While the 2008 season ended with a disappointing third-place finish for the Yanks, Mike Mussina was a clear bright spot. He made a league-leading 34 starts, won 20 games for the first time in his career, topped 200 innings for the first time since 2003 and had his lowest ERA as a Yankee since 2001. Reinventing himself as a off-speed control artist, Mussina walked just 31 hitters, three fewer than starts made.
By all accounts, it was a season for the ages for Mussina, and when he announced his decision to hang it up after the 2008 campaign, we were both surprised and not surprised. Moose had always marched to his own drummer, and while he ended his career just 30 wins shy of that magical 300 plateau, he knew that age was catching up with him. He wanted to spend time with his family, and after 18 seasons in the bigs he had had enough.
Moose made his triumphant return to Yankee Stadium this weekend as part of the 2009 Old Timers’ Day celebration. While he didn’t pitch particularly well and was victimized by his fielders, it was still a treat to see old number 35 out there. During his trip to Yankee Stadium, Moose spoke to Dan Amore of The Hartford Courant to say that he is remaining retired:
“It’s a long way to the plate when you haven’t pitched in eight months,” said Mussina, who threw to a few batters.
There are any number of athletes who talk of going out on top but can’t resist the temptation to come back when they believe they still can. Mussina, who had a subpar season in 2007, decided before the ’08 season began that it would be his last, though he withheld his announcement until after the season. He finished with 270 wins.
“If I had another bad year, it would have been obvious,” Mussina said. “And if I had a good year, it would be the perfect way to go out. … If I came back now, it would ruin what I did last year.”
So anyone wondering about a possible Mussina comeback can dismiss that thought. “There’s less than half a season left,” he said, “and it would take me at least a month to get ready. At this point, I wouldn’t know what ‘ready’ is. It might be throwing 78 mph. I know I can throw from my knees through an L-Screen.”
Moose — who curmudgeonly dismissed new Yankee Stadium as a park too small for his tastes — could have been a useful piece for the Yankees this year. With Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain turning in inconsistent stretches and the fifth starter a giant question mark, Mussina would have been a nice back-of-the-rotation anchor for the Yanks this year.
But alas, his only appearance for the Yankees this year will be yesterday’s festivities. He is at home coaching Little League in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, and doesn’t see himself anywhere else. “I’m really OK with being retired,” he said to Amore, putting a final period on a great career.
(Hat tip to iYankees for the story.)