If it were the Hall of Really, Really Good, Mike Mussina would have locked up an invitation by now.
If it were the Hall of Perseverance, he’d be tightening up his acceptance speech.
If it were the Hall of Last of Dying Breeds, the Yankees pitcher would be on the precipice of enshrinement.
Unfortunately for him, it’s not any of those. It’s the Hall of Fame. And even should Mussina win 20 games this season for the first time ever, even if he does that and has two or three more stellar seasons and becomes perhaps one of the last pitchers to reach the iconic 300-win, plateau, the Hall will not likely call.
Nor should it.
The 39-year-old right-hander won his 18th game of the 2008 season Thursday night, besting the White Sox, 9-2. With two more scheduled starts, Mussina could dismantle the most obvious hurdle to his inclusion in the Hall – the lack of a 20-win season in 18 years in the bigs.
Should he win 20, the debates will begin anew: Is he a Hall of Famer? Or simply another solid pitcher whose credentials don’t quite measure up.
I’m in the latter camp, though I have much respect and admiration for Mussina.
Longevity in any sport is laudable, as is the ability to be pretty good throughout the long haul. Mussina has only had two losing seasons (one was a 4-5 mark as a rookie) and he’s only lost 10 games once in the last six seasons (11-10 last season).
But pretty good pretty much sums up Mussina.
He’s never won a Cy Young (he isn’t likely to win it this season), coming as close as second in 1999 to Pedro Martinez. Pretty good.
He’s 0-2 in World Series games (3.00 ERA) and 7-9 in the postseason overall (3.42 ERA). Pretty good.
He’s won six Gold Gloves. Pretty good.
He has a winning record against every major league team he’s faced, except one (the Yankees). Pretty good.
But it’s not the Hall of Pretty Good.
Mussina has too many factors working against him.
Other than leading his league in wins once (1995 with 19), he’s not done so in any significant category.
He doesn’t possess a singular distinguishing pitching characteristic. He’s not a flame-throwing strikeout guy (see: Randy Johnson). He’s not particularly cunning or flamboyant (see: Pedro). And he doesn’t have a single signature postseason win.
He also has the misfortune of pitching in an era in which his peers are more than pretty good (see: Greg Maddox, Johnson, Pedro, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and, ahem, Roger Clemens).
Saving the Clemens debate for another post, Mussina doesn’t even really belong in that group, which isn’t a strong case for Hall enshrinement. They were pitchers who helped define their era; Mussina just pitched in the era.
Should he not make it, Mussina will not be in a Hall of Shame, either. In fact he’d be part of a pretty talented corps that includes Tommy John (who, if for no other reason, should be in the Hall for giving us a surgical procedure), Bert Blyleven (the pitcher with whom Mussina is most often compared), Jack Morris and Luis Tiant.
Those guys were all more than pretty good, and none is in the Hall.
Mussina’s win Thursday tied him with the venerable Hall of Famer Jim Palmer on baseball’s all-time wins list at 268. Should he reach 300, Mussina might be the last player to do so – at least for a very long time.
Today’s increased use of the bullpen makes it harder to achieve 20 victories, and with players’ arms popping like rubber bands on a junior-high playground, who knows if anyone else will even pitch 20 seasons, as Mussina would should he pitch two more years.
Three hundred wins might get him in. Might. But almost certainly not on the first ballot.
If it does, they just might have to change the name to the Hall of Pretty Good. Too bad.
Associated Press photo