When Mike Mussina made it to Cooperstown on his sixth try last night, he also became the 23rd player, coach or front office executive with modern-day ties to the Baltimore Orioles to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
After playing 10 seasons with the Orioles and eight for the New York Yankees, Mussina made it clear in two separate interviews last night that he will not express a preference as to whether he goes into the Hall with an O’s or Yankees cap on his plaque.
“You know, I can’t choose,” he said in a live interview on MLB Network. “To play 10 seasons in one place and eight seasons in the other, to have pretty comparable numbers in both places. I wouldn’t be on this phone call if it wasn’t for both places. I started my career in one place and had a lot of success, and I finished my career in the other place and had a lot of success. I proudly played for both organizations, but there is no way I could pick one over the other.”
The Hall of Fame’s executive staff is expected to make the final decision on the cap and one apparent option is a blank or “clean” cap featuring no team, as was the case with pitcher Greg Maddux. How would Mussina feel about that?
“I think this is January and we have time to figure out what the best plan is,” he said in a conference call with reporters after his MLB Network interview. “I know that a few guys have gone in without anything on their hat. Both organizations were tremendously valuable and important to my career. I wouldn’t be talking to you if it wasn’t for Baltimore and New York. I can’t sit here and make a decision on where we’re going to go with that. We’ll get that figured out and, certainly by July, we’ll have something worked out.”
Mussina knew he was getting closer and closer to election each year, closing in on the needed 75 percent of the votes for induction. He got 76.7 percent last night. But even with Hall of Fame trackers putting him over 75 percent ahead of the results, he said he was still surprised this was his year.
“I was hoping for an improvement again, but I wasn’t expecting to jump from 63 to 75 that quickly. I was caught a little off guard. But I’m honored and proud and it’s been crazy the last few hours. Pretty cool.”
Mussina went 270-153 with a 3.68 ERA and .638 win percentage between the Orioles and Yankees over 18 seasons. Mussina ranks 20th in major league history with 2,813 strikeouts, is tied for 32nd in wins and is 33rd in win percentage.
He is a five-time American League All-Star, all with Baltimore. Mussina won seven Gold Gloves, including four with the Orioles, and finished inside the top six of Cy Young Award voting nine times, seven with Baltimore.
“When you are playing, you are always looking to just have another good season. When it’s over and you step away from it, you can look back and really figure out if you think you did some good things. Compare it to how it was 10 or 15 years ago. I had a great career. I got out the right time for me and my family, and I’m just glad that people thought I did a good enough job that I got elected to Cooperstown,” Mussina said.
Mussina, who turned 50 last month, currently holds the best all-time winning percentage (.645) by a qualifying Orioles pitcher (minimum 140 decisions) and ranks among the club’s all-time leaders in strikeouts (second with 1,535), wins (third with 147), ERA (fifth at 3.53), starts (fifth with 288), innings pitched (sixth at 2,009 2/3), shutouts (eighth with 15) and complete games (10th, 45).
In six career postseason starts with the Orioles, Mussina went 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA. He was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2012.
From Montoursville, Pa., near Williamsport, Mussina still lives in his hometown and was coaching basketball at Montoursville High School when he got the official call to the Hall last night. Induction day is July 21.
“To be from small-town America here in Pennsylvania and to even get the chance to play professional baseball and to make it the major leagues is great stuff.” he added. “When you start doing this for a living, you don’t ever expect to be on a phone call like this to talk about the Hall of Fame. I’m just honored and blessed and thankful that a kid from the country got a chance to go out and play a game and accomplish something like this.”
About that O’s contingent: Six Orioles have been elected to the Hall of Fame with an official plaque depicting them in an Orioles uniform, including Frank Robinson (elected in 1982), Brooks Robinson (1983), Jim Palmer (1990), Earl Weaver (1996), Eddie Murray (2003) and Cal Ripken Jr. (2007).
Other Hall of Famers with modern-day Orioles ties include Robin Roberts (1976), George Kell (1983), Luis Aparicio (1984), Hoyt Wilhelm (1985), Reggie Jackson (1993), Roberto Alomar (2011), Tim Raines, Sr. (2017), Vladimir Guerrero (2018), Jim Thome (2018), Harold Baines (2019) and Lee Smith (2019), managers Dick Williams (2008) and Whitey Herzog (2010) and executives Lee MacPhail (1998), Pat Gillick (2011) and John Schuerholz (2017).