One of baseball’s great weekends is here — the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown.
It’s a great celebration of the game, and this particular class, led by the first unanimous inductee in the history of the Hall, reliever Mariano Rivera, is worth celebrating.
Expect Cooperstown to become a version of Yankees’ Woodstock, with Yankee fans making the trip upstate to pay homage to the great reliever who closed the deal on four World Series titles from 1996 through 2000.
It’s likely Sunday’s induction ceremony crowd could break records, surpassing the estimated 70,000 who showed up for the Cal Ripken-Tony Gwynn ceremony in 2007.
Expect even more fans next year, when Derek Jeter is eligible for the ballot. He’s a sure lock for induction, and it will be Yankees’ Woodstock II.
I guess you could assume that more Yankee fans will show up this weekend because of the induction of Mike Mussina, though it’s hard for me to think that Yankee fans have a special place in their hearts for the ace pitcher.
Mussina is not a warm and fuzzy figure and never made the emotional connection with Yankees fans that a player like Rivera did. While he had success in New York — a 123-72 record in 249 games over eight years and his only 20-game season, coming in his final year in 2008 — he was never part of any World Series championship teams there.
To fall in love with Mussina was to fall in love with his excellence on the mound, and it was Baltimore where he was most excellent for 10 years. Five of his 10 years in Baltimore were with losing teams, yet he posted a career record of 147-81 over 288 games. He was the best pitcher I ever saw, day in and day out. It was a privilege to watch him on the mound — much like it is to watch Max Scherzer pitch now in Washington.
I’m not sure Yankee fans ever felt that way about Mussina.
He clearly loved his time in New York, though, which I believe is the reason he chose no team logo on his cap for his Hall of Fame plaque. “I only thought about it for about 15 minutes,” Mussina told reporters after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Camden Yards in June. “I can’t decide between the two organizations. One got my career started, one put me on a huge stage for a lot of years and I wouldn’t be going to Cooperstown without either one of them.”
It was with just one of those teams, though — the Orioles — that the Pennsylvania native entertained the notion of going down as the greatest pitcher in franchise history.
I caught up with Mussina at Yankees spring training in 2001, when his time in Baltimore was still fresh in his mind and before he began his era in New York. It was a telling conversation:
“It would have been great to leave my mark in the record books, right there with Jim Palmer. I think I could have. That would have been great to do that. I do think I accomplished a little of that. If I had gotten the same contract there that I got here … I’m not saying that I would have done what Palmer was able to do, but who knows? But that’s not the way it worked out. It could have, but it didn’t.”
The feelings he had about leaving Baltimore were still raw.
“I was looking forward to having the chance to play my whole career in Baltimore. But the process kept dragging and dragging, and nothing was happening. We get to the postseason, the playoffs are going on, and still nothing is happening. It was frustrating. After playing 10 years for this club, believing I was as important as anybody, they basically showed no interest. We had to call them (Orioles owner Peter Angelos) is the way it panned out.”
He didn’t have to call the Yankees. They called him. Manager Joe Torre was on the phone just days after Mussina became a free agent. “Joe’s call was about timing more than anything,” Mussina said. “He could have talked about the weather or some book he read last week. It didn’t matter to me. It was the timing, and the fact that he called and showed interest. I was at a point where Baltimore had showed so little interest, and then [the Yankees] showed so much interest in a very short time after winning a championship with a lot of other things going on.
“From the day I signed, it was like I was part of [the Yankees], almost immediately. I was getting Christmas cards from players here.”
I asked Mussina if he ever got a Christmas card from Angelos.
“Are you kidding?” he answered.
The Orioles are fortunate Mussina simply didn’t chose to go into Cooperstown wearing a Yankees cap for his Hall of Fame plaque.
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.
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