Mussina, who turns 40 next month, spent the last eight seasons with the Yankees after pitching for the Baltimore Orioles for the first 10 years of his career. His 270 wins rank second among all active right-handers, behind only Greg Maddux. In the final start of his career, he pitched six shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox to finish off the first 20-win season of his career.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s just the fifth pitcher since 1900 to win 20 games or more in the final season of his career — and the first since Sandy Koufax in 1967. He’s the only pitcher in that group to win his 20th game in his final start.
This article from SI by Tom Verducci describes quite well how Mussina Got to the Bronx, pretty interesting if you can read the full article. Kuddos to Verducci
Sure, the $88.5 million had a lot to do with Mike Mussina’s decision to sign with the Yankees, but it was a call from manager Joe Torre that sealed the deal.
Manhattan at twilight, rich with possibilities, awaited him like a buffet spread before a medieval king. Take from it what you wish, the New York Yankees told Mike Mussina last Thursday. Dinner reservations? A Broadway show? A chauffeured car? A five-star hotel? The Yankees would make his every wish come true. This was his baseball wedding night, Mussina having only minutes before used a cheap plastic pen borrowed from a secretary’s desktop to sign his name to a six-year, $88.5 million commitment to play for the Yankees, culminating a romance that would outdo Danielle Steel.
Mike, with his wife, Jana, at his side, stepped out of Yankee Stadium into the chill of the advancing night. The brisk air felt good after nearly three hours of interrogation and picture taking by the New York media. “It was about what I thought, maybe a little more,” Mussina said of the spotlight. “I’ve pitched in All-Star Games and postseason games, and that’s how I’m going to treat every one of my starts.”
Now it was time to celebrate. At this, the crowning hour of his career, there was but one place he craved: home. Manhattan be damned, he was bound for Montoursville, Pa. (pop. 4,594), which offers four hotels, 16 churches and the same small-town, central Pennsylvania upbringing for their two children that he and Jana enjoyed. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner provided his car, a Cadillac, and his driver, Joe Flannino, to take the Mussinas to Steinbrenner’s time-share jet at Teterboro ( N.J.) Airport, whence they would be flown the 25 minutes to Williamsport, Pa.
Jana had been to New York City only once. Mike hadn’t ventured out much on his trips there during his 10 big league seasons, all with the Baltimore Orioles, and had avoided Manhattan on a two-day recruiting visit earlier in the week. He saw only his hotel room in suburban Rye Brook, N.Y.; a restaurant in Greenwich, Conn.; and a doctor’s office (where he underwent a physical) in Manhasset, N.Y.
Now only one obstacle remained: the George Washington Bridge at five o’clock. At that hour the Hudson can be tougher to cross than the Kwai. But as the Cadillac hummed onto the span, something happened that would have seemed bizarre had it not been in keeping with the Yankees‘ script for persuading Mussina to betray his small-town allegiances for Gotham. An impossibly clear expanse of roadway lay ahead, just begging to be enjoyed at the decadent pace of 50 mph. “Uh, this is unusual,” Flannino noted to the out-of-towners.
Mussina, in search of financial security, a World Series championship ring, a franchise within easy commuting distance of his hometown and, most of all, a strong sense of being wanted, had come to the right place. The wooing and signing of Mussina made two lessons as clear as this night’s GWB: Pitching is more valuable than ever, and the Yankees play as well in November as they do in October.
In the first moments after their fourth world championship parade in five years, Yankees executives considered Mussina, lefthander Mike Hampton and outfielder Manny Ramirez to be their top free-agent targets on whom to use David Cone‘s $12 million salary (and then some) that at season’s end came off their $112 million payroll. (As of Monday, Cone, a free agent, was deciding whether to accept New York‘s offer of a one-year contract for $500,000 plus performance incentives.) They quickly ruled out Hampton, who they figured would sign with a National League team, and Ramirez, who demanded “between $18 million and $20 million a year,” according to a Yankees source. (Each was still unsigned as of Monday.)
Mussina brought stellar credentials to the market. His 11-15 record last year for the 74-88 Orioles, the first full-season losing mark of his career, was as deceptive as one of his devastating curves. His 3.79 ERA was third in the American League, and his run support, 3.71 per nine innings, was the lowest among the league’s starters. Moreover, the cerebral Stanford graduate fit New York‘s preferred profile: a low-maintenance, reliable player—he pitched a league-leading 237? innings last season and has never had arm trouble—who enhances the Yankees‘ philosophy that pitching is the mortar of championships.
Says New York general manager Brian Cashman, “I still hear some general managers say they’d never trade an every-day player for a pitcher. That might have been true 30 years ago. The opposite is true now. Pitching is just too scarce.”
Three of the five highest-paid players in baseball are pitchers, including Yankees righthander Roger Clemens ($15.45 million per year) and Mussina ($14.75 million). The other is Los Angeles Dodgersrighthander Kevin Brown ($15 million). Two years after Brown signed his deal, New York got a pitcher who’s two years younger than Brown was when he signed (Mussina will turn 32 on Friday) and has a better career record (147-81 to Brown‘s 139-99 at the time). “They didn’t just get a great pitcher,” says one agent of New York‘s coup, “they got a great deal.”
Still, the Yankees, even though they made Mussina a whopping financial offer, worried that he would not come to the Big Apple. That changed on Nov. 7 when the phone rang at the Mussina house. “Michael, you’re not going to believe it,” said Jana after answering the call. “It’s Joe Torre!”
Says Torre, the Yankees‘ Brooklyn-born manager, “I heard the rumor that he didn’t like New York all that much because of the size of the city, and I didn’t want that to be the deciding factor without letting him know there are places in Westchester [County] and Jersey where you can have quiet and space if you want.”
“I could tell after Mike got off the phone how excited he was,” Jana said on the way to Teterboro.
“That was probably the lead reason why I ended up here,” Mike said.
Calls from Steinbrenner and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, rightfielder Paul O’Neill and lefthander Andy Pettitte followed; the players soft-pedaled the city’s forbidding image. The New York Mets also were in the bidding, and Mussina received calls on their behalf from recently resigned lefty reliever John Franco and former Mets pitching star (and current broadcaster, executive and special instructor) Tom Seaver. The Boston Red Sox jumped in with an offer that neared that of the Yankees, but the sincerity of the Yanks’ quick first impression stuck with Mussina. The Orioles, mired in a streak of three losing seasons and negotiating in fitful, insufficient increments for the past year, never made him feel wanted.
As the Cadillac neared the airport, Mussina was asked when he figured he was gone from Baltimore. “Probably July,” he said. “They traded all those guys [principally, shortstop Mike Bordick, first baseman Will Clark and leftfielder B.J. Surhoff], and no one came to me and said, ‘Look, here’s what’s going on, here’s our plan and here’s how we want you to be a part of it.’ It’s funny, too. When Cal [Ripken Jr.] signed [on Nov. 1], he never called me. Never asked…anything.”
The car turned into the airport. Once, Mussina was told, the Yankees were a difficult sell, what with a wild card of an owner and instability on the roster and in the managerial and coaching ranks. “That’s exactly what the Orioles have become,” said Mussina, who had five managers and seven pitching coaches over the past seven years. “Every year I’d have a new pitching coach, and methods changed. I’d take the first two or three months just to listen and then decide what to do. It would be May or June before I got a handle on things. The Mets? They reached the World Series, and they changed the whole coaching staff.”
The Yankees are the gold standard. What beluga is to caviar and Boardwalk is to Monopoly, they are to baseball. Yes, they have gobs of money, but so do other clubs, and Mussina didn’t want Mets money or Red Sox money or Orioles money. The Yankees are as close to a sure thing as the sport has, especially with a rotation that’s so good, Mussina said he might not get to pitch in a Division Series—assuming a sweep behind Clemens, Pettitte and righthander Orlando Hernandez.
Mussina is fine with that. He’s relieved to be rid of the pressure he felt “every start, every inning, every pitch” that came from being the ace on a poor Baltimore team. He is an analytical type who would not agree to allow Orioles owner Peter Angelos to trade him last summer because “I’m not the kind of person who can play the hired gun, who’s expected to win every single time he pitches.”
He’s the career field goal record holder in Lycoming County high school football history (18 for Montoursville High). He may be the only red-blooded male in the county who feeds, not kills, deer. He’s a father who wants his children—Kyra, 10, and Brycen, 2—to be “as lucky as I was to attend one school district while growing up.” He’s a pickup basketball player who held up negotiations for a full day by fighting with the Yankees for the right to play off-season games in the full-sized gym on his 100-acre property. (He won the right to do so every off-season up until Dec. 31).
No matter what the Yankees are paying him, Mussina belongs more to Montoursville than to them. That was obvious as he climbed the steps of the Citation X jet. He did have big plans that night. He would be home in time for a dinner of Chinese takeout with the kids. This week he will fit the plow blade to the tractor in time for the first snowfall.