It happens all the time in sports. An athlete holds on to the game longer than they should have and ends up being forced into retirement because of injuries or just not being able to hack it anymore.
Sports announcers and analysts will then mull over why that athlete didn't walk away when they were at the top of their game, when they could walk away on their own terms with their pride still intact?
The answer is probably very complicated, but it basically breaks down to the fact that these athletes have been playing their sports for most of their lives. They identify themselves as a baseball player or a quarterback or a point guard, and letting go of that is like losing a part of themselves.
Some guys are just never satisfied and want more wins, more shots at breaking records, or more championships.
Mike Mussina is not that kind of guy.
After 18 seasons, Moose has decided to call it quits. This decision has left most Yankee fans feeling sad, especially after the 20-win season he had in 2008, something he did for the first time in his career.
He was the ace of the pitching staff when the rotation looked downright awful, and he proved that he still knew how to win even after his dreadful 2007 season.
Mussina is a smart guy. He knew that if he agreed to pitch in 2009 he'd be pitching until at least 2011 in an effort to get 300 wins. At 39, (he turns 40 in December) he knows better than anyone that his body isn't going to respond the way it did when he was 29.
He made a deal with himself; no matter what happened in 2008, he was going to retire...He just didn't bother to say that to anyone in the media or on his team so that the focus wasn't on him all year and about what he might do at the end of the year.
Mussina is an interesting guy. I have to admit that he always seemed moody to me, even though I always liked him as a pitcher. This summer, I had the opportunity to read Living on the Black, a book written by John Feinstein about his experience spending the 2007 season following Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine.
That book made me appreciate Mussina a lot more, not just as a pitcher but as a person. He may come off all serious, but he's actually a funny guy. He is one of the few professional athletes that stayed true to who he is his entire career.
Moose still lives in a small town in Pennsylvania, and besides his family, his car collection is his pride and joy. He usually drives without the radio on (he likes the quiet) and he's played with two teams (Baltimore and New York) whose home ballparks were close enough to his home that he could make the trip rather easily.
He does the crosswords in the New York Times, and he isn't afraid of being an intellectual guy. The book showed how a quiet guy like Moose became the "go-to guy" in the clubhouse for the media and other players.
It also showed how Mussina has perfected his craft over 18 years. On any given night, he knows which of his pitches are working and which he has to scratch. He has matched up with some of the best pitchers in the league and has always been able to give his team a chance to win, and he did all of that while pitching in the A.L. East.
Mussina isn't a flashy guy. That's apparent in his lifestyle. He doesn't seem to be bothered that he doesn't have a shiny World Series ring, or a Cy Young Award, or an MVP. He does have 17 Gold Gloves, which shows what an amazing athlete he really is, but I guarantee he doesn't think much about the Gold Gloves, either.
That's not to say Mussina isn't appreciative of others recognizing him as a good athlete, it's just that his MO has never been about awards or praise, it's just been about playing the game and playing it well.
Think about how rare that really is. Most athletes are never satisfied with what they have achieved. They always want more, they always want to be recognized as the best, and sometimes the game gets lost in all that.
Roger Clemens came out of retirement three times. Michael Jordan came out of retirement at least twice. They were on a quest for more.
Mike Mussina won't think twice about retiring. He'll be spending his spring watching his sons play baseball or working on one of his favorite cars. He didn't want someone to tell him it was time to stop playing or be begging for a job because no team would give him one. He retired the same way he played the game, on his own terms.
And for that, I have even more respect for him.
I'm always going to remember his gutsy performance in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, and the way he helped make the 2008 season not a complete lost cause. I'll remember counting down the outs on Sept. 28 until he officially got his 20th win, and how sad I felt when his retirement announcement became official.
We'll miss you, Moose; it's been a pleasure.