Thursday, November 20, 2008

Moose/Morris ...

The arbitrary nature of glory is the pedantic phrase floating around amid the retirement tributes to Mike Mussina, the New York Yankees pitcher.

The corollary could be called Moose/Morris. Each fall, when Hall of Fame voting talks heats up, someone will try to expand the thumbnail sketch of Jack Morris as the ultimate big-game pitcher. Oh, that Jack Morris was nails when he chucked that 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Please ignore that his career earned-run average was close to 4 -- 3.90 in regular season, 3.80 in the playoffs.

Mussina's career arc defied the signature moment, but when you think about that, who are those for? They're not for the ballplayers. They know whether a guy can play. They might be good for tugged-a-million-which-ways journalists who need to marshall the facts for an argument quickly and need to latch on to something.

This is The Geek talking, but those "he never won a ..." arguments are especially grating. It's that arbitariness-of-glory. Mussina finally had a 20-win season this year. ShysterBall noted that doesn't happen if Yankees teammate Xavier Nady doesn't hit a three-run homer on the final day of the season.

Mussina also won 19 games in both 1995 and '96. The first time, the season was shortened due to the 1994-95 strike, costing him at least three starts. In '96, his near-miss was a footnote to an incident that Blue Jays fans have not forgotten. On the final Saturday of the season, Robbie Alomar, the day after the incident where he spit on John Hirschbeck, homered in extra innings to help the Orioles wrap up a playoff berth. Mussina started that game and left with a 2-1 lead after throwing eight solid innings. Ed Sprague sent it to extras with a homer in the ninth inning off future former Jay Armando Benitez, though, denying him his 20th win.

The question becomes on whom does Mussina's Cooperstown case hinge -- Xavier Nady or Armando Benitez.

Like Wallace Matthews at Newsday noted today, "the easy out on Mussina was that he had never won a Cy Young, never pitched for a world champion, and never won 20 games."

Who said you have to have to done this or that? It should not matter that Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio do not have World Series rings, just like Mussina, or that Biggio was never a league MVP. That was never the standard for Cooperstown anyway. The ranks would be a whole lot thinner were that the case.

Who said you had to be the best anything of your era -- right-handed pitcher, shortstop and so on -- to be in the Hall of Fame? It is no fault of Tim Raines' that he happened to play within the same era as Rickey Henderson, his only superior as a leadoff hitter.

In the early 1960s, when Ted Williams homered in his final at-bat, a writer for the old Sport magazine named Ed Linn wrote the piece of his career describing the event. It was his misfortune that some dilettante named John Updike was also at Fenway Park that day and a wrote an essay that proved far more enduring. It didn't make Ed Linn any less worthy, though.

Not to take this any farther into a cheap Klosterman rip-off, but Moose/Morris, and the amount of bile and bandwidth that baseball geeks expend on these debates -- how does it really affect your life, really? -- speaks to one of modern man's primordial fears. No one wants to be forgotten and maybe people project that on to ballplayers, sorry to be pretentious.

Morris had some great moments across his 18 seasons. Mussina had a better 18 seasons, period. Some of us just can't understand why the former holds more appeal to people.


The Reverend said...

well said...well said indeed.

Anonymous said...

Mussina should never be forgiven for warming up on his own at an All-Star game in Baltimore when Cito was managing the AL; he clearly showed Cito up that night and proved again that he is a well-to-do, spoiled brat from Stanford that who was continually rewarded for whining except that night by Cito. Good riddance.