Pretty Good Isn’t Good Enough to Get Into the Hall of Fame

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

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3 thoughts on “Pretty Good Isn’t Good Enough to Get Into the Hall of Fame

  1. MussinaHOF says:

    Interesting piece. Although not an uncommon view, and while several points you make are decent, I disagree on several counts.

    1) “Other than leading his league in wins once (1995 with 19), he’s not done so in any significant category.”

    You don’t consider games started, innings pitched or shutouts a significant category? Also, not leading the league in something is a bit misleading. (For example, does Mussina finishing 6 strikeouts behind Hideo Nomo in 2001 really change who he was that season? It’s not like Nomo was a better pitcher that year)

    I don’t believe that finishing 2nd is really that different than finishing first in a lot of these stat categories because they’re so close, there’s really no distinction. Some examples:

    1. 2nd in wins in 1994 (17-16).
    2. 2nd in complete games in 1995 (8-7)
    3. 2nd in shutouts in 1992 (5-4)
    4. 2nd in shutouts in 2001 (4-3)
    5. 2nd in shutouts in 2002 (3-2)
    6. 2nd in shutouts in 2005 (3-2)
    7. 2nd in ERA in 2001 (3.15-3.05)
    8. 2nd in strikeouts in 2001 (220-214)

    Differences like this are so small they really cease to have any specific was of differentiating between two pitchers.

    2) Since when is being flamboyant and haveing a signature pitching characteristic a prerequisite for being in the Hall? Personally, I think that’s one of the problems. Too much emphasis on flash and not enough on talent.

    3) “And he doesn’t have a single signature postseason win.”

    He beat Randy Johnson twice in the 1997 ALDS. In 2001, with the Yankees facing elimination in the ALDS, he beat the A’s 1-0. In 2003, he–once again–saved the Yankees season by coming in in relief of Roger Clemens down 4-0 in the third inning of Game 7. With runners on the corners and no-one out, Mussina not only worked out of that jam without giving up a run, but threw two more shutout innings, keeping the Yankees in it long enough for that great comeback. It’s safe to say that neither Yankees pennant would have occured if he hadn’t been there.

    While I agree that he wasn’t as good as Pedro, Maddux, Clemens or Johnson, I do think he measures up just fine against Smoltz–who only managed over 16 wins twice in his career–and Glavine, who actually has a worse ERA relative to the league he played in than Mussina does. Mussina and Glavine have identical postseason ERA’s and winning percentages. Glavine and Smoltz especially benefited from pitching in a weaker league on better teams for most of their careers. And although they have three Cy Youngs between them, two of them (Smoltz in 1996 and Glavine in 1998) were undeserved.

    He’s an on the fence guy to be sure, but I have to say personally, that I disagree with you.

  2. CaptBackslap says:

    Mussina has a considerably better career WHIP than Nolan Ryan (1.19 vs. 1.24), and a much better career ERA+ (122 vs. 111). And Ryan was a sure thing first-ballot hall-of-famer.

    Pitching wins are almost completely irrelevant to evaluating a pitcher, since the team’s hitting and bullpen are more important than the starter’s performance in determining them.

  3. MussinaHOF says:

    I’d kind of have to say that a pitcher’s start is probably the most important factor in wether or not he gets a win. It may not be the only factor, but it’s there

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