The Merits of Mike Mussina Leaving on Top

by: Jimmy Scott | Special to NY Sports Day | Saturday, November 22, 2008

How many guys want to leave the game the way Mike Mussina is apparently going to leave it? Ted Williams hit a home run in his last game - his last at bat too, I believe. He proved he could've still played a little bit longer. Todd Zeile, certainly no Ted Williams (he'd admit that too), hit a home run in his last game four years ago. John Kruk hit a ball into the gap, touched first base, and left the playing field forever. Sandy Koufax won 27 games in 1966, at the old age of 30, then left the game. Now Mussina, who's coming off his best season since 2003 and won 20 games for the first time, is pulling a Koufax. If only we could all do that.

For every Mussina and Koufax and Williams, there's a Willie Mays or Steve Carlton or Jim Palmer, guys who had greatness, lost it with age, but couldn't let go. Joe DiMaggio had a very good season in 1950 and a pretty good season in 1951, at the age of 36. But he sensed the inevitable and left. He was done. Why tarnish what would soon become legendary?

People are going to look back at Mike Mussina's 2008 season, as time passes, and consider it a greater achievement than they do now. That's how history works. Good things become better, bad gets worse.

Remember 2007? Mussina, at 38 years old, went 11-10, battled injuries, only threw 152 innings and had had the highest ERA of his career at 5.15. You think fans wanted him back for 2008? You think the team did? No. Which only will help his legacy. Expectations for 2008 were not such that fans or anyone on that team - they're lying if they say it - thought he'd win 20 games this year. The hope was for him to not drop off any worse than 2007 because he was done. His body was breaking down. He didn't have his stuff anymore. You know fans didn't want him on that staff this year.

But something happened. Mussina defied expectations and had one of the best seasons in his career. The cheers were stronger than since he'd signed his first free agent deal with the Yankees before the 2001 season, leaving the former rival (former because they've stunk for 11 years) Baltimore Orioles. He played himself into a career 270-game winner and forced people to ask, "Are you coming back?" It's better to be asked that than, "Do you have to come back?"

And, apparently, Mike Mussina is not coming back. He's doing this his way, avoiding more injuries, more time away from his family. He's got all of the money he and his kids and their kids will ever need. He's put in 18 years. He missed a perfect game by one pitch. He won 20 games in 2008. He played in a World Series and played for the New York Yankees. The only thing he didn't get was that ring. At almost 40 years old then, you need to weigh one thing: What's more important to me now, doing all the work, putting in all the time and effort to hopefully win that World Series ring or staying home and being the husband and father he's never been before.

Mike Mussina has conquered life on the diamond. It appears his next challenge will be conquering it off the field. Best of luck, because the next 50 years may be even harder. Still, if only we could all go out like Mike Mussina, we'd all go out on top.

Jimmy Scott is probably the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of. To read more from Jimmy, just click on his website, Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight, which you can find at www.jimmyscottshighandtight.com. There you’ll hear interviews with MLB players, wives & agents and find new perspectives on this great game some of us call Baseball. You can contact Jimmy through email: jimmy@jimmyscottshighandtight.com.