Mike Mussina should be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. That there is even a question of his worthiness is a shame, a reflection of the flawed nature of a process that has worked for a long time but may be outliving its usefulness.
It is hardly his fault that he played at the same time as other all-time greats, joining the ballot the same year as Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and having to compete for attention with holdover HOF-worthy pitchers such as Curt Schilling and, particularly, Roger Clemens. Mussina is no less deserving of induction than any of his excellent peers.
There are several perceived blemishes with Mussina's career, none of which should actually be held against him. He did not reach the benchmark of 300 wins. He only won 20 games once in his career. He never won a Cy Young award. He never won a World Series title. That any one of these reasons should be used to keep one of the greatest pitchers in his era out of the Hall of Fame is not right.
It's true that Maddux and Clemens are a cut above even Mussina, but while Glavine is likely to skate into induction, there's the possibility that Mussina will not even exceed the 5% threshold to carry over to next year's ballot.
Lack of 300 wins
Mussina won "only" 270 games in an 18-year career. Glavine won 305 games in a 22-year career, starting 146 more games than did Mussina. The Orioles great had a higher career winning percentage, with a .638 mark to Glavine's .600.
Significantly, Mussina retired after his age 39 season, not because he couldn't pitch any more, but because he didn't want to. His best years were behind him. Glavine recorded 30 wins from ages 40-42.
The mark of 270 wins may only be topped by a few active pitchers, if any. Perhaps no one active will get to 300 wins. Out of all MLB pitchers ever, Mussina has the 33rd-most wins, and he could have had more.
Should Mussina be penalized for going out before his game had declined, rather than chasing an arbitrary benchmark of greatness?
Mussina only won 20 games in a single season one time in his career. He managed this in his final season in 2008. Glavine had five seasons with 20 or more wins. On its face, this is a significant difference; however, Mussina was hosed out of the possibility of more 20-win seasons because of the teams he pitched on and the years he pitched.
The strike disrupted Mussina's chances of getting 20 wins on both ends. In 1994, Mussina had a 16-5 record when play was stopped. The Orioles had played 112 games, meaning Mussina would have had ten more starts, needing four wins to get 20.
In 1995, which was a 144-game season, Mussina had a 19-9 record, with multiple games where he deserved a win, like this one, where the only runs scored due to Bobby Bonilla misplaying a fly ball, and this one, where Mussina out-pitched Clemens, but Jesse Orosco happened.
There was one more season when he was with the O's where he pitched well enough to win 20, but the team he was on cost him a better result. Mussina finished the 1999 season with a record of 18-7 - this on a team that had a 78-84 record - and had no less than three games where his team cost him. One whopper where he again out-pitched Clemens saw six unearned runs due to three errors. There was this eight-inning gem where his offense failed him, and this other eight-inning gem, too.
How much better would Mussina look in the eyes of the writers with the four 20-win seasons he deserved to have in an Orioles uniform?
Never won a Cy Young
One of the big problems with the current method of Hall of Fame voting is that some of the same writers who fail to recognize greatness when they see it will then hold that against a player after their career. This affects Mussina because he's knocked for never winning a Cy Young when it's the writers who never rewarded him with one.
In particular, Mussina deserved the 2001 AL Cy Young. In his first year in pinstripes, Mussina out-performed teammate Clemens, who was given the award. Mussina came in fifth place even though he had a better ERA and WHIP in more innings pitched than Clemens - with fewer of both walks and hits, as well as wild pitches. Clemens won 20 games, you see, and Mussina only won 17, so his season was "better."
While Mussina might not have outright deserved a Cy Young in any of his other years, he did deserve better than he got in his best seasons. In his stellar 1992 season, he was neck-and-neck with Clemens, but both finished behind Dennis Eckersley (saved a lot of games) and Jack McDowell (won 20 games). Mussina faced more than three times as many batters as Eckersley and had a 2.54 ERA to McDowell's 3.18. In 1994, he came in fourth when he deserved second or third. 1995 saw him come in fifth when he again deserved second or third.
In 1999, Mussina was runner-up only to one of the greatest pitching seasons of all-time, that of another future Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez, who had a 2.07 ERA in 213.1 innings that year.
How much better would Mussina now look in the eyes of the electorate if he had the Cy Young award, and four other top three finishes, that his results warranted? Yet it was they who refused to give him credit for what he had done.
Never won a World Series
In the 1997 postseason, Mussina pitched in four games, threw a total of 29 innings, gave up only 11 hits, seven walks, and just four earned runs. In the ALCS, he took the no decision twice, pitching 15 innings and giving up only a single run. The Orioles had a great bullpen that year - second-best bullpen ERA in baseball. In a six game series, Armando Benitez took two losses, Alan Mills took one, and Randy Myers took one. Does this sound familiar?
As with the discussion about wins, here is another case where Mussina is penalized because his teams could not get him over the top. Glavine only won the World Series once, and this makes him so much better?
From 1992-2000, the years where Mussina pitched a full season for the O's, the Orioles had a record of 725-665 and made the playoffs twice, with one division title. The Braves, where Glavine was part of a staff with two other future Hall of Famers in John Smoltz and Maddux, went 861-531 over the same period of time, winning their division in eight of those nine years.
Glavine had many more bites at the apple in his prime and his team lost four of the five World Series that he made.
Mussina retired the year before the Yankees won a World Series title. They never won with him in spite of his greatness, and won without him despite his absence. Especially now that there are 30 teams in MLB, many of its best players, even legendary players, toil without ever winning that ring. It's not a player's fault they were on teams that couldn't make it, especially when, such as in 1997, Mussina did everything he could be expected to do to get his team a title.
In his career, Mussina had a 3.68 ERA and a 1.192 WHIP. Glavine had a 3.54 ERA with a 1.314 WHIP. Mussina spent his entire career in the American League, facing designated hitters, whereas Glavine would have three batters per game that were either pitchers or likely weak pinch-hitters.
Mussina pitched 57 career complete games and 23 shutouts; Glavine had 56 complete games and 25 shutouts. In his postseason career, Mussina had a 3.42 ERA to Glavine's 3.30.
The list goes on. In every way by which you can measure an individual pitcher's greatness, Mussina stacks up with one of the undisputed best of the era and of all time. Glavine will be on nearly every writer's ballot, as he deserves to be. Mussina deserves to be as well.
The Hall of Fame is the place for the greatest baseball players in the game's history to be recognized. Mike Mussina is one of them.