Meant to touch on this last week when Mike Mussina announced his retirement from baseball after 18 years with the Orioles and the Yankees, but between this and that, I just wasn’t able to.

Since Mussina announced his retirement, baseball writers and fans have been discussing the righthander’s Hall of Fame worthiness, and the consensus seems to be Mussina’s election to the Hall is iffy, likely meaning he will eventually be elected, but not on the first ballot.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s voting criteria, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Concerning Mussina’s record, he won 270 games, lost 153 and had a 3.68 ERA. He is one of 20 pitchers in major league history to finish his career 100 or more games over .500. Sixteen of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame, while the other four are not yet eligible as a player cannot be voted into the Hall before five years after his retirement.

In looking at his record alone, I say he should be in, maybe even on the first ballot, although I don’t think that’s going to happen. Yet when you consider the era in which Mussina pitched — smack dab in the middle of the steroids era, not to mention the era in which the smaller, home-run friendly retro ballparks were built — 270-153 and a 3.68 ERA are Hall of Fame numbers. And with the five-man rotation, along with the reliance on the bullpen to the point of addiction being the norm, the 300-game winner is likely something we’ve seen the last of once Randy Johnson gets the five wins he needs for 300.

The closest active pitcher to 300 is 74-year-old Jamie Moyer, who has 246. Kenny Rogers is next with 219, while political numbskull Curt Schilling is in with 216. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte has 215, Pedro Martinez 214, and John Smoltz 210.

Nope, just don’t see 300 happening in this lifetime once The Big Unit does it.

As for the rest of the criteria, Mussina’s playing ability cannot be questioned; nor can his integrity, sportsmanship and character, although Cito Gaston might have another opinion on that. As for his contributions to the team(s) on which he played, Mussina was a money pitcher once his teams reached the postseason, but having been stuck in Baltimore for yet another era that didn’t do much to help him — The Angelos Era — he was on as many bad teams as he was good teams during his 10 years in Baltimore: five losing teams, and five winning teams, with just two playoff appearances.

Certainly the Angelosian damage that was done to the Orioles wasn’t and isn’t Mussina’s fault, but it is safe to say, with the possible exception of 1992 when Rick Sutcliffe was the No. 1 starter, Mussina was the best pitcher on every Baltimore staff he pitched on; and in his final year with the Yankees, he won 20 games for the first time.

It’s too bad his career in Baltimore ended the way it did. The Orioles lowballed him big-time because they didn’t believe he would call their bluff. When he did, and they finally ponied up what he was asking for to begin with, it was too late.

Now watch for the Orioles to start pitching some serious woo Mussina’s way by putting him into the Orioles Hall of Fame next year, with the hope that once he does enter the Baseball Hall of Fame he will do so as an Oriole.

Given the record, I believe Mike Mussina should enter the Baseball Hall of Fame five years from now in his first year of eligibility, although I don’t think he will be elected until at least the second ballot. Having followed his entire career, and having a feel for his personality, his stubbornness and his very long memory, the feeling here is once he does enter the big Hall in Cooperstown, he will do so as a New York Yankee.

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