Mike Mussina still has the same thin build that we remember when he stood on the mound for 18 seasons, including the first 10 in Baltimore. The only real change in his appearance is the goatee, which is speckled with gray hairs. Otherwise, he looks like the same guy who won 147 games and spun three one-hitters with the Orioles.
Mussina and former second baseman Rich Dauer will be inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame before Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. game against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards. It’s a rare visit for both of them. Mussina is content being retired and living in Montoursville, Pa. with his wife and two sons. Dauer is busying coaching third base for the Colorado Rockies.
“I’m obviously honored,” Mussina said. “To be thought of in a way that you couldn’t have pictured, to be put in the same room with (Jim) Palmer and Cal (Ripken) and guys who have accomplished so many things for this organization, most of them playing even longer than I did, it’s really been nice. I’m not really sure that I’ve understood how big a deal it is. There’s only so many organizations in the major leagues and this team thought enough about my career here to include me in some of the best who have ever put the uniform on for these guys. So I really appreciate that.
“It’s my first trip back to Baltimore since I retired, even though it’s only three hours away, but it’s good to be back and stand up here in the warehouse and look down on the field, and get to do some of the stuff I used to do 15 years ago. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Mussina has never regretted his decision to retire following his only 20-win season in 2008, the last of eight spent with the Yankees.
“The year before I retired, I had a below-average year,” he said. “I was hurt most of the time, playing injured. I just made the decision that the last year on my contract was going to be my last year. Whether it was good or bad, it was time to go. I was going to be 40 right after the season ended. I just decided that if it’s bad, it’s written right there that I should be retired, and if I have a good year, what better way to go out than having a good, solid year?
“I didn’t know that I was going to win 20 games and I didn’t know I was going to be healthy the whole year and make every start and all that stuff. It was a nice way to end it and I never thought about going back and playing again. I’d be crazy to go back and think it would be that positive when I was 40 and I was 41. And I knew if I was going to make a commitment to try to win 300 games that I was probably committing to at least three years, because you never know what’s going to happen. And even then, who knows at that age? Stuff starts falling apart. I just stopped playing and I felt good about it at the time and my kids were still young. I was missing a lot of their stuff and it was time to go home and watch what they were doing.
“A typical day for me now is coaching something, whether it’s baseball from spring through summer. This is the first year I haven’t done football in a couple of years. I do basketball in the winter time. My older boy will be 14 next month and my younger boy is 9, so when I retired they were both still in elementary school, so it’s been pretty busy, being home and being a parent, being a husband, doing the stuff I never got to do because I was always away. I was tired of missing out on stuff, and now I get to do it.
“I get the kids to school, get some stuff done during the day, pick them up from school and then there’s some kind of practice or a game. That’s usually my day. But most people who retire say they don’t know how they had time to work because there’s a lot of other stuff to do. And there’s stuff I used to brush aside or not even think about when I was playing, and now you have to handle it. It’s busy, but it’s fun and I’ve never thought about going back. I’m really good about retiring when I did and being out of the game.”
Mussina didn’t get the same itch to return as former Yankee teammates Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens.
“Those guys, I think they’re crazy, first of all, to be stopping and starting and trying to do that kind of stuff,” he said. “If you’re going to play, play. If you’re not, then you stop for a reason. Either you lost the drive or your body is telling you it’s time to stop. Or whatever it is.
“Andy came back and looked good. Roger has come and gone a few times now and he’s trying it again. And we’ll see. (Jamie) Moyer is still out there. I don’t know if he’s every going to retire. Some guys, they just love it so much that that’s what they want to do. I loved the game and I loved playing. There’s so much other stuff that goes on, traveling and being away, that sometimes that will wear you down. I had had enough of doing that, so I decided it was time to go home.”
Mussina went 2-0 with a 1.24 ERA in four playoff starts in 1997, the last year that the Orioles posted a winning record.
“Yeah, it’s kind of hard to believe,” he said. “There’s been other teams that have struggled for a long period of time, too. We were a really good team there for a couple of years and things just went the other way in a hurry, and it’s unfortunate. It’s a great fan base, it’s a great stadium. Now that they’re back in the hunt trying to make it to the postseason, it’s good to see. I don’t think people expected it in the beginning, but teams have underachieved in the division and they’ve, for the most part, stayed healthy and that’s what leads to good years. It’s nice to see them battling again and hopefully a couple of weeks from now they’ll put themselves in a really good spot.”
If Mussina is inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he still doesn’t know whether he’ll go in as an Oriole or a Yankee. He’s not even certain that it would be his call.
“I don’t think I get to choose,” he said. “If I got to choose? That’s a tough question, because my career obviously is pretty evenly split between both places. You eliminate one and it changes everything about what I was able to do. I accomplished a lot of things here, I accomplished a lot of things in New York. I can’t stand here and say it’s one over the other.
“Baltimore people want me to say Baltimore, New York people want me to say New York. When I was here, I loved being here, and there’s nothing else I can say about it. This was the only place I had known for the first 10 years of my career and it was a great place to play and it was tough to leave when I had to go.”
Dauer can’t remember being back in Baltimore since interviewing for the managerial job.
“That was like 2003 or 2004,” he said. “I do believe it was the last time, unless there was some special event or something like that. Believe me, my memory is slipping as we go on, but that’s was a very emotional day, too, very thrilling. I remember the walk here.
“I’ve been following the Orioles now since 1985 when I left and I’ve always been an Oriole. That’s where I grew up. I see all my friends getting into the Hall of Fame - well-deserved, I might add. I’m just thinking maybe some day. I didn’t plan on it. And then when they called and they said they were the Oriole Advocates, I was like, ‘Nah.’ But yeah, it was really thrilling in February, and what’s really neat is that it’s probably better now that I was put in because now I can use it to motivate my players.
“When I told them I was going into the Orioles Hall of Fame, half of them came up to me and told me they were so surprised that I made it. The other half said, ‘Maybe we’ll listen to you once or twice.’ It gave me a little bit of something.”
Dauer works for the Rockies, but his heart remains with the Orioles.
“I follow them every day,” said Dauer who spent all 10 of his major league seasons with the Orioles. “I know exactly what they do. I watch SportsCenter every night and I wait for the scores. This has to be tremendously thrilling for the Orioles. There’s nothing like postseason play. There’s nothing more exciting.
“Every team in baseball goes to spring training with the idea that they’re going to play in the postseason. Sixty percent of them don’t have a chance, because the Yankees are going to get there. Baltimore hasn’t been there in a long time and they’re playing probably the best kind of baseball you can play. One-run games, that’s how you win championships. Defense, pitching. One night it’s one thing, another night it’s another thing. They’re in a tough division and it’s going to be very difficult, but the extra wild card really makes it exciting.”
Unlike Mussina, Dauer won a World Series in 1983. It remains the greatest moment of his professional career.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Obviously, getting to the big leagues was a big thrill. My whole goal in life was to play one day in the big leagues. Now, to come back and to be put in the Hall of Fame of the only team you played with, all the guys you played with, it’s really special. Like I said, I grew up there. I came here very young and immature and very cocky and I left here maybe a little bit older and stuff like that. It was always a goal of mine to get back here.
“Winning always makes something special. We won quite a few games during that time. I think that had a lot to do with it. The manager, Earl Weaver, had a lot to do with it, because he was so unique to play for. When we finally got Ripken and (Eddie) Murray and you play with a couple tough guys like that, it’s almost nightly that you see a highlight of something that you think just didn’t happen.
“I’m just very fortunate because I was waiting for this to get here and I’m looking forward to tomorrow night, too.”
The Rockies not only granted Dauer permission to leave the team, they pretty much insisted on it.
“Tommy Runnels is coaching third. The have enough guys on the staff. It’s not that tough to fill in for me,” Dauer said, smiling.
“The Colorado Rockies organization was pretty adamant about it being such a special event. Dan O’Dowd, who is our general manager, started his career with the Baltimore Orioles back when I was playing. So I’ve been hired by Dan O’Dowd, fired by Dan O’Dowd, sent to Baltimore by Dan O’Dowd and I’m still working for him. Hopefully, that will continue.”
The Orioles Advocates Hall of Fame Luncheon today began with a moment of silence for Mike Flanagan, who died one year ago today.