September 28, 2008 was the final game for Mike Mussina.
Mussina won his 20th game of the season over the Red Sox at Fenway Park on the final day of the 2008 season. In the winter, Mussina announced he was retiring from baseball to spend more time with his family in Pennsylvania.
Mussina's retirement led the general manager Brian Cashman heavily exploring the pitching market in free agency, which lead to the signings of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, plus re-signing Andy Pettitte.
But here's my question: what if Mike Mussina decided not to retire? What if Mussina decided to play one last season?
After being a power pitcher early in his career, Mussina's velocity started to lack as he got older.
2007 may have been the worst year for Mussina as he was taken out of the rotation in the summer because he was losing games. Mussina was placed back into the rotation for the end of the season, finishing with an 11-10 record, a 5.15 ERA and only 91 strikeouts.
The wins, ERA, and strikeouts were all career worsts since his rookie season in 1991 for the Orioles.
Before the 2008 season, Mussina knew he had to change the way he pitched. He could no longer blow hitters away like he once did. He had to take a Greg Maddux-like approach to pitching, relying on movement and placement of pitches to get hitters out. If Mussina wanted to keep his spot, this needed to be done.
The 2008 results showed just that: a 20-9 record with a 3.37 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 34 starts. Mussina was thought to be the Yankees number three starter for 2008 and he ended up being their co-ace with Andy Pettitte due to many injuries to the pitching staff.
Because Mussina had changed the way he pitched, he easily could have stuck around in the majors for a few more years. He wasn't showing signs of injury and because he was one of the most intelligent people in the sport, he would figure out how to win.
At age 40, there was two things Mussina could have played for if he decided to continue: a World Series championship and 300 wins.
He was at 270 career wins, 30 away from the immortal 300 wins for a starting pitcher which is a guaranteed ticket to the Hall of Fame.
One thing is for certain, with Chien-Ming Wang's ineffectiveness and season ending injury and the Yankees search for a fifth starter, if Mussina was the one who stuck around in 2009, it could have turned to be beneficial for the Yankees.
Mussina's reinvention as a starting pitcher has been a way for older pitcher to be successful in today's game, Pettitte is using that same method of using location and movement to be an effective starter in 2009 after he was bothered by a shoulder injury in late 2008.
Because of Mussina's 2008 success, he was good for 200 innings and 34 starts. Even as a 40-year-old, if he had brought that same method to 2009, chances are, he still would have had the same success, because any good pitcher who uses their head to out-think a hitter and will find a way to get the hitter out.
When Mussina announced his retirement on Mike Francesa's show on WFAN in the winter, he said he was leaving with no regrets because he saw 2008 as the final season. Mussina said he never played to enhance his stats, but more for the love of the game.
But what he missed the most was his family back home, which lead to his retirement after 18 seasons.
Now, the Yankees have been just fine without Mussina in the rotation as they are in first place, but can you imagine the rotation with Sabathia, Burnett, Chamberlain, Pettitte and Mussina?
Because Mussina is happy in retirement after a long and great career, that rotation is only left to the imagination and a what could have been.
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