There’s been a lot of type on this site devoted to dispelling the notions of 20-win seasons and World Series glory somehow standing in between Mike Mussina and the Hall of Fame. We have instead argued on behalf of Mussina’s durability and consistency. Until this point, it had mostly been hypothetical, abstract, arguments.
Today, we offer you concrete evidence, in the form of Bret Saberhagen.
Few players have ever been so dominant, so utterly unhittable as Saberhagen was in his prime. In the first six seasons of his career, he went 92-61 with an astounding 52 complete games. He had two unbelievable seasons: 20-6, 2.87 in 1985 and 23-6, 2.16 in 1989. His ERA+ in those seasons were 145 and 180. Both of those seasons netted him Cy Young awards. In those votes, Saberhagen collected 50 of 56 first-place votes. In 1985, he was World Series MVP, winning and throwing complete games in both of his starts and allowing only one run in the process. He was only 26 when the season began in 1990. He would throw a no-hitter in 1991. There was no closer thing to a lock for the Hall.
So what happened? In short, injuries derailed his career. Following the 1989 season, Saberhagen had started 178 games in six seasons. In the final 10 seasons of his career, he only made 193. He made 30 starts in a season only once (1998) and he missed two full seasons (1996 and 2000). His record from 1990-2001? 75-56.
Now, we’re not here to rip on Saberhagen. He was a phenominal pitcher, and honestly, it’s tragic that a legendary–yes, legendary–career was cut short by injuries. Saberhagen was so good in his prime that he still has better marks than Mussina in ERA+ (126 to 121) and complete games (76 to 57).
There’s no way that Mussina in his six-year peak, touches Saberhagen in his. But what about the rest of his career? Would you take Saberhagen in his prime over Mussina? Without hesitation. But as for the rest of it, sorry Bret.
In 2007, when he came up for election for the Hall of Fame for the first (and only) time, Saberhagen recieved seven votes. He was removed from the ballot.
In an odd way, Saberhagen helps Mussina’s argument to get into the Hall of Fame. If, as so many voters believe, 20-win seasons, Cy Youngs, World Series glory are so central to being voted in, why does a guy like Saberhagen not get ANY support?
The answer: Because, deep down, we know they aren’t that important. If they were, Saberhagen would be in. Yes, they measure dominance. But they do so over a short period of time–in Saberhagen’s case, all those accolades came in two seperate seasons; ’85 and ’89. And as we’ve tried to tell you, the Hall of Fame is about a career, not a short time span. If you still believe Mussina needs 20 wins, or a Cy Young, or a ring to punch his ballot for Cooperstown, just ask Bret Saberhagen how much they’ve helped him.