Do you remember when Brett Favre retired? I mean, before he changed his mind and made a complete mockery of himself, the Packer’s organization, Aaron Rodgers, and the very institution of retirement?
The media fanfare was wild.
The sports talk world went berserk.
The City of Green Bay collectively gasped.
John Madden most likely spent restless nights sobbing into his pillow on the Madden Bus.
Well, contrast that with the news from last Thursday that after 17 seasons in the big leagues, Yankees pitcher Mike “Moose” Mussina quietly announced his retirement. There were some articles, some coverage on Sportscenter, and some yakking on the radio shows. But the ironic thing is that much of this coverage didn’t even deal with Mussina and his legacy in the game; instead it was used to segue into coverage of the Yankees’ anticipated monopoly of the free agent pitching market.
For instance, one segment of Sportscenter features audio of Mussina officially announcing his retirement, immediately followed by the anchor asking baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian how this will affect the Yankee’s efforts to acquire C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Even as he retires – a 17 year veteran, a 270 game winner, the obvious ace of the Yankee’s rotation this past season – Mussina is overshadowed by the impending spending spree and the Yankee’s egocentric ownership.
And that is probably just how Mike Mussina wants it.
Beginning his career in Baltimore in 1991 (his first full season came in 1992), Mussina was one of those stars who seemed to shy away from the spotlight. He put up tremendous numbers during his 10 seasons with the Orioles, posting a record of 147-81 while suffering just one losing season. Upon joining the Bronx Bombers as a free agent after the 2000 season, Mussina posted three more very good seasons before posting average numbers for a few years, then bouncing back before having the worst season of his career in 2007. That season he was just 11-10, and posted a 5.15 ERA, by far the worst single-season ERA of his career. There was a lot of speculation that he should hang it up following that performance, as the assumption was that he had given the game all he had, and was now out of steam.
But Mussina came back for one last go at it (this phrase is quite literal, as he admitted during his retirement news conference that he knew heading into spring training that this would be his final season), and blew everyone he faced out of the water. He finished the season 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA, while pitching 200 innings for the first time in five years. Talk about going out on top. This was Mussina’s first and only 20 win season, although he won 18 or 19 games five times. Unfortunately, the team results were not nearly as positive, so Mussina received very little recognition for his season, despite finishing tied for second in the majors in wins. Though, again, I doubt he minded the lack of attention.
A lot of people questioned Mussina’s thought-process when coming to the Yankees. Known to be one of those quiet-types who preferred time at home in the Pennsylvania country to the big city and bright lights, Mussina made his time in the big city work nonetheless. He quietly posted strong seasons, continuing to be a shoe-in for around 15 victories per season. He won three of his six gold gloves while in New York, and perhaps most telling of all, he managed to stay out the media spotlight and was always a respectful, polite, well-spoken player and person (as opposed to some other big name free agent pitchers the Yankees acquired… read as: Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown). Most journalists admit that the times when he seemed a little put off by their questioning it was merely his shyness coming out. His postseason performances were stronger in Baltimore, but he received notoriously poor run support in October in the Bronx. Overall, Mussina ended his career in the discussion for the Hall of Fame; certainly not on the first ballot, but perhaps someday.
But, as has been the theme of this piece, he probably doesn’t mind. For him it was never about his own stat line and contract situation; it was always about the team and his family. This is evidenced in the story of Mussina turning down a contract to go pro right out of high school because he didn’t think he was mature enough yet. He greatly valued his decision to attend Stanford because he believed that education was more important even than the potential earnings because, as Mussina himself put it, “If you go straight to professional ball, and for some reason you can’t continue due to injury or whatever, you’re kind of stuck with nothing to do. I didn’t want to be stuck in that situation”.
Mussina is an excellent example of an athlete who remained always humble and respectful, while always keeping the focus directed outward and the situation in perspective. Charles Barkley was absolutely correct when he famously said that he is no role-model. But some athletes actually are, and Mike Mussina certainly fits the bill.
Even though he would ever admit it.
Mike Mussina’s Career Stats:
537 Games (536 starts), 270 wins – 153 losses, 3.68 ERA, 2,813 K, 785 BB, 3562.2 IP, 1.19 WHIP, 23 Shut-Outs
Dan Mason is an accountant who day-dreams about being in the wilderness, and has a perfectly healthy male-affection for Aaron Rodgers. He was just married in August to his girlfriend of 3 1/2 years. Visit his blog for more of his writing.
Article image by: Rich Hauk
Dan Mason is an accountant by trade only – he would much rather write. He constantly daydreams about being in the woods or on the water, in the middle of nowhere. He resides in the Rochester, NY, area and is thankful the Adirondacks are only a few hours’ drive away. He is happiest when there is a pen (read: keyboard) or a canoe paddle in his hand.