Entrance into the Hall of Fame is the highest individual honour that baseball has to offer. Getting into Cooperstown means that without a doubt you are one of the greatest players of your generation and have earned the right for children to stare at your plaque as parents tell tall-tales of your abilities for years to come.
My own personal opinion – which I must admit that I took from my brother – is that to be a hall of fame player, you must be among the greatest at your position for at least a few years. It means that league wide, if you were to name the top three or five players in the league at a given position; one person’s name is always present. In football, find a fan who will name the top 3 QBs without naming Tom Brady. In hockey, Martin Brodeur would be the first or second name mentioned for over a decade.
That being said, what about Mike Mussina?
The Moose has a lifetime ERA of 3.69, 2804 strikeouts and 268 wins (and counting) in his many seasons. But all things considered, does that make him worthy of a bust next to Goose Gossage?
Mike Mussina is not a hall of famer. No offense to Mussina, he has had a great career, but being consistently above average gets you high contracts, but it does not get you to Cooperstown. No one can say that Mike Mussina has been underappreciated, he was paid 17 million dollars this year alone to pitch and will be remembered by the Orioles as one who got away and by the Yankees as a fan favourite, if only for the nickname.
Personally, I do not take these numbers very seriously, Building up your career numbers through an extended career is something, but it is not hall worthy. If so, than players like Julio Franco with his 2,586 hits and Jamie Moyer with his 244 wins (I know, shocker) should get just as much consideration. Playing for twenty years may make you a physical marvel, but not a legend.
But when would he even be in the discussion? In Mussina’s storied career, is there ever a season where you would put him in the top five pitchers of the year? Just throw out the numbers, get rid of the wins, ERA and K’s and ask a simple question, do you consider him to be among the top five pitchers in any of the generations that he played in?
Mussina’s best years were in the mid-nineties, his last few with Baltimore and his first few with the Yankees when he won over 15 games a few times but never over 20. And if ever there was a team that could win you games by scoring 10 in the early innings, it was those Yankee teams. But even in his best year, 1998, his best year statistically, the closest he has ever got to a Cy Young was second place, finishing with barely more than a third of the votes of winner Pedro Martinez. After that, he has not come closer than fifth in voting.
The argument that he would have won if not for the astounding career year of Pedro Martinez is irrelevant. After all, if not for the years of every pitcher in the league that year, I would have won the Cy Young. Pitchers having better years than you means that (gasp!) you are not the best pitcher in the league. But when you consider multiple years, even in only in the American League he was never better than Randy Johnson, Martinez, Roger Clemens (pre-Jays) or David Cone consistently enough to be ranked above those players.
Added to that, if you include the National league, which had Maddux, Smoltz, Schilling and Glavine to name a few pitchers, he was not even in the top eight pitchers in the league! How is that Hall worthy? On his own team, would you put him above Andy Pettite, Roger Clemens and David Cone as the best Yankee pitcher in the last decade?
Even this season, where he has had his highest (5 Hs!) chance at attaining twenty wins and may still reach it, would you put him ahead of pitchers like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, Josh Beckett or CC Sabathia? Go another step further, would you rather have him on your starting staff or Felix Hernandez, Dan Haren, John Lackey, Cole Hamels or Johan Santana if you were making a team for just one year?
I am not doubting his greatness, but a hall of famer is someone who clears this list without discussion. Being arguable is not enough. After all, borderline greatness is memorable, but it’s not the stuff of legends.