#6 - Mike Mussina, RHP (1991-2000)
Do you think that Peter Angelos ever regrets the way the organization handled things when Mike Mussina left for New York? Mussina remains the greatest pitcher to ever call Oriole Park at Camden Yards home. Had there only been a little less stubbornness and a little more willingness from the franchise to recognize that a great pitcher deserved to be paid, Mike Mussina might have been the Jim Palmer of our generation: a great, career-long Oriole.
The way Mussina departed the franchise seems to have created a frostiness that endures today. When he was inducted into the O's Hall of Fame in 2012, the speech he gave was cursory and brusque. It was enough to wonder whether he will even have any desire to wear an Orioles cap in the Hall of Fame once the Baseball Writers Association of America electorate gets their collective head out of their hindquarters and elects him into Cooperstown.
There can be no mistaking the fact that Mussina is a worthy baseball Hall of Famer. He should be in as an Oriole, too, and they should add a statue of him in Legends Plaza and retire his number, same as they've done with all of the other members of the team who've made it into the Hall. He spent more years in Baltimore, threw more innings here, and his best years were here. He should be the next Oriole in the Hall of Fame. It's just a matter of when the rest of the world gets around to noticing that fact.
The Orioles drafted Mussina out of Stanford with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 1990 draft. He signed for a bonus of $225,000 and went straight to Double-A. He only made a total of 28 starts in the minors before the Orioles called him up for good. The adage from Earl Weaver's days was to break in a young starter in the bullpen. Mussina needed none of that.
They unleashed him on the American League for 12 starts in 1991 and he rewarded them with a 139 ERA+ over 87.2 innings across twelve starts. Counting his minor league time that year, he threw over 200 innings in his debut season as a 22-year-old. The truly great ones are fortunate to not need innings limits or bullpen stints. They're just that good.
Mussina's first full season saw him dazzle the league over 241 innings, putting up a 2.54 ERA - a 157 ERA+ - and holding hitters to a batting line of .239/.279/.348. He finished fourth place in the Cy Young voting and ought to have been in the top two, but writers in those days were enamored with bunches of saves (Dennis Eckersley) and 20 wins (Jack McDowell). He was great. He would continue to be great.
That 1992 season was the first year he was named to the All-Star team. He made it back onto the All-Star team the next season, with the game in Baltimore, though he did not appear in the game. You know the story. The name of Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays manager at the helm of the American League team, who left him in the bullpen in Baltimore on that night, shall forever be reviled in the annals of Baltimore sports history. He'll rue the day he left Mussina in the bullpen. I think he just rued again.
In the seasons following that, Mussina was named to three more All-Star teams. He won four Gold Gloves as well. We've spent the time since he departed watching a load of bumblers who often appear to be unaware that they're responsible for fielding baseballs. He was ready to field his position with every pitch. He also had four more top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting as an Oriole. They've had exactly one - a fifth-place finish by Erik Bedard in 2007 - since Mussina left.
Though he came close several times, he never did win 20 games as an Oriole. He was hosed on both ends by the baseball strike - 1994, when the season ended early, and 1995, when it started late - and by terrible teammates on the 1999 club. Over a ten-year Orioles career, he threw 2,009 innings with a 3.53 ERA. That sounds modest now, but it was good for a 130 ERA+ at the time, 30% better than the league average. How often have we wished for even one league average pitcher, let alone one as good as Mussina? He more than held his own during the era of inflated offense.
Mussina's finest time as an Oriole came during the 1997 postseason. He was so good it's hard to even fathom: four starts between the ALDS against Seattle, outdueling Randy Johnson twice, and the ALCS against Cleveland, during which time all hope was destroyed by Armando Benitez. Mussina himself went 29 innings between these four games, giving up only four earned runs. He also only allowed 18 hits and walks. That's actually ridiculous.
Benitez was not the only goat in the bullpen that series; Alan Mills and Randy Myers also lost games on top of Benitez's two. If not for that, do the Orioles win the 1997 World Series, giving Mussina the championship ring he always deserved? Alas, for what might have been.
The totals from his Orioles career are staggering. His 147 wins rank third on the franchise list, and his won-lost percentage of .638 is the highest among O's pitchers who have thrown more than 500 innings. With 1,535 strikeouts, he is behind only Palmer. Mussina is the only Oriole to ever have multiple 200+ strikeout seasons. He had three. Among O's pitchers who threw more than 1,000 innings, his BB/9 of 2.09 stands as the lowest; not surprisingly, his K/BB rate of 3.287 is the highest.
By ERA+, Mussina even had a better career than Palmer - 130 to Palmer's 125. Over his O's career, he had 45 complete games and 15 shutouts. That's more shutouts than every Orioles pitcher has in total since Mussina's last season in Baltimore. He had more complete games as an Oriole than every O's pitcher combined since 2003.
He was so good, and for the best years of his career, he was ours. He's our #6 greatest Oriole of all time.