Tuesday’s news about the latest Hall of Fame class meant it was time to revisit my Reminiscence Bump post and write more about Mike Mussina. This isn’t a diss on Edgar, Mo, or Doc; rather it’s a reflection of the fact that Moose is one of the few players whose career I started followed when he was in college.
While I got into baseball in the end of 1986, 1987 was my first full season as a fan. A good season to be a Giants fan. Also a good season to start going to Stanford games. By the time 1990 rolled around I was a regular fixture at Sunken Diamond. We had a family pass. I was going at least once a weekend. I was keeping score.* I was even starting to get some autographs.**
*With a pitch count and everything.
**Mainly just Paul Carey since he had been pictured on previous-years’ scorecards but I had also discovered the Stanford Alumni game.
That season Mussina and Stan Spencer were our best pitchers and we had a number of other good players in the line up—Carey, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Ryan Turner in the outfield, David McCarty at first, Steve Chitren coming out of the bullpen. It was a fun season and when Stanford qualified for the regionals I got an all-session pass and attended most of the games.
The regional at this time was kind of wonderful. No night games yet so you had three triple headers starting at 9 in the morning. What better way to spend a spring day. The first two days were on school days so I only caught the 4:00 games. Thankfully one of them was the Stanford vs Campbell game where I got an autograph from Mike Caldwell before his #6 seed Campbell Fighting Camels were eliminated.*
*This is a fun story in and of itself since I was the only kid there who asked for his autograph after the game and I don’t think he expected an 11-year-old to hand him a 14-year-old card.
As the regional progressed though things got a bit more tense. Tighter games, Higher stakes. Despite the wonderful weekend tripleheader this was playoff baseball. Mussina kind of put the team on his back in the clincher and showed why he was called the Bulldog.
In the post-game celebrations fans were allowed onto the field and I took my ticket down with me to get Mussina’s signature. He was in a very good mood but I remember him commenting when he signed my ticket about how having the complete session pass showed I was a true fan.
That spring I was lucky enough to follow the team to Omaha and attend the College World Series. That was a fun trip and a great time to meet baseball fans from all over the country. Not the ending we were hoping for for Stanford but still a good enjoyable ride with Brian Sackinsky’s spot start victory the highlight for the team.
I bought an official NCAA Championship ball as a souvenir from that trip. I even managed to get it signed by all the stars of that year’s team. Except Mussina. Looking at the ball now shows a decent amount of major league talent. Everyone on the ball* got at least a cup coffee in the bigs except for Turner—who earned his own small bit of notoriety by becoming the first player in the Rockies franchise.
*1—Brian Sackinsky, Paul Carey. 2—Jeffrey Hammonds, David McCarty, Ryan Turner. 3—Stan Spencer.
I’ve always wanted to get Mussina to sign this ball since he’s the obvious missing player but it wasn’t the kind of thing I felt safe just bringing to events like the Alumni game. That was more the kind of event to either bring a brand new ball to or to be prepared with a nice stack of cards.
I have a few Alumni game balls signed by a bunch of guys but by 1992 I was mainly bringing stacks of cards. I only had this one Mussina card but I’m glad I did. This was the last game I saw him at and it was fun to have one of his first professional cards on hand. I was excited to get this autograph at the time and as his career quickly took off this was one of the few “investments” I felt I had in my collection.
Through the rest of the early/mid 90s, the Orioles were kind of the team I pulled for in the American League. I didn’t like the A’s* and the colors were right. Plus besides Mussina they had quite the Stanford connection going on. Carey, Sackinsky, and Hammonds all went there and while Mussina was the clear breakout star, I was rooting for all of those guys to do well.
*It took until 1996 for me to realize that it was LaRussa and his school of overmanagement which I couldn’t stand. I warmed to them a ton once the Moneyball stuff kicked in.
It was fun to watch and keep up with his career even though it seemed like he was always this close to breaking through into all-time legend status but just couldn’t get that last out of the perfect game or the rub of luck in the playoffs.
Once he switched to the Yankees I still couldn’t bring myself to root against him. No I didn’t want the Yankees to win—I rooted for quality starts and a no decision—but I enjoyed seeing him succeed and finish his career strong with that 20-win season.
In many ways I felt like his Hall of Fame chances were going to be like his career in Baltimore where he was a great player who spent most of his time flying under the radar. Someone destined to be thought of as a clear member of the Hall of Very Good rather than an obvious Hall of Famer. So yeah I was relieved that his voting percentages just kept on climbing year after year and I was very very happy to see him clear the bar and become the first Stanford Baseball player in the Hall of Fame.