A year after the Baseball Writers' Association of America voted no one into the Hall of Fame, 2014 is shaping up to be a crowded class, with the selection announcement scheduled for Jan. 8. If last year's shutout amounted to the voters' condemnation of the steroid era, this year's induction ceremony looks to be a celebration of 1990s excellence, with the selection of three of the period's hallmark managers by the Veterans Committee and the writers' all-but-certain selection of two of the decade's most formidable pitchers, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
Another pitcher displayed the consistency and longevity embodied by both those 300-game winners, but faces a much tougher climb to Hall of Fame enshrinement: Mike Mussina, whose 18-year career might go largely overlooked by voters long-criticized for placing too much emphasis on tradition and sentimentality over advanced statistics and context.
For good measure, let's get all the old-school knocks against Mussina's candidacy out of the way: He never won a Cy Young or a World Series, he never pitched a perfect game or a no-hitter, he had a losing postseason record (7-8), and he amassed only one 20-game season in 2008, his final year in professional baseball. The 20-game measure is somewhat arbitrary -- career-.525 pitcher Esteban Loaiza won 21 games for the 2003 Chicago White Sox -- as is the perfect-game line, though Mussina flirted with a no-no three times in his career, coming within one heartbreaking pitch to perfection in 2001.
The Cy Young point, however, actually demonstrates Mussina's quiet success. He finished in the top six of Cy Young voting eight times in his career, placing second in 1999. He lost that year to Pedro Martinez, whose 23-4, 2.07 earned-run average, 313-strikeout performance is considered among the best pitching seasons in baseball history. In fact, the list of players who placed higher than Mussina during those eight years reads like a Hall of Fame ballot in itself: Martinez, Dennis Eckersley, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and David Cone. Mussina never won a Cy Young, but the players who stood in his way were not just some of the best pitchers of his generation -- they were some of the best pitchers in history.
Context matters when considering Mussina's place among the decade's top players, as it does when considering his glowing regular-season stats. His 270-153 record puts him tied for 32nd all-time in wins, and every eligible pitcher who finished his career 100 games over .500 has been inducted in the Hall. His career 82.7 wins above replacement rating is 10th among expansion-era pitchers and 12th in the live-ball era, dating back to 1920, placing him ahead of Glavine as well as first-ballot Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer and Sandy Koufax. The consistency he displayed over his long career -- 11 seasons with 15-plus wins, 12 seasons with 4-plus WAR -- is even more impressive considering he pitched the whole time in the offense-driven American League East. And though he was arguably the best-fielding pitcher of the era, winning seven Gold Gloves, he pitched in front of poor Yankees defenses for the majority of his time in New York.
Unfortunately, as Hall of Fame research guru Bill Deane notes, Mussina runs the risk of being overlooked on this year's crowded ballot and could struggle to gain the 5 percent required to appear again next year. As far as his statistics go, however, there should be no debate over Mussina's place in baseball history. The only argument should be whether his plaque will don an Orioles cap or Yankees pinstripes.