Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame.
He won't get there this year, when voting is announced on Wednesday. He won't get there next year. But he will eventually make it to Cooperstown and he's deserving.
I'm biased. I covered a lot of his starts during his career with the Baltimore Orioles from 1991-2000 and handful more while he was the New York Yankees from 2001-2008. It was a joy to watch him work.
It wasn't always a joy to try to work with him. Many was the time a reporter would begin a postgame interview with something like, "Moose, you seemed like you really had good stuff tonight" only for Mussina to cut him off with, "That's a statement, do you have a question?" He also frequently corrected reporters who misstated something about his performance or statistics. Hey, the guy did graduate from Stanford in three years. It wasn't his fault he was smarter than us.
Mussina pitched the best game I've ever seen. I can still remember the feeling in Camden Yards that night, May 30, 1997. It wasn't just excitement, it was awe. Facing one of the best lineups of the era, Mussina made the Cleveland Indians - with David Justice, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Matt Williams - look absolutely silly.
He threw 8 1-3 perfect innings and had the sellout crowd at a fever pitch in the ninth before Sandy Alomar lined a one-ball, one-strike pitch into left field for a single. The only Cleveland hit of the game. The only Cleveland base runner of the game. Mussina struck out 10, walked none and settled for a one-hitter and a 3-0 win.
To many, that game served as somewhat of a microcosm of his career as far too many defined him by what he didn't accomplish. He never threw a no-hitter. He never won a Cy Young Award. He never won a World Series title. And he didn't get to 300 wins.
Forget about what he didn't do. Here's what he did during the worst time in history to be a pitcher, the entire length of the Steroid Era.
Mussina went 270-153 for a stellar .638 winning percentage. He finished with close to 3,000 strikeouts on a nearly 4-to-1 strikeout/walk ratio.
No, he never threw a no-no, but he came close a half-dozen times, memorably getting to within one strike of perfection while pitching for the Yankees against the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball in 2001.
No, he never won a Cy Young award. But he finished among the top six in the balloting six different times and his 1999 season was second only to one of the greatest seasons in baseball history by Pedro Martinez.
No, he never won a World Series title. But he pitched quite well in the postseason, finishing with a 3.42 ERA and more than nine strikeouts per nine innings. His 7-8 postseason record would've been much better except his teams scored three runs or fewer in 19 of his 23 career starts. (He went 0-0 for Baltimore in the 1997 ALCS despite pitching to a 0.60 ERA in two starts, fanning 25 in 15 innings.)
And, no, he didn't get to 300 wins, although, had that arbitrary number really mattered to him, he could certainly have gotten there by pitching two or three more years. Keep in mind that he notched 20 wins in his final season, the only time he reached that number after winning 17 or more seven times previously.
He had just one losing season in 17 full seasons. He won at least 11 games in every one of them and he topped 200 innings 11 times with 57 complete games.
He has a better resume than perhaps half of the pitchers already enshrined. He is far more worthy than nearly every starter not named Nolan Ryan elected since 1994 (Jim Bunning, Phil Niekro, and Bert Blyleven) and he is among the five or six best pitchers of the past 25 years comprising the post-Tom Seaver/Steve Carlton/Jim Palmer era.
He's essentially Palmer, minus the Cy Youngs, World Series rings and underwear endorsements.
His problem is timing. This year's Hall of Fame ballot might just have been the most impressive since the very first one.
The newcomers are Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent and Frank Thomas - and isn't it ironic that Thomas and Mussina are on the same ballot given that a home run by the Big Hurt ruined Mussina's otherwise outstanding big-league debut. They join an already crowded cast of one-time stars that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Alan Trammel, Edgar Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.
Every one of them has a Hall of Fame resume (although the stain of steroids has kept many of them out). Of those pitchers, only Maddux was better than Mussina. But voters are limited to picking a maximum of 10 players, most pick far fewer than that, and the ballots might just be so split that only no-brainer Maddux gets in.
Next year, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz get added to the ballot. So Mussina isn't getting in anytime soon.
But once Maddux, Johnson, Martinez and Glavine (only because he hit the magic "300" number for wins) get in, and once the voters decide what to do about Clemens, Mussina should be the next pitcher enshrined.
His day in Cooperstown will come. And when it does, if you want to ask him about how it feels to be immortalized, just be sure to do it in the form of a question.