It’s over. Mike Mussina will never pitch in the Major Leagues again. His retirement still comes as a bit of a surprise to me. I think, looking back, that I was made cynical by most of today’s athletes. What I mean is that, star athletes do not retire when they still have many good years left. Usually they are taken kicking and screaming from the game they’ve loved since childhood as the last vestiges of their abilities are lost to time.
From time to time we see star athletes retire after reaching the pinnacle of his sport (John Elway being the all too obvious and overused example). But very rarely does an athlete retire without a championship when they can still play. That is what Mike Mussina did last Thursday, one week after being voted the 6th best pitcher in the American League.
The only comparison that comes to mind is Barry Sanders. Like Sanders, Mussina stood only 30 wins, 2 strong seasons away from the immortality of 300 wins. In 1999 the 30-year-old Sanders retired from professional football. He stood only 1,457 yards shy of Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record. Sanders averaged 1,526 yards rushing per season in his 10 year career. Like Sanders, Mussina is an introvert more interested in preparing for his next opponent then answering repetitive questions from an unappreciative media.
And like Sanders I suspect that perhaps, the game itself didn’t mean as much to Mussina as his life outside of it. This is not something to be frowned upon. We are conditioned to believe only in the athlete who gives every last ounce of his existence for his sport. We want him to die out there, because, honestly, when they do retire it is as they have passed away. Those of us who have followed Mussina year in and year will never see him grace the field of a live game again. In the sense that we knew Mike Mussina he is no more. But the Mike Mussina that matters, the person, will live on happy and content with his life and family. That should give us all comfort and only increase our respect for the man.