Unlike most people, baseball players are my definition of celebrities. I would be star-struck if I happened to run into the bullpen catcher of the Colorado Rockies, so you can imagine how I felt about getting ready to meet a potential Hall of Fame candidate, a multiple All-Star, and a six-time Gold Glove winner with 224 career victories (not to mention my absolute favorite member of the world-famous New York Yankees).
Before posing for pictures with his fans during dinner, Moose held a “Question and Answer” session, making sure to address every single person with an inquiry.
When I said “exclusive interview” before, it was a bit of an exaggeration, considering I only asked one question. But, hey, it’s a pretty good start for an aspiring journalist, no?
Here’s a look at my question for Mike Mussina, as well as some of the more interesting points he brought up throughout the night.
Q & A
Me- "Shawn Chacon gave you a lot of credit last season for helping him adjust to the American League; how was it exactly that you became a kind of mentor to him and in what ways did you help him as far as going over scouting reports and the like?"
Mike Mussina- “Uh, Shawn Chacon. Yeah, actually we spent…you know it was his first time in the American League and I actually probably spent a little bit of time with him more than somebody that’s been around. Um, I don’t know how it really happened. It kinda just happened. It wasn’t anything planned or…I didn’t do it on purpose. It just kinda started happening. We’d have a scouting report and then he happened to pitch one day I think and he asked me what I thought about the last time I faced him because he hadn’t seen him at all. So I told him…I went through the line up with him. He pitched really well so the next time his turn came up he wanted me to go with him again. And you know how pitchers are with the superstitious thing. So all of a sudden he felt good about it and then he threw the ball great I think four, five games in a row. Shoot, I’ll go sit with him and talk if he’s gonna pitch good. I’ll tell him this guy stinks even if he hits .800 off of him. “This guy can’t hit nothin’; throw it right over the plate.” Worked for him, so… Whatever works.
Also Worth Mentioning
- Mike was asked about his favorite moment as a member of the New York Yankees. He responded:
1.) Tino’s homerun with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series that saved the Yankees from going down three games to none to the Arizona Diamondbacks
2.) Derek Jeter’s dramatic, walk-off homerun later that same game as the bells tolled midnight and ushered in November baseball for the first time in the history of the game
3.) And Aaron Boone’s unlikely, incredible, and historic walk-off homerun against Tim Wakefield and the Boston Red Sox in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
Moose also mentioned how terrified he was coming out of the bullpen for the first time in the 4th inning of that game, with two men on and nobody out, down 4-0 and going up against Pedro Martinez. Apparently, Joe Torre had promised him he would not take Mussina into the game in the middle of an inning, but decided to anyway as Clemens continued to falter. It turned out that Mike’s first relief appearance in 401 career games was the turning point for the Yanks in one of the most exciting games in recent memory.
- Moose is unsure of what the 2007 season holds in store for him since his contract with the Yankees is up at the end of this season. Ideally, he would like to stay with the Yankees rather than go anywhere else, but it seems as though he won’t really make a decision until he sees if he is still as effective as he has been in the past (he is 37, after all). Nothing is concrete, but he did specifically say that he wants to stay close to home in Pennsylvania because he’s been spoiled during his career so far and definitely does not want to go to the West Coast.
- When asked what it will be like without Mel Stottlemyre as pitching coach this year, Moose said it will be “weird” not to have him there and that he will certainly be missed by the Yankees. Stottlemyre was his pitching coach for each of the five seasons he’s been with the team. However, Mike is looking forward to working with Ron Guidry, with whom he has worked before in Spring Training.
Other Interesting Tidbits
- Mike showed how to throw his patented pitch, the knuckle curve, and explained how it is different from a regular curveball
- When asked about his favorite baseball stadium, Moose replied, “Definitely not Japan!”
- Regarding former teammate Rafael Palmeiro and his struggles with steroids, Mussina diplomatically stated that the whole story will probably never come out but that whatever the case may be, it’s a sad story and he hopes that Palmeiro will get his life straightened out
- The 37-year-old Mussina joked that he’s getting old and that he’ll probably have to retire in about “ten or twelve” years.
- His favorite sport besides baseball is basketball, but only when it’s competitive, which “just about rules out the entire NBA.”
- Mike’s brother, Mark, who was the emcee for the evening, said that whenever he sees his brother, he asks Moose how he’s feeling in regards to his strength, and Mark always gets one of two answers- “I’m fine,” which means everything is going well, or “I’m OK,” which is “Mussina- code” for “Things could be better.” This past season, when Mark asked him in May, Mike said that he was pretty sore and his elbow was hurting him. So it looks as though Moose was battling his elbow troubles all season and that his condition was worse than he let on.
- During the Q & A, my sister asked Moose about the documentary in which he was featured and that has been getting rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. Although he’s still not sure what it’s about or why they even wanted to speak to him, he is extremely surprised he didn’t wind up on the cutting room floor.
After explaining this, Moose said, “…They haven’t sent me my SAG card yet. And I didn’t get to vote for any of those award shows… The Screen Actors Guild. Who invented the word ‘guild’ anyway? Some British guy?”
(If you’ve ever seen Mike Mussina interviewed, he is extremely sarcastic and has a very dry sense of humor, which is lost on a lot of people. But if you get him, he can be quite hilarious!)
- Finally, when someone asked Moose what he thought of Michael Kay, he sarcastically replied, “Oh, me and Michael Kay are good buddies.” For those of you that don’t know, a few years ago, the YES Network’s Michael Kay stated that Mike Mussina “has the personality of a doorjamb” and Kay has continued to not-so-objectively point out the fact that he severely dislikes Mussina ever since. Moose explained that he really has no idea why Kay is so bitter and resentful towards him, but says that he’d be perfectly willing to talk to him, if only for the fact that in the five years since he’s been in New York, Kay never so much as uttered a singled word to Mussina. When a fan pointed out that Michael Kay seemed to be “a lot nicer” in 2005, Moose said “Yeah, that’s just what you see on T.V.”
It is just unbelievable to me that Mike Mussina is so accessible and personable and just so utterly devoted to his fans. The man who makes $19 million a year and graduated from Stanford with a degree in Economics in only three years is as down-to-earth as they come. When we arrived at the hotel in his birthplace of Williamsport, PA, Moose’s middle son, Brycen, greeted us at the door and gave us a gift bag. Throughout the evening, Mike was selling memorabilia for his charity in the back of the room, rocking his youngest son Peyton to sleep while his wife ran back and forth from their home in Montoursville to the hotel retrieving items that some of the fans had requested, signing autographs for every guest and walking around at each table in order to allow everyone to get their picture taken with him, answering questions, and introducing his fans not just to his wife, children, and brother, but to his parents and his grandmother as well. It really was quite the family affair.
You would think that Mussina would be one of the more popular players in the game, but because he is so unwilling to cater to the media and just a thoughtful, quiet, and contemplative man in general, he doesn’t really stand out and would never brag about all the good he does for his community (where he coaches basketball, mows the little league ball fields, pays for maintenance to his old high school, and invites little leaguers to the indoor batting cages he has in his home), the devoted family man that he is, or even the fact that in the past ten years, he is one of the best and most consistent pitchers in the league and has a very realistic shot at making it into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown if he is able to compile a few more wins and maybe lower that ERA of his before his retirement.
Before leaving, I made sure to wish Moose good luck on the upcoming season. Let’s hope that elbow holds up and that maybe, just maybe, Mike can finally reach that elusive 20-win season and shed his “Mr. Almost” image.
If he weren’t already a favorite of mine, Mike Mussina certainly would be after the events of several evenings ago. He is a truly impressive man, an awesome but underrated pitcher, and a great Yankee.
And that is the long-awaited recap of my encounter with Michael Cole Mussina.
Mike Mussina's Official Web Site and Charity Foundation