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December 8, 1968 |
|Batted: Left||Threw: Right|
|August 4, 1991 for the Baltimore Orioles|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 28, 2008 for the New York Yankees|
|Earned run average||3.68|
|Career highlights and awards|
Michael Cole Mussina (born December 8, 1968), nicknamed Moose, is a former Major League Baseball right-handed starting pitcher. Mussina played for the Baltimore Orioles (1991–2000) and the New York Yankees (2001–2008).
Mussina spent his entire career in the competitive and high-scoring American League East, won at least 11 games in 17 consecutive seasons – an American League record – and recorded a career .638 winning percentage. Among pitchers, he ranks 33rd in all-time wins (270), 33rd in games started (535), 66th in innings pitched (3,562.2), and 19th in strikeouts (2,813). A five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Mussina's consistency resulted in six top-five finishes in the voting for his league's Cy Young Award.
Mussina was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. At Montoursville Area High School in Montoursville, Pennsylvania he had a 24–4 record with a 0.87 ERA for his baseball team. He also excelled in football and basketball.
As a high school senior, Mussina just missed being the valedictorian of his graduating class. According to some reports, he intentionally came up short to avoid delivering a commencement speech.
In three years at Stanford University, Mussina compiled a 31–16 record with a 3.89 ERA. He made two College World Series appearances and was selected as an All-American. His senior year in 1990 was his best, finishing 14–5 with a 0.99 ERA before being drafted again by the Baltimore Orioles, this time as a first round pick (20th overall).
In the minor leagues, Mussina posted a 14–4 record with a 2.38 ERA.
In 1992, Mussina's first full season with the Orioles, he finished with an 18-5 record and a 2.54 ERA in 241 innings. His .783 win-loss percentage led the league, and his 1.79 BB/9 was second best behind Chris Bosio. His 4 shutouts were tied for 2nd in the league behind only Boston's Roger Clemens. He finished 4th in the American League Cy Young Award voting that year, and was elected to 1992's All-Star Game, pitching one perfect inning.
Mussina struggled in 1993 due to shoulder soreness, which placed him on the DL from July 22 to August 19. Nonetheless, he managed to win 14 games while posting the 7th best winning percentage in the American League. Mussina also allowed 83 earned runs in only 167.2 innings of work for a 4.46 ERA while striking out 117 batters. He was voted onto the All-Star team, however he did not pitch in the game. There was a controversial incident toward the end of the game when Mussina chose to warm up in the bullpen, despite the fact AL manager Cito Gaston had told him that he would not enter the game. Orioles fans believed Mussina was warming up in preparation to come in and pitch the ninth inning, and when Gaston put Duane Ward in to pitch the ninth inning, the fans at Camden Yards spent the rest of the game chanting "We Want Mike" and booing Gaston very loudly, as the popular slogan "Cito Sucks" was born in Baltimore. The slogan could be seen on t-shirts or heard even years later in Baltimore any time the visiting Blue Jays came to town. Gaston was never treated well by Baltimore fans for the rest of his managerial career and he was subject to death threats for not pitching Mussina in the game. Many believe Mussina threw on his own as a way of publicly showing up Gaston because he was angry at not pitching in the game. However, Mussina said he was just getting his work in, as he was scheduled to throw that day, and it was apparent Gaston did require his services. Mussina returned from the DL in August against the Texas Rangers, only to have the Orioles shut him down three weeks later in mid-September due to lower back pain.
Mussina returned to form in 1994, but a player's strike cut his season short, causing him to finish with only 16 wins and 99 strikeouts in 176.1 innings of work. Mussina finished tied for 2nd in the league in wins, and his 3.06 ERA placed him 4th. He was selected to his 3rd consecutive All-Star Game and pitched one inning, giving up one hit while striking out one batter. Mussina finished 4th in voting for that year's American League Cy Young Award.
In 1995, Mussina started and won Cal Ripken's record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game on September 6, 1995. Mussina led the league with 19 wins and had one of his finest statistical seasons. He struck out 158 batters in 221.2 innings, allowing only 81 earned runs for an ERA of 3.29. Mussina led the league with four shutouts, and he also allowed a league-low 2.03 BB/9, while his 1.069 WHIP was 2nd only to Seattle's Randy Johnson. Despite his excellent season, Mussina was not elected to that year's All-Star Game, and finished 5th in the American League Cy Young Award voting.
In 1996, Mussina won 19 games and set a new career high of 243.1 innings. His league-leading 36 games started were also a career high. 18 of his starts that year were quality starts. In his last start of the season, the Orioles bullpen blew a late-inning lead, costing Mussina a 20-win season. Mussina also won his 1st Gold Glove that year.
Mussina did not start the Opening Day game in 1997 due to elbow tendonitis. He had been the Opening Day starter for the Orioles every year since 1993. Mussina finished the season with a 15–8 record, and his 3.20 ERA was 4th best in the league. In addition, his 218 strikeouts were a career high and established a franchise record. Mussina was again selected for the All-Star team but did not appear in the game. He finished 6th in the American League Cy Young Award voting and won his 2nd consecutive Gold Glove. In the 1997 American League Championship Series he pitched fifteen innings over two starts, allowing one run and four hits, and striking out twenty five—an ALCS record at the time. However, the Orioles failed to score in both of his starts, and Mussina ended up receiving no-decisions for each.
Mussina's 1998 season was punctuated by two separate trips to the DL, including for injury resultant from when a ball hit by Sandy Alomar, Jr. struck him on the face and fractured his nose. Mussina still managed to win 13 games and post a 3.49 ERA, with 175 strikeouts in 206.1 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio ratio was good for 2nd in the league. Mussina won his 3rd consecutive Gold Glove with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage out of 50 total chances. On August 4, Mussina struck out Detroit's Bip Roberts for his 1000th career strikeout.
In 1999, he finished 2nd in the league with 18 wins, and his 3.50 ERA and .720 win-loss percentage were good for 3rd. Mussina struck out 172 batters in 203.2 innings while walking just 52, for a 3.31 K/BB ratio. He was selected as an All-Star and pitched one inning, Mussina finished second in the American League Cy Young Award voting that year behind Pedro Martínez. He committed just one error out of 61 total chances and won his 4th consecutive Gold Glove, further cementing his reputation as one of the top defensive pitchers in baseball.
In 2000, Mussina recorded his first and only losing season going 11–15. However, he did not pitch as badly as his record suggests, as he allowed 100 earned runs in a league-leading 237.2 innings for a 3.79 ERA. He struck out 210 batters while allowing 44 walks. Opponents batted just .255 off him. He finished 6th in voting for the Cy Young Award that year.
Mussina finished the 2001 season with a 17–11 record. He was 2nd in the league in ERA (3.15), strikeouts (214), shutouts (3), and strikeout/walk ratio (5.10), and 5th in strikeouts/9 IP (8.42) and complete games (4). Mussina pitched seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series and the Yankees went on to win the game 1-0, and eventually the series, becoming the only team to win a division series after losing the first two games at home. Mussina started Games 1 and 5 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, posting an 0–1 record with a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings pitched.
In 2002, Mussina was second in the AL in walks/9 IP (1.65), third in strikeouts (182) and strikeouts/9 IP (7.60), eighth in wins (18), and ninth in walks/9 IP (2.00). He held batters to a .198 batting average when the game was tied.
In 2003, Mussina was third in the league in strikeouts/9 IP (8.18) and strikeout/walk ratio (4.88), fourth in strikeouts (195) and walks/9 IP (1.68), fifth in wins (17), and eighth in ERA (3.40). He held batters to a .190 batting average when there were two outs and runners in scoring position. During Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Mussina authored one of the greatest clutch pitching performances of all time. With the Yankees trailing Boston 4–0 Mussina made the first relief appearance of his career. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Mussina struck out Jason Varitek before inducing Johnny Damon to hit into a double play. Mussina went on to pitch 2 more scoreless innings and kept the Yankees within striking distance in a game they later came back to win.
In 2004, plagued by a series of injuries, Mussina ended the year with a 12-9 record and a 4.59 ERA. He was fourth in the league in strikeouts (195), and eighth in walks/9 IP (2.19).
In 2005, Mussina finished with a 13–8 record and a 4.41 ERA. He was seventh in the AL in strikeouts/9 IP (7.11).
In 2006, he ended the season with a 15–7 record. He was second in the league in OBP against (.279), third in the American League in walks/9 IP (1.60; a career-best), batting average against (.241), and strikeout/walk ratio (4.91), fourth in ERA (3.51), sixth in win-loss percentage (.682). He fanned Cody Ross to reach the 2,500 strikeout mark on June 25. Mussina also became the first pitcher in American League history to win 10 or more games for 15 consecutive seasons.
On November 20, 2006, Mussina and the Yankees reached a preliminary agreement, pending a physical, on a two-year, $23 million contract. Earlier in the off-season the Yankees declined the 1-year, $17 million option on Mussina's previous contract. Under that back-loaded six-year, $88.5 million contract, Mussina earned $19 million in each of the last two seasons.
In 2007, Mussina became just the ninth player to win 100 games with two different teams—he had won 147 with Baltimore. However, with the Yankees locked in a tight pennant race, Mussina struggled and temporarily lost his spot in the rotation to prospect Ian Kennedy. After just one relief appearance, (the first of his regular season career), Mussina returned as a starter, going 3–0 in his final four starts to end with 11-10 record and a career-high 5.15 ERA. The '07 season for Mussina and Mets' pitcher Tom Glavine was the subject of a 2008 book by John Feinstein, Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember, showcasing a pivotal season for two New York City pitchers as Mussina nailed down milestone career win #250 with the Yankees and Glavine earned win #300 with the cross-town Mets.
In 2008, Mussina started his 8th season with the Yankees as a much-needed veteran of an inexperienced rotation. The year began with difficulty reminiscent of 2007, and many noted a sharp decline in his pitch velocity. Owner Hank Steinbrenner suggested that Mussina should "learn how to pitch like Jamie Moyer," and no longer rely so much on his fastball. Although that remark was widely interpreted as a slight, Mussina joked in response that he could not pitch like Moyer because he did not throw left-handed, and afterwards he excelled, going 9–1 in his subsequent eleven starts. On June 15, he recorded his 10th win of the season, extending his American League record to 17 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins. On September 18, Mussina notched his 18th victory of the season and led the Yankees to a 9–2 victory over the first place White Sox in his final start at Yankee Stadium. On September 28, he won 20 games for the first time at the age of 39, with a 6–2 win over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, becoming the oldest first-time 20 game winner in MLB history. He finished 20–9 with a 3.37 ERA. His 67.6% first-strike-percentage was the highest among major league starters. 
Mussina would later finish second to Cleveland Indians pitcher Cliff Lee in the voting for American League comeback player of the year honors. On November 6, he was awarded his seventh career Gold Glove Award, and the third in his career with the Yankees. He would later finish behind Lee again in the balloting for the 2008 AL Cy Young Award. Mussina's sixth place finish was his best since 2001.
Since Mussina's retirement, his number 35 has not been issued to any other Yankee players.
Mussina pitched several near-perfect games throughout his career:
Mussina collected an overall 7–8 record and 3.40 ERA, with 142 strikeouts in 22 career postseason games. His finest posteason occurred in 1997 for the Baltimore Orioles when in 4 games he went 2-0 with a 1.24 ERA in 29 IP with 11 H, 4 ER, 7 BB and 41 K. Notably, he twice outdueled Seattle Mariners ace Randy Johnson in head-to-head matchups during the ALDS. A feature on The Washington Post's website ranked his performance the 6th-most memorable moment at Camden Yards.
Early in his career, Mussina's arsenal included a four-seam fastball that topped out at 95 mph, a two-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a plus knuckle-curve. He was always a finesse pitcher, and coming up through the Orioles' organization, he was often compared to Jim Palmer. He received praise for the ability to make in-game adjustments to compensate for days when he was not at his best.
Mussina's prolonged success was also the result of his ability to make adjustments. He added a splitter to his repertoire and replaced his knuckle-curve with a more conventional curveball. He became more skilled at changing speeds with his breaking pitches and using different arm angles to confuse batters as well as to compensate for the diminishing speed of his fastball.
During spring training in 2006, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada noticed the unique grip Mussina used for his changeup and promptly hit a home run off it during an intra-squad game. Posada alerted Mussina to the tip-off, and he adjusted the grip. This new changeup was difficult for batters to recognize and was considered a main reason for his success that season.
Mussina's remarkable results in 2008 were attributed to changes in pitching style. While in the past he was known for painting the outside corner of the plate with a mid-90s four-seam fastball, he began to work on both sides of the plate with his diminished upper-80s fastball. Additionally, when throwing the fastball, he often used the two-seam grip, which gives the ball late breaking motion. Despite his lower fastball velocity, Mussina maintained a significant differential in pitch speed by also lowering the velocity of his changeup. In addition to those more obvious changes, Craig Brown of The Hardball Times also attributed Mussina's renaissance to excellent control, noting that he was walking fewer batters than ever before and was becoming a ground-ball pitcher for the first time in his career.
Throughout his career, Mussina also complemented his pure pitching ability by doing the little things well. He issued very few walks, held baserunners well, and fielded his position superbly.
Mussina's candidacy for the Hall of Fame has come under recent debate. "Do I compare to some guys who are in? I think I do," Mussina told USA Today in 2006. The only other pitchers to match Mussina's 17 seasons of 10 or more victories are Greg Maddux, Warren Spahn, Cy Young, Don Sutton, and Steve Carlton; all are Hall of Famers except Maddux, who also retired after the 2008 season and thus is not yet eligible. Of the 23 eligible pitchers who have at least 265 wins and an ERA of 3.69 or less, 20 are in the Hall of Fame, although if Mussina was elected, his ERA would be 3rd highest ahead of Bobby Wallace and Red Ruffing. Mussina's consistency is often overshadowed by the dominant peaks of contemporaries like Pedro Martínez and Randy Johnson.
His numbers are often compared to those of Jim Palmer. Mussina has two more wins and one more loss than Palmer, (both finished with a .638 winning percentage,) while Palmer's ERA is .82 lower. Mussina finished his career with 601 more strikeouts than Palmer. Baseball writer Tim Kurkjian stated on the August 3, 2008, edition of Baseball Tonight: "He's a Hall of Famer. I've looked at the numbers and he's in."
Mussina's ERA may have suffered from playing at a time when hitters dominated. Mussina's career adjusted ERA+, which takes into account the league's average ERA and the parks in which the pitcher plays, is 123 — better than Hall-of-Famers Nolan Ryan, Ted Lyons, Jim Bunning, and Bob Lemon, among others.
He is the oldest pitcher to ever win 20 games in a season for the first time at the age of 39 in 2008. He never won the Cy Young Award, but finished in the top six of Cy Young voting nine times. Mussina also came tantalizingly close to pitching a perfect game and winning a World Series, having lost chances at achieving both in the 9th inning in 2001.
Only five pitchers in the history of major league baseball have as many victories as Mussina and a better winning percentage: Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson.
Mussina won seven Gold Gloves during his career.
All pitchers with 100 more wins than losses who have been eligible have been inducted to the Hall of Fame. With a record of 270-153, Mussina fits that criterion.
Mussina married Jana McKissick in 1997. The couple has two sons, Brycen and Peyton. He also adopted his step-daughter Kyra, who is Jana's from a previous marriage. He still resides in his hometown of Montoursville where he is well-known. He often helps out with the athletic programs at his high school and he operates a training camp for student athletes in the area. He serves on the Little League International Board of Directors, based in nearby South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Mussina is of Slavic descent. Due to his last name, which was Americanized by his ancestors, he is often misidentified as an Italian-American; before the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the players union, even asked him to play for Italy on that assumption.
He is also a collector of tractors and vintage cars.
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