After all that Mike Mussina has accomplished -- he's been to the All-Star game five times, won six Gold Gloves, ranks 19th all-time in strikeouts and 33rd all-time in wins -- one measley win in an absolutely meaningless regular season game shouldn't really matter. But it does.
By pitching six shutout innings agains the Red Sox yesterday afternoon, Mussina won 20 games in a season for the first time in his 18-year career. At 39, he became the oldest player in major league history to accomplish the feat. Although he hasn't officially made up his mind if he wants to try breaking his own record by doing it again at 40, he certainly sounded like a guy ready to hang them up. From the New York Times:
"I've been envious of every guy who's retired since I've been playing - you've done what you wanted to do, and I still have to grind it out, that kind of thing," Mussina said, enjoying a soda in the manager's office between games of a doubleheader. "You get to go home and relax, and you've played the game as long as you've chosen to play it. I've felt good for every one of them."
There's no question that Mussina has consistently ranked among the best pitchers of his generation, but his failure to meet a handful of arbitrary milestones has led some to question his status as a future Hall of Famer:
-- He's won at least 18 games in a season six times, but until Sunday, never won 20.
-- He's placed among the top-five vote-getters for the Cy Young award five times, but never actually won.
-- His ERA has ranked in the league's top-five nine different times, but it was never the lowest.
-- He's pitched in two World Series but never won a ring.
But should those milestones keep him from Cooperstown? Shouldn't consistent greatness across nearly two decades make up for the lack of one outstanding season? I think it should.
His ERA+ was above 100 in 15 of 18 seasons -- and he just missed in 2004 (98) and 2005 (96). This season was the first that won at least 20 games, but it's the sixth season he's won at least 18. And while he's never won a ring, he's still been nails in the postseason, posting a 3.42 ERA in 23 playoff appearances.
As crusty and traditionalist as most Hall of Fame voters are, I can't imagine they'll keep Mussina out of Cooperstown, but I wouldn't be surprised if they deny him first-ballot status. That in itself is an argument for another time, but there's no doubt in my mind that he belongs to be enshrined, no matter how long it takes.