and California Angels.
Mike Mussina, however, is not like Jackson or Ryan, especially from a numbers standpoint. Looking at his career marks with both Baltimore and New York, it’s hard to distinguish the two. Thus, let’s dive a little deeper and explore the case for each.
Bringing up Baltimore
As an Oriole, Mike Mussina went an astounding 147-81 with a 3.53 ERA from 1991-2000. Those numbers stand well on their own, but the context tells a greater story.
Keep in mind, Mussina was never a pitcher with overwhelming velocity. Fangraphs only has limited numbers on his pitch selection, but his average career fastball velocity there is listed at 88.2 miles per hour. By comparison, Fangraphs lists fellow Hall of Famer Randy Johnson’s average fastball velocity at 92.5 miles per hour. Again, the metrics for both men only go back to 2002, but the difference is still significant.
Not only that, but the Baltimore Orioles weren’t exactly a top contender during Mussina’s prime years with them. Yes, Baltimore won over 80 games four times (excluding the strike-shortened ’94 season) during his Orioles tenure, but the team made the playoffs just two of those four seasons. Both times, Baltimore lost in the ALCS.
This can be blamed on two things: the lack of Wild Card teams in the early ’90s and tough competition in the Steroid Era. Baltimore won 89 games in 1992 but finished third behind the Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers in the AL East. The Orioles won 85 games the following year and finished behind Toronto and the Yankees. Fast forward to 1995, and Baltimore got caught on the outside looking in as the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry rose like Fawkes from a pile of ashes in Dumbledore’s office.
And yet, Mussina prevailed. He finished in the Top 5 in AL Cy Young voting five times. His 19 wins led the majors in 1995. As leagues shifted to three divisions apiece and put more focus on big bats, his finesse approach made him a force on the mound.
And then, he went to New York.
New York wakeup call
Naturally, Mussina picked up right where he left off in New York. He signed a six-year, $88.5 million deal prior to the 2001 season, and then one worth $23 million over two years once that contract lapsed.
The difference was the dominance Mussina enjoyed in Baltimore didn’t quite follow him to the Bronx. He was 123-72 with a 3.88 ERA as a Yankee, which isn’t terrible at all. But the ace fans thought they were getting in free agency never quite showed up. Injuries kept him off the field in 2003 and 2004, and Yankee Stadium’s short porch definitely inflated his ERA.
That isn’t to say Mussina wasn’t a good Yankee. In fact, he had more than his fair share of great moments. He came within one out of throwing a perfect game against the Boston Red Sox in 2001. His three shutout innings in relief in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS set the stage for New York’s comeback against the same hated Red Sox. His sole 20-win season came in pinstripes, and in his final season in 2008. That 20th win, of course, came against the Boston Red Sox.
In fact, Mussina dominated the AL East his whole career. He was 81-53 with a 3.03 ERA against those teams, during the steroid era. His truly iconic moments as a Yankee may not seem like much compared to how he dominated in Baltimore, but they shouldn’t be discounted at all.
Thus, in terms of his Hall of Fame plaque, Mike Mussina made the best possible decision. There really wasn’t any wrong one. He could have worn either a Yankees or Orioles cap and his Hall of Fame status wouldn’t be any less significant.
Look at it this way. He burst on the scene in Baltimore and owes credit to the Orioles for becoming a household name in their uniform. Similarly, the Yankees deserve credit because he continued to grow and mature as a pitcher despite his veteran status. He never won a World Series, but that doesn’t matter.
270 wins, a 3.68 ERA, and 2,813 strikeouts with odds stacked against him.
Welcome to Cooperstown, Moose. You deserve it.