Mike Mussina, the right-handed pitcher who anchored the Orioles rotation in the 1990s and remains the last homegrown ace the franchise developed, will join Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay and Edgar Martínez in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.
Mussina's election, which came on the annual balloting of vested members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, came on his sixth of 10 possible years on the ballot, and by a narrow margin. A 75 percent vote threshold is required for election to the Hall of Fame, in this case 319 votes out of the 425 ballots cast. Mussina ended up earning 76.7 percent of the vote, earning a spot in the Hall of Fame by seven votes.
“To be from small-town America here in Pennsylvania and get a chance to play professional baseball and make it to the major leagues, that's all great stuff in itself,” Mussina said on a conference call Tuesday. “When you start doing this for a living, you don't ever expect ever to be on a phone call like this to talk about the Hall of Fame. I'm just really blessed and honored and thankful, and so many things, that a kid from the country that got a chance to go out and play a game and accomplish something like this.”
Mussina will be the third former Oriole in this induction class, as outfielder-designated hitter Harold Baines and reliever Lee Smith were selected by the Today's Game Era Committee last month.
He’s also the 17th Hall of Fame player to suit up for the Orioles, and the fifth to begin his career in Baltimore — the others being Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.
Whether he ends up wearing an Orioles hat, having started his career in Baltimore, or a Yankees hat, representing where he spent the final eight years of his career, on his Hall of Fame plaque is ultimately determined by the Hall of Fame. Mussina said it’s a decision he can’t make himself, because he “wouldn't be sitting here talking to you guys if it wasn't for Baltimore and for New York,” but did note that some players have gone in without a logo.
No matter what his hat says, however, Mussina’s mark was made in Baltimore, especially to the Hall of Famers he’s about to join.
"He pitched in a very difficult era," Palmer said. "The strike zone was smaller. Hitters were bigger and stronger for whatever reason. … But he pitched in that era, and he was a marvelous pitcher. I always thought that he'd be a Hall of Fame pitcher."
“I am so excited for Moose and his family,” Ripken said in a statement. “Having played with Mike for 10 seasons, I have always believed he was a Hall of Fame pitcher. He had some of the best stuff I had ever seen, and he was a true No. 1 starter for a very long time. His consistency and his ability to pitch so well in big games always amazed me. Mike was a great teammate, and I look forward to seeing him in Cooperstown in July.”
Mussina, 50, joins their hallowed company after spending the first decade of his career in an Orioles uniform, helping the team move into Camden Yards and leading a pair of playoff rotations in 1996 and 1997. While in Baltimore, he was a five-time All-Star and finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting five times, finishing second in 1999.
He finished his time with the Orioles with 147 wins against 81 losses with a 3.53 ERA, 45 complete games and 15 shutouts on his resume. The New York Yankees signed him as a free agent ahead of the 2001 season on a six-year, $88.5 million contract. And he hardly missed a step once he put on pinstripes. Mussina had four seasons with a sub-4.00 ERA out of eight years in New York, capping it in 2008 with his first 20-win season in a league-leading 34 starts with a 3.37 ERA.
While his 20-win season was a nice way to end things, it was the only one of his career — one that despite pitching on nine playoff teams in 18 seasons and making at least 30 starts in 12 seasons didn't get him to the 300-win mark that serves as a customary benchmark for starting pitchers to make the Hall of Fame. He also never won a Cy Young Award, led the league in wins once (19 in 1995), and was 7-8 lifetime in the playoffs, albeit with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.103 WHIP.
It’s a resume that has been deemed worthy of Cooperstown, even if it took a while to get there. Mussina said he was relieved to even get the 20.3 percent he received in his first year on the ballot (2014) to avoid falling off entirely like so many of his peers have. It wasn’t until his third year, when he got a bump from 24.6 percent to 43 percent, that “it kind of jumped quite a bit and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, we're going the right direction a lot now,’ ” he said.
Even with vote totals of 51.8 percent and 63.5 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively, Mussina didn’t think this would be the year that he’d cross the three-quarters mark required.
“I was hoping for an improvement again, but I wasn't really expecting to jump from 63 to above 75 that quickly,” he said. “I was caught a little bit off-guard.”
Now a basketball coach at his alma mater, Montoursville Area High School in Pennsylvania, Mussina said he was wrapping up practice Tuesday when the call came from the Hall of Fame. “So, we finished up practice and my son and I got out of there,” he said.
It seems now that the introspective Mussina gave his candidacy some thought and believed there might be a place for him in the Hall of Fame eventually.
“I think while it's happening, you don't really sit back and think about what you've accomplished because you're always looking to go out there and have another good season the next season,” Mussina said. “When it's over, when you step away from it and you get a chance to look back and really figure out if you think you did some good things, and watch the game continue to go on and compare how the guys are doing now versus how it was 10 or 15 years ago, the game has changed. The game is always going to change, and my kids are older now. I think they wish they were a little older when I was still playing so they could appreciate it more. But they were younger when I was finishing up my career.
“I had a great career. I got out at the right time for me, and for my family, and I'm just glad that people thought that I did a good enough job that I got elected to Cooperstown.”
Palmer, the current MASN analyst, was attempting his comeback in 1991 when Mussina was in camp trying to make the club and knew exactly what he was seeing.
"I saw how good he was," Palmer said. "He had a fabulous windup, he repeated it, he was quick to the plate, so you couldn't run on him. For a lot of the years, he would end up playing on good teams, some teams not so good, but he could get you out three or four different ways.
"He came up with a little bit of a cutter and a great knuckle-curveball, had a great changeup, and he could pitch in and out. What more do you need? Also, if you throw 91-95 mph, whatever it was... He didn't have the most movement — [Greg] Maddux dropped his arm angle so he got a little more movement, but what did they have in common? They could dot an I and cross a T at home plate with the best of them."
Maddux is one of the pitchers whose heyday came in the 1990s and 2000s who Mussina will join in the Hall of Fame, along with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Pedro Martínez and Randy Johnson. Halladay, who died in a plane crash in 2017, also joins his peers posthumously.
Three others with Orioles connections were on the ballot, with pitcher Curt Schilling receiving a bump to 60.9 percent of ballots from 51.2 percent in 2018 and slugger Sammy Sosa climbing slightly from 7.8 percent to 8.5 percent. Infielder Miguel Tejada fell off the ballot after failing to hit the five-percent threshold with five votes.
The induction ceremony will be held July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Orioles players in the Hall of Fame (by induction year)
2019 Mike Mussina
2019 Lee Smith
2019 Harold Baines
2018 Vladimir Guerrero
2018 Jim Thome
2017 Tim Raines
2011 Roberto Alomar
2007 Cal Ripken Jr.
2003 Eddie Murray
1993 Reggie Jackson
1990 Jim Palmer
1985 Hoyt Wilhelm
1984 Luis Aparicio
1983 George Kell
1983 Brooks Robinson
1982 Frank Robinson
1976 Robin Roberts