Checking in with Moose

From the CBS affiliate in New York:

As head basketball coach at Montoursville High School in Pennsylvania, the 270-game winner has more anxiety about his team’s 2-5 start than seeing if he will move closer to the 75 percent balloting mark needed for election to Cooperstown. Mussina saw a significant gain a year ago when he garnered 43 percent and has momentum that could get him there in the next couple years.

As of today, Mike sits at 60.5 percent. Momentum!

Three great baseball brawls

Somehow this is a big part of my Saturday night. Thanks to Deadspin for kicking off this exploration: highlighting the first, linking to the second and inspiring me to find the video from the third. I’d forgotten about that early news in Moose’s career.

The New York Times, June 7, 1993: “BALTIMORE, June 6— Seattle starter Chris Bosio sustained a collarbone injury, at least two players were bloodied, and a manager and seven players were ejected when the Mariners and Baltimore Orioles engaged in a lengthy brawl this afternoon.”

Baltimore Sun, same day: “It started out to be a beautiful afternoon at Oriole Park, but it turned ugly in a hurry. The game between the Orioles and Seattle Mariners turned into a brawl yesterday when tempers flared and a 60-man free-for-all erupted in the seventh inning.”

The Washington Post, same day: “BALTIMORE, JUNE 6 — This was not the usual milling-around, push-and-shove, don’t-get-hurt baseball fight. Today the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners exchanged honest-to-goodness punches — then angry accusations — with an ugly brawl erupting after Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina drilled Mariners catcher Bill Haselman in the left shoulder with a seventh-inning fastball.”

2013 Big Lead look-back: “Kudos to the Camden Yards PA for deciding to play Three Dog Night’s ‘Mama Told Me Not to Come’ during the brawl. Not exactly fighting music, but a nice touch nonetheless.”

When the time arrives for Mike Mussina, I’m ready

As you know, I’m a fan of ex-Orioles ace Mike Mussina.

New York Daily News, a month ago: “Mike Mussina didn’t receive a call from the Hall of Fame, but his chances of one day being enshrined in Cooperstown went up. After appearing on only 24.6% of ballots in 2014, that figure jumped up to 43%, more than any other player, on Wednesday.”

Baltimore Sun, same week: “While Mussina still fell well short of 75 percent needed to gain election, it positions the five-time All-Star and 270-game winner well moving forward. This was just his third year of eligibility, and players can remain on the ballot for 10 years provided they receive at least five percent every year.”

Now in my closet, via Ebay and three months of the seller and I grappling with the mistake-prone United States Postal Service and Canadian Post, a new jersey to go with my Mussina Yankees and Stanford jerseys, ready for a Mussina induction one of these years:

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Hall of Fame, someday

A friend asked me the other day if I’m disappointed in baseball Hall of Fame voters not electing Mike Mussina this year. I am, of course. When voters entrusted with the official legacy of your favorite sport deny entry to your favorite player,  you’re disappointed. MLB.com sums it up well:

As announced on Wednesday, Mussina received just 20.3 percent (116 votes) of the 75 percent necessary for induction in 2014, which marked the former Yankees and Orioles right-hander’s first appearance on the ballot. While Mussina far exceeded the five percent needed to stay on the ballot, history suggests that Mussina is looking at a slow climb.

If we’re looking at a slow climb, as frustrating as that may be, it helps to see the result prompting publish of more arguments for Moose’s election.  The headline from Tyler Kepner, the Yankees beat writer during Mike’s New York tenure — and one of the best beat writers of that era, — is clear, “Mussina Deserves More Than ‘Almost’ From Hall.” Over on Forbes,  a professor throws up tons of stats to make such a case. “Mike Mussina’s Hall Of Fame Candidacy Will Require Patience And Further Examination” is the hed there. And Feinstein is quoting him as a voice of A-Rod reason.

Meanwhile, Mike seems happy coaching basketball at his old high school in rural Pennsylvania. “It’s rewarding. It’s nice to get out there and help these kids battle through a growing point in their lives when they have a lot of issues they have to tackle off the court, out of school and in school.”

I’ve never been to Cooperstown before, but…

But if voters elect Mike Mussina to the hall of fame this year, I’ll be going.

The Baltimore Sun had the report this afternoon: Moose is on the ballot. “The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which was released Tuesday by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, includes former Orioles pitchers Mike Mussina, Armando Benitez and Mike Timlin among the 19 first-time candidates.” MLB.com has the best initial story, “Up for Hall, Mussina hopes to avoid ‘Mr. Almost’ tag.” The piece mentions the near-perfect game, the near-Series crown and the near Cy Young. On the other hand, “Only five pitchers in the game’s history have had as many wins as Mussina while matching his .638 career winning percentage: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove and Randy Johnson.” And — something MLB.com fails to mention but it’s both obvious and necessary to mention — this career happened in the ugly heart of the steroid era.

Meanwhile, Mussina is now coaching varsity basketball at Montoursville (Pa.) High School, where he graduated in 1987. “Mussina will be paid a stipend of $4,170,” the local Williamsport Sun-Gazette reports. “Mussina pitched with the Orioles and Yankees from 1991-2008, compiling a record of 270-153 with a 3.68 ERA. He has coached Little League Baseball and junior varsity basketball since retiring.” HOF vote tallies arrive in January.

Why I am sad about the Nats but not broken

In 1989, the Baltimore Orioles played the Toronto Blue Jays in the final series of the season, With two wins in the three games, they would have caught the Jays in the American League East and forced a one-game playoff. With a sweep, they could would have won the pennant outright. The Orioles had bounced back from 107 loses the previous season, with a record 21 losses to begin the year. That the 1989 team was just a game out of first place with three games to go was a near-certifiable miracle.

The Orioles lost the first two games of the series, and I began to grasp losing in professional baseball. I was nine. I went to my room and cried.

The Orioles were in contention but faded during the 1992 and 1993 seasons. In the 1993 All-Star game, held at Camden Yards, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston declined to play my favorite player, Mike Mussina. In 1996 and 1997, the Orioles went to the American League Championship Series. They lost the first time when the series momentum turned on a Yankee fan reaching from the stands to disrupt play. When they failed the next year, every game they lost was by a margin of one run.

In 1994, Mussina, by now a personal hero to my 14-year-old self, had a chance to win 20 games for the first time, but the strike ended the season. In 1996, Mussina in his last start had a chance again to win 20, but the bullpen lost his lead. In 1997, Mussina lost a perfect game with two outs to go. I was watching and blamed my brother for the loss. He had noted the possibility a batter or two earlier. In 1998, Mussina lost a perfect game with four outs to go. In 2001, he lost a perfect game with one out to go.

My love of Washington baseball has never gone much better. I grew up knowing Washington had lost two versions of the Senators, to Minnesota and then to Texas. And any baseball-card collector knew Topps had once printed Washington Padres cards, but the planned 1974 from San Diego had fallen apart. Washington lost league expansion competitions in 1993 and 1998. (I hadn’t been around for when we had lost to Toronto in 1976.) Attempts to buy other teams and bring them to D.C. failed as well.

But Washington finally landed a team. The team was in first place after the first half of its first season here. It lost most games subsequently. But this year, seven years later, the team finally made the postseason. The Nats lost a deciding fifth game to the Cardinals last night — after twice being one strike away from winning and advancing to the NLCS. I was there at Nationals Ballpark, cheering, as I had been for the two previous games.

A few years ago, Mike Mussina, in the last season of his 17-year career, whom by then the Orioles had lost through free agency to the Yankees (a move that somehow made sense in my opinion), finally won 20 games.

This year, the Orioles finally returned to the playoffs. They weren’t my team anymore, but I was happy for them. The chance of a local World Series was exciting. But the Orioles lost a deciding fifth game last night as well. I was sorry for them. They weren’t my team anymore, but twenty-three years ago, making that turnaround run for the playoffs, the Orioles had taught me losing in baseball wasn’t forever. Falling short, they had reminded me loss was forever, but losing was a only matter of timing.

Twenty!

Right now. At 39, on the last day of the season, Mike Mussina is a 20-game winner. He becomes the oldest pitcher to win 20 games for the first time. I’m sitting here in Mussina’s Stanford jersey with a coffee table full of early Mussina cards, and even after doing work all day, just able to watch the ESPN.com box, I’m thrilled. 6 IN, 3 H, 0 R, 3 K, 20-9.

“He is undecided about whether to keep pitching, but if this was his last game, he went out on a highlight,” Tyler Kepner writes in a quick take for the Times. LoHud Yankees offers a Bullwinkle salute. Thank you to 11-year-old Patrick for picking the right baseball hero.

19 and counting for Mussina

In times like these, I’m glad I don’t bite my nails. Mike’s 19th win last night would have left me short at least one hand, and I’m only seeing the live box scores online. This season is Mike’s third 19-win year, the first since the 19-9 of 1995 and 19-11 of 1996. Hat holders, it looks like we have one start to go — the last day of the season, at Boston.

Covering win 19: “Mussina, who took a liner off the right elbow in the third inning, will try to pitch Sunday at Fenway Park, and a victory there will give him his first 20-win season,” the Times wrote, and later: “His last chance was on Sept. 28, 1996, when he pitched for Baltimore and Armando Benítez blew the save in what would have been his 20th victory. Mussina’s next chance will come exactly 12 years later, as long as his elbow allows it.” That explained the early departure last night (a mystery to box score watchers). “Despite a large red welt on the outside of his elbow the size of a golf ball, Mussina allowed just one more hit before being pulled after going the minimum five innings required for the win,” Baseball Toaster said

But Canada’s Globe and Mail had the best piece, on Cito (background).

Want to get Gaston going, and turn a sunny day into darkness? One only needs to utter the name Mike Mussina, the veteran pitcher for the New York Yankees who’s had a long-simmering feud with Gaston.

A smile will quickly turn to a frown and Gaston’s eyes will start to pinch.

“Mike Mussina can kiss my ass – and you can print that,” Gaston uttered last month to a reporter who had unwisely approached the Toronto Blue Jays manager seeking a quote or two for a story on Mussina.

The headline on that lead today was, “Mussina has the last laugh.”

Covering win 18: “Mussina shook hands with the manager and walked off the Stadium mound to thunderous applause Thursday night after throwing six strong innings in a 9-2 Yankee victory over the listing White Sox that put him two victories from his first 20-win season,” the Daily News wrote. “Most from the crowd of 53,152 stood and chanted ‘Mooose, Moose,’ as Mussina approached the Yankee dugout.” The Times reported he wouldn’t mind coming back for another year with the team. Strategic Failure looked at his chances for 3,000 strikeouts.

One paper looked to 19. “Palmer contends that Mussina would have been the franchise’s greatest pitcher if he had spent his entire career with the Orioles,” the Sun said. “But Mussina didn’t, so Palmer retains that crown — perhaps forever. Mussina is surely OK with that. But don’t think 269 is just a number for Mussina. He wouldn’t say it, but passing Palmer might be as important to him as getting that elusive 20th win.”

Covering the future: So, yes. On the career list, the 19th win moves Mussina to 269, ahead of Palmer and one behind Burleigh Grimes.

Strategic Failure examines the previous chances for 20, the Mussina-Palmer differences and the related Hall considerations.

Needing to blog the Mussina win

Mike lost Sunday, got bruised and made an error for the first time in three years, so I felt like blog catch-up on the win in the previous game was necessary and a little pressing. Sunday left Mike needing three wins in four games, and it would be easy to get down now.

So, the previous game: “Mike Mussina worked six innings, improving to 17-7 as he seeks his first 20-win season,” the Times said with hope. “He matched a season high with eight strikeouts, improving to 3-0 against the Rays,” the AP said. “Mussina’s work pushed him past Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Eppa Rixey for sole possession of 34th place all-time list with 267 career victories,” MLB.com said. “Moose is this year’s Yankee MVP — in a landslide,” Yankees Watch said.

Whether Mike gets 20 or not — and I still think he will — what a year it’s been for him. When everyone thinks your guy is washed up and the next year he’s winning 17 and making a cover at work (above, reprint lawyers, come find my cubicle), it’s good to be a fan…

… There’s that.

I want to post a link for a fellow Moose fan, David, who’s been tracking Mike’s place in history and linking here from Strategic Failure this year. David’s blog is must-read after a win. It’s no Mike Mussina Male Gigolo.

He’s been going through a difficult time recently, and he deserves a good story to read. So, here’s the first big story and one of the best, from the Sports Illustrated archives of July ’94: “The M&M Boys.”

Mike Mussina likes to feed deer. Ben McDonald likes to kill them. “I’ve already told him, ‘Keep it up and you’re going to have an animal population problem on your hands,’ ” McDonald says. His large, round eyes grow even bigger at the thought of all those plump, trusting bucks bouncing happily across Mussina’s property in suburban Pennsylvania. “I said, ‘All it takes is one phone call, and I’ll take care of it.’ ”

Mussina is a big Star Trek fan. McDonald is a Fox kind of a guy who thinks it doesn’t get any better than Married … With Children. “I wouldn’t watch Star Trek if it was the last show on TV,” McDonald says.

Mussina is rock-and-roll, crossword puzzles, Stephen King , subtle humor and, thanks to taking summer classes, a Stanford graduate who needed less than four years to earn his economics degree. McDonald is country, Supersoakers, Field & Stream , slapstick and one of the most legendary college baseball players ever. “One summer I played in the Alaska summer league, and another summer I played on the Olympic team,” says McDonald , who left LSU after three years. “See, that was summer school for me. This is my life. I can always go back to college.”

Both of them were high school punters. Mussina was the only one who kicked with his shoe on.

Enjoy the story. Fourteen years on, here’s to the next win.

16, 266 for Mussina

NYT: “Four Yankees home runs overcame a shaky beginning by Mussina, who gave up hits to four of his first five hitters to trail, 3-0. But Mussina allowed only two more hits and no runs the rest of his six-inning stint, retiring his last 14 batters. With his 266th career victory, Mussina (16-7) tied Bob Feller and Eppa Rixey for 34th place on the career list.”

Strategic Failure, on surpassing Jim McCormick on the list: “McCormick, a right-hander born in Scotland in 1856, enjoyed his best years with Cleveland of the National League from 1879 to 1884, winning 40 or more games twice during that span (though also losing 30 or more three times).”

Jim Palmer sits next at 268.

MLB: “He fell into an early hole Saturday, giving up three runs and six hits to the first nine Royals batters he faced. They weren’t hitting the ball hard off of him, as three of the hits came on well-placed ground balls, but Mussina wasn’t satisfied. ‘It still looked like they were comfortable at the plate,’ he said. ‘And when they’re standing in there comfortably, that’s something you don’t want to see.’ So Mussina adjusted. He concentrated on his pitch selection and what he was throwing to certain batters.”

Newsday: “Yesterday left him looking for four more wins with 38 games left to play – roughly seven more starts, if all goes according to schedule. His ERA dropped from 3.39 to 3.35. Mussina (16-7) has won five of his last seven starts, with a loss and a no-decision. The Yankees, meanwhile, have depended on him heavily, going 17-9 in games that he starts.”

NYT Bats: “Whenever he retires, Mussina will make for a fascinating Hall of Fame argument. If people dismiss him, they will cite the usual tired arguments about his never winning 20 and his never pitching for a champion. … Mostly, though, they will have to ignore this compelling fact: only six pitchers in major league history have as many victories as Mussina (265) with a better winning percentage (.637). They are Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Jim Palmer. That’s the kind of company Mussina keeps.”