Mike Mussina: Remembering a Yankee Great

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Mike Mussina: Remembering a Yankee Great
(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Mike Mussina may not be the best pitcher to ever suit up in pinstripes. But, he was and will always be a fan favorite.

Mussina may not be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but over his 18-year career he earned 270 wins with a 3.68 ERA and 2,813 strikeouts. He was a five-time All-Star (1992-1994, 1997, 1999) and a seven-time Gold Glove Winner (1996-99, 2001, 2003, 2008).

Mussina may not have been a Yankee for his whole career, but for me personally, I will always remember "Moose" as a Yankee.

Mike grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1968. At Mussina's high school, he posted a 24-4 record with a 0.87 ERA. As a senior he barley missed being valedictorian. Moose was drafted out of high school by the Orioles in 1987 but chose to attend college instead of signing with Baltimore.

Moose attended Stanford University for three years, where he made two College World Series appearances and was selected as an All American. He posted a 31-16 record with a 3.89 ERA. He graduated with a degree in economics in 1990.

In 1991, Moose played a shortened season with the O's after being called up from the minors. He went 4-5 in 12 starts with a 2.88 ERA.

1992 was Moose's first full season with the O's and he finished with an 18-5 record and a 2.54 ERA. The 1993 season was a shortened one for Moose as he was on the DL for almost two full months. He was selected to the American League All-Star Team but did not pitch due to his injury.

Mussina returned to his top form at the start of the 1994 season, but due to a strike shortened season Mussina only had 16 wins and 99 strikeouts. He was once again selected to the All Star game. Moose pitched one inning, giving up one hit and striking out one.

In the '95 season, Moose led the league with 19 wins. His ERA was 3.29 and had a 1.069 WHIP. He finished fifth in CY Young voting that year.

In 1996, Mike again posted 19 wins, the O's bullpen cost him a 20-win season after blowing a late inning lead. He earned his first Gold Glove that year. Baseball America listed Mussina having the best change-up and control in the MLB for 1996.

The O's made the playoffs this year and Moose started two games going 0-1 with a 5.27 ERA. The defeated the Tribe 3-1 in the ALDS. In the ALCS, the infamous Jeffrey Maier incident occured, in which a young fan interfered with a ball hit by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

The play was ruled a home run, but should have been fan interference. The O's were eliminated by the Yankees, 4-1.

Mussina didn't pitch on Opening Day in 1997 for the Orioles due to a calcium deposit. He had started every Opening Day for the O's since 1993. He finished with a 15-8 record and a 1.117 WHIP. He established a career and franchise high in strikeouts with 218. 1997 would be the last year the O's would have a winning record.

The O's went on to defeat the Mariners 3-1 in the ALDS. They would eventually fall to the Indians 4-2 in the ALCS. 

In 1998, Moose had two separate stints on the DL. First a wart on his hand split open during a game. Then, just two weeks after coming off the DL, he was struck in the face by a ball hit by Sandy Alomar Jr. However, he still managed to win 13 games.

Moose won his third Gold Glove this season with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

In 1999, Moose continued his dominance, with 18 wins and a 3.50 ERA. He struck out 172 batters in 203.2 innings. He was selected to his fifth and final All Star game, going one inning giving up a hit and two walks while striking out a pair. He finished second in AL Cy Young voting and won yet another Gold Glove.

In 2000, Mussina had his first and only losing record (not counting his first shortened season) going 11-15. He had an ERA of 3.79, but his opponents batted just .255 off of him. He committed just one error in the field but was not awarded his fifth Gold Glove, it instead went to Kenny Rogers of the Texas Rangers.

The following offseason, Moose decided to leave the Orioles via free agency and sign with the Bronx Bombers. Moose signed a six-year, $88.5 million contract.

In 2001, his first year with the Yankees, he went 17-11 with a 3.15 ERA. He struck out 214 batters in 228.2 innings. In the postseason Moose started four games going 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA, his only loss coming in Game One of the World Series against the Diamondbacks.

In 2002, Mussina went 18-10 with a 4.05 ERA. Moose was third in the league with strikeouts with 182 and strikeouts per nine innings pitched (7.60). That postseason Moose was 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA giving up four runs in four IP as the Yankees were eliminated in the first round 3-1 by the Los Angeles Angels.

In 2003 Mike went 17-8 with a 3.40 ERA. He had 195 strikeouts in 214.2 innings. In the ALDS that season Moose got the only loss as the Yankees beat the Twins 3-1. Moose lost the first game of the series 3-1.

In the ALCS against the hated Red Sox, Moose lost the first game of that series as well, 5-2. In Game Four of the series Mussina again got the loss, 3-2.

Moose pitched in Game Seven, only not as a starter. He made his first career relief appearance. Moose came in with runners on the corners and no outs. Moose first got Jason Varitek to strike out before getting Johnny Damon to ground into a double play to end the inning.

Moose would pitch two more scoreless innings and on a walk off home run by Aaron Boone, the Yankees were headed to the World Series.

In the World Series, Moose got the win in Game Three of the series, 6-1. That was the only game Moose would pitch in the World Series as the Marlins defeated the Yankees in six games. Moose went 29.1 innings gave up 11 runs and struck out 32 that postseason.

In 2004, Moose battled injuries that year but still went 12-9 with a 4.59 ERA. In the postseason, Moose again lost the first game of the ALDS, 2-0. In the ALCS against Boston, Mussina won the first game of the series 10-7. Moose also pitched in Game Five of the ALCS. Moose pitched seven innings giving up just two runs. But, the Yankees couldn't hold on to the lead and the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs.

In 2005, Moose went 13-8 with a 4.41 ERA. In the postseason Moose won the first game of the ALDS 4-2 pitching 5.2 scoreless innings. In Game Five Moose was not as sharp only going 2.2 innings and giving up five runs. The Yankees lost that game 5-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs.

In 2006, Moose went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA. His OBP against was .270 and he became the first pitcher ever in the American League to win 10 or more games for 15 consecutive seasons. On June 25th of that year he struck out Cody Ross to reach 2,500 strikeouts.

In the postseason that year, Moose pitched in the second game of the ALDS, going seven innings giving up four runs in a loss. The Yankees would go on to be eliminated by the Tigers in four games.

In 2007, Moose became just the ninth pitcher to win 100 games with two different teams. Mussina struggled this year, and with the Yankees in a tight pennant race Moose temporarily lost his spot in the rotation to up and comer Ian Kennedy.

After just his first career regular season relief appearance Moose was once again back in the rotation. He went 3-0 in his final four starts to finish the season with an 11-10 record and a career high 5.15 ERA.

In the postseason Mussina did not start a game, but he did come on in relief in Game Four, throwing four-and-two-third innings and giving up just two runs. This would turn out to be Moose's final playoff appearance.

In 2008, which would turn out to be his final season, his fastball had greatly diminished in speed. Owner Hank Steinbrenner told Mussina to pitch more like Jamie Moyer, and rely less on his fastball. After those comments Moose went 9-1 in his next 11 starts. On September 20, Moose recorded 20 wins for the first time in his career beating the Red Sox 6-2.

Moose became the oldest pitcher to have a first 20 win season. He finished 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA. He was awarded his seventh career Gold Glove. Moose announced his retirement from the sport on November 20, 2008.

Moose is probably the best known pitcher to throw the knuckle-curve.

The debate on whether Moose belongs in the Hall of Fame is still continuing. Moose is one of six pitchers who have won 10 or more games in 17 seasons. Four of them are Hall of Famers, Warren Spahn, Cy Young, Don Sutton, and Steve Carlton. The other, Greg Maddox is not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Of 23 pitchers eligible who have at least 265 wins, and an ERA of 3.69 or less, 20 of them are in the Hall of Fame. Tim Kirkjian said on Baseball Tonight on ESPN: "He's a Hall of Famer. I looked at the numbers and he is in."

I don't know if Moose will be a Hall of Famer or not, but in my opinion he definitely deserves to be there.

 
This article is also featured on www.rangersfan30.wordpress.com

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