Late on the night of September 2, 2001, New York Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina stood on the mound at Fenway Park in Boston. There were two outs in the ninth inning with the Yankees leading, 1-0. Mussina had two strikes on the Red Sox hitter, Carl Everett. No Boston batter had reached base. It was a perfect game, potentially the 15th in major-league history.
Mussina bent over at the waist, his signature bow, then stood up and delivered the pitch. Everett swung and lifted a soft, arcing blooper over the infield into left field where it landed for a hit. Mussina’s bid for immortality was dead.
But he still has another chance—the Hall of Fame. Mussina retired after the 2008 season, so he’s now eligible for election to Cooperstown (a five-year waiting period is required). I’m not objective when it comes to Mussina. I like him, even though I never met him. He seems to embody certain qualities that I admire: intelligence, integrity, and modesty.
He graduated from Stanford in three years with a degree in economics, and he enjoys quiet moments with the toughest cross-word puzzles. He could have stayed in the game two more years and nailed down his 300th win, assuring his place at Cooperstown. Instead, he retired at the top of his game, giving up the limelight for his family and friends back in his hometown, where he coaches the high school basketball team.
Mussina has Hall of Fame credentials. BaseballReference.com does “similarity” studies for each player in the big leagues. The web site says that Mussina is similar to four Hall of Fame pitchers: Jim Palmer, Carl Hubbell, Juan Marichal, and Jim Bunning. I ranked those Hall of Famers’ records in six categories with that of Mussina—Wins, Winning Percentage, Earned Run Average (ERA), Strikeouts, 20-Win Seasons, and Average Won-Lost Record for a 162-Game Season.
Wins: Mussina, 270; Palmer, 268; Hubbell, 258; Marichal, 243; Bunning, 224.
Winning Percentage: Mussina, .638; Palmer, .638; Marichal, .631; Hubbell, .622; Bunning, .549.
ERA: Palmer, 2.86; Marichal, 2.89; Hubbell, 2.98; Bunning, 3.27; Mussina, 3.68.
Strikeouts: Bunning, 2855; Mussina, 2813; Marichal, 2303; Palmer, 2212; Hubbell, 1677.
20-Win Seasons: Palmer, 8; Marichal, 6; Hubbell, 5; Mussina, 1, Bunning, 1.
Ave. W-L Record, 162 Games: Marichal 18-10; Hubbell, 18-11; Mussina, 17-10; Palmer, 17-10; Bunning, 14-11.
Mussina ranks high in Wins, Winning Percentage, Strikeouts and Average Won-Lost Record over 162 games. His ERA and number of 20-win seasons do not match up well. But there’s an explanation for this. Mussina pitched his entire career in the American League during the Designated Hitter Rule, and he pitched it during the Steroid Era. None of the others had this disadvantage, except for Palmer, who picked up l00 of his wins before the DH rule.
In fact, Mussina finished in the top five ERA ranking five times during his career, and 11 times he was in the top 10, so his ERA was well above average in his era. And while he had only one 20-win season, he won 18 games five times and 19 games twice.
Moreover—and this is huge—Mussina pitched in the tough American League East. What’s more, he pitched during the era of the five-man rotation. Had he pitched in a four-man rotation, he might have easily garnered 300 wins.
Mussina was well recognized by baseball writers and observers. He was a five-time All-Star, finished in the top five Cy Young Award voting six times, and won seven Gold Gloves for his excellence in fielding.
Finally, every pitcher who’s 100 games over the .500 mark and who’s been eligible for the Hall, is in the Hall of Fame. Mussina is a staggering 117 games over .500 (270-153).
If Mike Mussina is not voted into the Hall of Fame, then it’s legitimate to ask: How the hell did Jim Bunning get in?