Mussina good enough for Cooperstown, but doubtful on first ballot
There are two questions surrounding Mike Mussina’s Hall of Fame candidacy, as the ballot for Cooperstown’s Class of 2014 was released Tuesday.
Does he belong?
If so, when does he get in?
My answer to the first one is yes. My answer to the second one – not this time. Maybe next year. Probably later.
The knocks on Mussina, from Montoursville, begin with a 3.68 career ERA being too high. It would be the second-highest ERA by a starting pitcher in Cooperstown.
He never won a Cy Young Award. Despite winning 270 career games, he never won 20 until his final season, though he was on pace to do so during the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995. He also won 19 one other time and 18 three times.
He never won a World Series ring. The Yankees won one the year before he got there, in 2000, and then in 2009, the year after he retired.
But his 270-153 record is legit. Even though wins are passe among younger stat geeks, his total is tied for 33rd all time. The only active pitchers with at least 200 career victories are Tim Hudson, C.C. Sabathia, and Roy Halladay, and none of them have more than 205. Sabathia, 33, and Justin Verlander, who turns 31 in February with 137 career victories, appear to have the best chance to catch him. Otherwise, we’ll likely enter the next decade without someone passing Mussina, and that total should grow in stature.
According to said stat geeks at fangraphs.com, Mussina’s career WAR (wins above replacement) is 82.3, fifth among all players active for Hall of Fame consideration behind Barry Bonds (164.1), Roger Clemens (139.9), Maddux (114.3), and Curt Schilling (83.5). Thomas is at 72.4 and Glavine is 63.9. Bonds and Clemens are in a separate category, because I can’t predict if voter attitudes toward PEDs will ever change.
Mussina never had the peak seasons of someone like Maddux or Glavine, and he fell short of their 300 career victories, but he’s done enough to be included. I felt that way when he retired, and I still do.
Back then, I also thought he’d have to wait at least a couple years to get in. Still do.
That might not be fair. You’re either a Hall of Famer or you aren’t, but this has always been a political process. The Baseball Writers Association of America, which conducts the voting, rarely votes in more than two players with the minimum 75 percent. Five players, including Babe Ruth, were in the first class in 1936. The years 1947 and 1955 saw four players each, and 3 players were inducted in 1972, 1984, and most recently 1999 with Robin Yount, George Brett, and Nolan Ryan.
Maddux and Glavine are going in this year. Another pitcher, Jack Morris, is on the ballot a final time after 67 percent of the vote last year. I expect his 4 World Series rings and big-game reputation will outweigh a 254-186 record and 3.90 career ERA.
After that, there’s Frank Thomas, with his reputation as the 500-home run slugger who also hit for average and drew 100 walks 10 times in his career.
Those four alone will make up a near-record class. Morris aside, they’re also all at least as deserving as Mussina, but Morris should be good for some sympathy votes. Also, Craig Biggio’s near-miss in 2013 could set him up to be a fifth inductee this year.
Or, Biggio gets pushed back to 2015, where it won’t get much easier for Mussina. Former Cy Young winners Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez join the ballot, along with Gary Sheffield. Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman join in 2016. Top new names in 2017 would be Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez. Ramirez’ name has been tainted by PED suspensions, and Rodriguez’ name has been liked to rumors through the years.
Mussina’s name hasn’t. His reputation is as clean as anyone from his era. By 2017, when I suspect voters will have cycled through the elite players with clean reputations, more of them will turn to Mussina.
By then, and at the earliest, Mussina’s eventual induction will have to be worth the wait.