Calling the Pen: There's still a soft spot here for Mussina - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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Calling the Pen: There’s still a soft spot here for Mussina

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

I believe the Orioles, and their fans, have a golden opportunity to repair an awkward relationship with newly inducted Hall of Famer Mike Mussina.

After a number of years of pitching dominance with the Orioles, Mussina took a below-market deal  in 1997 (getting paid less than $7 million a year from 1998 to 2000, much to the chagrin of the players union). But owner Peter Angelos turned around and was unwilling to pay him ace-caliber money after that hometown discount expired.

I don’t blame Moose at all for feeling disrespected, unappreciated, hurt, and ticked off. Also, keep in mind that Mussina saw most of his longtime teammates depart. Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar and Chris Hoiles were gone after 1998; B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick and Harold Baines were traded during the infamous fire sale of 2000; and Cal Ripken Jr. and Brady Anderson were set to depart one way or another after 2001 (Cal would retire, and Brady was released).

Mussina grew up a Yankees fan in northern Pennsylvania — and when the Yankees came running, making him feel wanted and throwing big bucks his way after Angelos made it clear that he didn’t think he was worth it, Mussina took their offer. After Mussina had accepted a hometown discount in his previous contract, the Orioles offered Mussina $10 million less than the Yankees’ offer … all the while dismantling the team.

Mussina saw the writing on the wall and knew that it would be years before the Orioles would contend again. Knowing what we know now, it would end up being 12 years before the Orioles returned to the postseason … four years after Mussina retired. Had he stayed, he would have never reached the playoffs again, and he wanted a shot at the World Series.

After all, if your favorite team growing up pursued you with open arms, just coming off winning the World Series three years in a row and is lined up to be in it pretty much every year, and it throws money at you that your previous employer felt that you weren’t worth, wouldn’t you have done the same thing?

Peter Angelos is still the owner of this team, although his sons, John and Lou, are running the team because of their father’s declining health. So why would Mussina be warm and cozy with the Orioles and us fans? After all, we certainly let him have it whenever he came back to Baltimore to pitch against us with the Yankees.

Mussina was always very quiet, introverted, and valued his privacy. That’s just his personality, but it unfairly came across as arrogant to some fans. That said, at his Orioles Hall of Fame induction and again at the 25th anniversary of Camden Yards, it felt like he was still keeping himself at arm’s length. It’s kind of like when you go back to a high school reunion and you see your ex with whom you had an unpleasant break-up. You’re polite and exchange greetings, “Hey, it’s nice to be back. Nice to see you again,” but it still feels uncomfortable and a bit awkward.

That’s how I sense Moose feels toward us and this organization.

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I understand that this fan base’s hatred of the Yankees goes back to the 1950s. I’m right there with you. Growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, I hated New York. And I’ll admit that if Mussina had gone into Cooperstown with an “NY” on his plaque instead of an Oriole bird, I’d probably be singing a different tune. As it turned out, he couldn’t decide which logo best represented his career after splitting his time between Baltimore and New York, so he chose neither.

Still, I’m hopeful.

Even though New York’s ownership seemed to appreciate Mussina more than the Orioles’, I hope that he sees that John and Lou are running this team very differently than their father did. I hope that he sees he was more beloved and appreciated by the fans here than he was in New York.

In New York, he was just another big-name player the Yankees brought in to try to buy a World Series championship. But in Baltimore, he was homegrown, he was our bona-fide ace, and he was “ours,” none of which New York can claim.

I hope he realizes that he’s been in the Orioles’ Hall of Fame for a number of years now, and he’s still not in the Yankees’.  And, lastly, I hope that the Orioles honor him by retiring his number (35) and claim him as one of their own while the Yankees are busy honoring Mariano Rivera.

I hope Mike Mussina will realize all of this, and when he comes back to be honored by the Orioles, that he gets a standing ovation and a loud “Moooose!” I hope that he will be touched and that an awkward relationship with this team and its fans will begin to heal.

Congratulations, Mike!

Daniel Moore, 30, was born in Baltimore and raised to be an Orioles fan in Glen Burnie. He played high school baseball for four years where he was runner-up for his team’s Gold Glove Award his junior year before winning it as a senior, while setting school records for most times hit by pitch and top five in stolen bases. He considers himself an amateur Orioles team historian and is a Clearwater Christian College graduate with a bachelor’s in communication arts. His dream is to use his degree in a career in professional baseball. He still lives in Glen Burnie with his wife, Cynthia, and 2-year-old daughter Olivia.

Editor’s Note: I was sports editor of The Sun when Mussina turned in one brilliant performance after another in the 1997 playoffs. We recognized greatness, even if we didn’t realize that it would be 15 years before the Orioles would return to the postseason. When I think of Oriole players that I loved to watch, he ranks high on that list.

Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.

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