Between now and December 31, the more than 600 members of the Baseball Writers who vote on the Hall of Fame will have to sort out one of the most fascinating ballots in recent years.
One qualified potential Hall of Fame member may be overlooked this year, but he shouldn’t be.
Mike Mussina is one of eight former Orioles who are on the 36-player ballot that’s being mailed out.
A few of those eight barely played with the Orioles. Tim Raines played just four late-season games in 2001 so he could say he was a teammate of his sons.
Curt Schilling won just one of his 216 games with the Orioles and Lee Smith played only one of his 18 big league seasons in Baltimore.
Raines, Schilling and Smith all have legitimate Hall of Fame cases, but they won’t be remembered as Orioles.
One of the most polarizing of all recent Orioles, Mussina stands out during a time where some of those he’s sharing the ballot with are tainted.
Mussina was the ultimate clean liver, but according to many Orioles fans, an ultimate traitor, too.
But, unlike others he didn’t hop around from team to team, and retired at the top of his game, after winning 20 games for the only time in his career.
Mussina left Baltimore after 10 seasons and joined the New York Yankees in 2001. He gave the Yankees eight terrific seasons after pitching brilliantly with the Orioles.
His stats? He won 270 games and lost 153 for a stellar lifetime winning percentage of .638.
By the way, Jim Palmer was 268-152 for an identical .638 mark.
Mussina twice won 19 games and 18 for the Orioles. Once he said he’d never be a 20-game winner, “just because.”
His best Yankees’ season was his last one when at 39, he was 20-9 with a 3.39 ERA. He had great control, averaging barely two walks per nine innings, and pitching in two home run friendly parks, Mussina allowed less than a home run per nine innings.
Mussina retired 30 games short of 300 wins. He said that sticking around as a mediocre pitcher just to get to 300 wouldn’t be rewarding, and it’s a rare player who leaves money on the table.
In 2012, Mussina was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame. When asked the inevitable question about which hat’s image would appear on his plaque, he demurred.
Not wanting to offend either Orioles or Yankees fans, Mussina said it was the Hall of Fame’s decision.
Mussina’s numbers were slightly better in Baltimore. He was 147-81 with a 3.53 ERA. With New York, he was 123-72 and a 3.88, but he pitched in 17 postseason games for the Yankees and just six with the Orioles.
The great hat debate is likely to wait a year, perhaps a few. There are several first-time candidates who also share Mussina’s steroidless qualifications, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.
Carryovers Jack Morris, on the ballot for the 15th and final time, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza as well as Raines, Schilling and Smith are to be considered, too.
Voters are limited to 10 choices, and they have to contemplate the controversial choices, too: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa.
Last year, no one got in. This year, Maddux and Glavine seem like decent bets with perhaps Thomas and Biggio just falling a bit short. Biggio had 3,060 hits and came closest last year. Morris was next, but he’s handicapped by the strength of the field.
It may take a few years before several of these worthy candidates re voted in. That should take nothing away from Mussina, who deserves induction. There’s no shame to being elected in his fifth year of eligibility rather than his first.
Mussina was a terrific big game pitcher. He was rarely injured, and though some of his memorable games with the Orioles weren’t wins, Mussina represented the team well.
His leaving it to join the Orioles’ archrival when the team was clearly in decline should be held against him.
Mussina deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, sooner rather than later.