Bomber Bites With Jumping Joe—Mike Mussina and the Hall Hate


Mike Mussina was snubbed once again for the Hall of Fame on Tuesday.  He received 24.6% of the vote this year, up from 20.3% last year but still far short of the 75% required for entry into Cooperstown.  He is the poster child for the ramifications of the 10 person per ballot rule in an era of overcrowded ballots.

However, John Smoltz easily cruised to admission into the Hall of Fame on his first try and Curt Schilling received 39.2% of the vote this season.  Last season, Tom Glavine also gained admission on his first year on the ballot.  How is it that voters can find room on their ballots for Glavine, Schilling and Smoltz but not Mussina?  Each of their career numbers are not incredibly different and in many categories, Mussina’s numbers are better than Smoltz or Schilling. 

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Mussina spent 17 seasons as a starter for the Orioles and Yankees and won at least 11 games each season and had 18 or more wins in six different seasons including 20 in his final year.  His ERA was on the high side (3.68) but he also spent his entire career in the AL East during the height of the steroid offensive implosion.  Surely, there must be a discount for having to face Manny Ramirez (123 at bats), Johnny Damon (100 at bats), Carlos Delgado (92 at bats), David Ortiz (71 at bats) and Rafael Palmeiro (61 at bats) every year instead of getting to face the pitcher every time through the order as Glavine, Smoltz, and Schilling did in their many NL seasons?

Mussina’s lack of support for the Hall of Fame is not something that was unforeseen.  Even during his playing days he was underrated.  When playing for a team that boasted stars like Cal Ripken Jr, Palmeiro, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Roger Clemens and others it is easy to get overlooked.  He made 5 All Star teams with the Orioles but was never selected during his time in pinstripes.  He never won a Cy Young, but finished in the top 6 nine times.

Glavine was a first ballot Hall of Famer because he stuck around long enough to reach 300 wins.  Mussina retired with only 270.  The year he hung up his cleats he won 20 games for the only time in his career, so it he could have easily hung on for the 2 or 3 more years needed to reach 300 but chose to retire instead.  So he lacks that magic number.

Schilling and Smoltz were phenomenal postseason pitchers.  Mussina was so-so in October.  He had 7-8 record and 3.42 ERA in 23 postseason games as both a starter and reliever.  But he never won a ring.  He pitched in two World Series with the Yankees (2001 and 2003) but he signed the year after they won the title in 2000 and retired the year before their latest (2009).

Mussina is a Hall of Famer in my book.  Perhaps not a first ballot slam dunk, but certainly someone who should get a plaque in Cooperstown.  Unfortunately, the vote totals he has received his first two years on the ballot are not promising.  While Schilling and Smoltz have been active on TV since their retirements keeping them in the spotlight to stump for the candidacy, Mussina has mostly returned to private life with his family.  Never a big personality in his playing days, he has mostly faded from view.

However, the time has come for the baseball writers to finally appreciate the mild mannered right hander’s greatness on the mound.  His 82.7 career WAR is better than Glavine (81.4), Schilling (79.9), or Smoltz (69.5) as well as Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan (81.8), Jim Palmer (69.4), Don Drysdale (67.1), Bob Feller (63.6) and Juan Marichal (63.1).  Despite playing in a highly offensive era, his ERA+ was 123 and higher than Ryan (112), Glavine (118), Bert Blyleven (118) and Gaylord Perry (117).

The only players not in the Hall with more than Mussina’s 270 wins since 1900 are Tommy John (288) and Jim Kaat (283).  You can read my advocacy for Kaat’s entrance into the Hall here  and as for John, he should be immortalized in Cooperstown for the surgery that bears his name if nothing else.  Mussina has more wins than Whitey Ford (236), Bob Gibson (251), Lefty Gomez (189) or Pedro Martinez (219).

Hopefully, the baseball writers will finally embrace the pitcher called Moose by his teammates and elect Mussina on the 2016 ballot.  With no surefire starting pitcher being added to ballot next season, Mussina will hopefully see at least a big jump in his vote totals that could propel him to Cooperstown in the not so distant future.