Mussina thanks friends, family and teammates in Hall of Fame speech
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Mike Mussina nearly missed his first baseball practice at 8-years-old. He was so excited to be playing organized baseball for the first time that when he rode his bike the four or five blocks to the field by Lyter Elementary, he was there before anyone else.
Discouraged, Mussina turned around and went home. His mother, Ellie, was in the front yard when he returned.
“What are you doing here?” Ellie asked as he rode up to the yard.
When Mussina explained there was nobody at the field, Ellie told him to get back on his bike and go back to the field. Mussina did. When he returned, there were people there. And his Hall of Fame career began in that moment.
Mussina told that story Sunday to some 50,000 people seated in front of a stage outside the Clark Sports Center as he was officially inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. People stretched for what seemed like miles straining to see or hear from baseball’s six newest additions to the Hall, fighting a relentless sun which was tougher to beat than a Mariano Rivera cutter.
Mussina joined Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, Harold Baines and Lee Smith in being inducted to the Hall of Fame yesterday. Halladay, who was killed in a plane crash last November was inducted posthumously.
The Montoursville resident Mussina spent 12 minutes yesterday thanking those who helped him reach a point even he still couldn’t believe. From coaches, to players, to friends, to family, to fans of the two Major League franchises he played for, Mussina succinctly spoke his way through his career and the moments which made a day as glorious as Sunday’s possible.
“I’m standing up here with the best to ever play the game. Some of them are former teammates. Some are former opponents. Some I grew up watching on television,” Mussina said. “So the obvious questions are what am I doing up here and how in the world did this happen?”
He got there by winning 270 big league games as a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees. He got there by pitching some of his most iconic games on the biggest of playoff stages.
A career which was so often defined by all the things he didn’t do – winning a Cy Young, winning a World Series, striking out 3,000 batters or recording 300 wins – will now be defined by this day when Mussina was welcomed to an exclusive club which includes just 1 percent of the more than 19,000 people who have ever played Major League Baseball.
In the moment, as he wondered how he got to this point, Mussina also recognized maybe all of that was building toward a moment like this where the whole career was more valuable than the individual parts.
“While the opportunities for those achievements are in the past, (Sunday) I get to become a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” Mussina said. “Maybe I was saving up from all those almost achievements for one final push. And this time, I finally made it.”
He sure did.
And Mussina was effusive in his praise for the people who helped guide him from backyard Wiffle Ball games in Montoursville to the hallowed halls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He found praise to heap upon all the pillars which supported his 18-year Major League career.
He called his wife, Jana, the foundation of the family who all but raised three kids on her own while he finished the final years of his career. And he apologized to his kids – Brycen, Peyton and Kyra – for not being around much while lauding how much he’s enjoyed watching them grow for the last 11 years.
Mussina thanked his father, Malcolm, for his words of advice even when he may not have agreed with them. And he thanked his mother, first for making him turn his bike around that day when he was 8, and then for allowing him to give up piano lessons because “it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Mussina’s story is that of fairy tales. The story of his trek to the National Baseball Hall of Fame from Montoursville is the most common of dreams every child has in some form or another. And with his presence on that stage Sunday afternoon, he proved it was possible but that it doesn’t happen alone.
So in a 12-minute speech when it would have been easy to recall his list of accomplishments from Little League until becoming the oldest first-time 20-game winner in the history of baseball in 2008, Mussina chose to shine a light upon those who made his career possible.
He’s now forever immortalized in a bronze plaque among the most accomplished of names to ever have graced Major League Baseball. The steely gaze which made him intimidating to hitters 60 feet, 6 inches away now adorns the plaque which recognizes the greatness he possessed for the entirety of his career.
But that plaque tells only the story of what happened in his big league career. Mussina took the opportunity Sunday to tell the story of those who made it all possible.
“I need to thank everyone who was on the journey with me,” Mussina said. “You’re all piece of a giant puzzle, and whether your contribution was large or small, the final product would not be complete without you.”