Former Oriole Mike Mussina deserves honor

Mike Mussina

Former Oriole Mike Mussina waves to the crowd during an induction ceremony into the Orioles Hall of Fame before the game. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / August 25, 2012)

It’s no secret why new Orioles Hall of Famer Mike Mussina evokes mixed feelings from the baseball fans of the Baltimore area.

He is a controversial figure in Orioles history – the guy who left here in the prime of his career to pitch for the rival Yankees  and, some might say, left the Orioles to wallow in defeat and despair for the next decade.

He is also the guy who played a very pivotal role on the last Orioles team that made this city proud and the pitcher who ranks third on the club’s all-time win list. His performance over 10 years for the O’s puts him way up on the list of players who are statistically deserving of their place in the Orioles Hall of Fame.

“Obviously, it’s nice to be mentioned in the same breath as Cal, Eddie and Palmer and the guys who played before me and did great things for this club,” Mussina said following last night’s pregame induction ceremony at Camden Yards. “I’m proud and honored that people think I’m worthy of being with them.”

Yet there are going to be some fans who believe that second baseman Rich Dauer, a very good player who still holds a couple of impressive major league fielding records, is the more legitimate inductee because he spent his entire playing career in an Orioles uniform.

Here’s an outlandish concept: Maybe this is not the time for that kind of parochial quibbling. Let’s save that for the next time the Indianapolis Colts show up in town. And let’s just assume that every fan at Saturday night’s pregame induction ceremony was chanting “Moo-se,” and not anything less complimentary.

“I think it was a nice reception,’’ Mussina said. “I think people were glad to see me come back. I think right now, most people are OK with it.”

Mussina honored this franchise during his decade here. He was a great pitcher and a solid citizen. The circumstances of his departure have always been a sore subject for Orioles fans, some of whom blame Moose for going over to the dark side and more of whom blame Orioles owner Peter Angelos for not being aggressive enough in attempting to keep him when he became a free agent after the 2000 season. 

Dauer also spent exactly 10 years in an Orioles uniform and was a solid contributor on two World Series teams. He gets bonus points from long-time fans for being part of the golden age of Orioles baseball that stretched from 1960 to 1985 and featured just two losing records in a span of 26 seasons.

“It is really special,’’ Dauer said . “I just grew up an Oriole and the organization has meant so much to me over the years.”

His place in the Orioles Hall of Fame is well-deserved – as is that of Herb Armstrong Award winner, the late Walter Youse -- but it is Mussina whose entry enlivens the debate over whether he should gain induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There is a compelling case to be made in his favor. Mussina spent a good chunk of his career as baseball’s active leader in winning percentage and finished with statistics that are comparable to a number of pitchers who already have plaques in upstate New York.

There are going to be those who say he never played on a world championship team and some who point to the fact that he retired a couple of seasons short of 300 victories, but his success (without a whiff of scandal) during baseball’s steroid era should be a testament to his effectiveness, consistency and overall excellence.

Consider this: Mussina won 117 more games than he lost over the course of his career. Every other pitcher in baseball history who won at least 100 more games than he lost and is eligible for the Hall of Fame is already there.

The fact that he didn’t stick around to reach the 300-win plateau might be more problematic if he had not spent his entire career pitching in a five-man rotation, but Mussina’s 270 career victories look a lot better when you consider that there are relatively recent members of the 300-win club who made 200 more career starts than he did.

If Mussina cared about all that, he probably could have parlayed his 20-win final season into another rich multi-year contract, but he chose to go out on his own terms and go back to small-town life in Pennsylvania.

As for Cooperstown, he has always seemed content to leave that in the hands of the voters, who will see his name on the ballot for the first time – along with fellow pitching greats Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine – after the 2013 season.

“I’ve thought about it, sure,’’ he said. “Have I done enough to be considered? Yes, I’ve done enough to be considered, I think. Does that mean I’m going to make it? No.  But I’ve played a long time. I played all 18 years. I never missed a year for anything. I never had arm surgery. I won my games. I made my starts and pitched my innings and I was lucky enough to be successful, so we’ll just have to see.”

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read Peter Schmuck's blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090AM) and at wbal.com.

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