At a time when it angers and disappoints many Orioles fans that the club has misfired on some key first-round draft picks in recent years, we should probably remember that Mike Mussina was a big hit. Just not with hitters.
Taken 20th overall in round one out of Stanford in 1990, he went on to become one of the Orioles’ all-time best pitchers and is a clear candidate for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
But the news that he was elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame yesterday was not met with universal support from the fans. I have to admit to some surprise to see the degree to which the bitterness over Mussina becoming a Yankee still exists for many fans.
I can remember having some rather spirited disagreements with other reporters over Mussina when he signed as a free agent with the Yankees before the 2001 season. Some Baltimore columnists then wrote that he should get a standing ovation when he returned to Camden Yards. I tried to explain that many O’s fans might have done just that had he signed with just about any other team.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos likely could have signed Mussina with what was his final offer had it come months earlier and the Orioles made their share of mistakes during that negotiation. But no matter how some fans see that history now, some still see Mussina as a traitor for going to a bitter rival, especially the one in pinstripes.
Speaking only for myself, a kid from Baltimore who grew up loving the Orioles, I wasn’t very thrilled with Mussina ending up in New York, either. But time has softened some of those feelings for me and I had absolutely no issue casting my vote for Mussina to get in the O’s Hall of Fame. He clearly deserved it, that really isn’t very debatable at all.
Mussina seemed to be speaking directly to Orioles fans in a sense yesterday when he said this during a telephone press conference:
“If people are upset that I made a change, they are allowed to be upset. People take this stuff really personally sometimes, but honestly, the first 10 years in the major leagues were a great 10 years. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
We all know that Baltimore fans can be very provincial - again I say that as a native who can relate - and many felt jilted then by Mussina and clearly are not - nor may they ever be - over it.
But time has moved on and Mussina went to a better team for more money. We don’t have to like it, but that is true. I think fans do get some satisfaction that his stats were better with an Orioles team that had five losing season during his time here while he was on six first-place teams in New York.
I will be in the press box, not the stands on the August night of Mussina’s Hall of Fame ceremony. Were I in the stands, I would cheer and show my appreciation for what he once did for the team. In October 1997, he pitched some amazing games on the biggest stage. Few O’s pitchers have ever stepped up so big.
Mussina will never get universal support in Baltimore. But the angry fans calling Baltimore talk-shows yesterday and writing in on this and other message boards do not speak for all the fans. There are plenty that do appreciate what he did here and will be happy to cheer him when they get another chance in August.
It just won’t be unanimous support and some feelings that got strained back in 2001 are still strained.