- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

The Mike Mussina era in Baltimore Orioles history ended officially yesterday when the five-time All-Star right-hander signed a six-year contract with the Orioles' bitterest rivals, the New York Yankees.
The deal, worth a reported $88.5 million, is at least $10 million more than the last offer Orioles owner Peter Angelos made to Mussina.
Syd Thrift, Orioles vice president of baseball operations, yesterday called the club's offer a fair one.
"We made a very fair offer to Mike, but it wasn't good enough," Thrift said. "I respect Mike Mussina as a person and a pitcher and wish him the best of everything."
The signing makes the Yankees the favorite to win their fourth straight World Series and fifth in six years next season. Mussina joins a staff that includes Orlando Hernandez, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.
"We might go to the playoffs next year and I might not even get a chance to pitch," Mussina said. "That's how strong they are."
That's not likely. Mussina, who will be 32 on Dec. 8, has a chance to emerge as the ace of that All-Star staff. He will likely be more effective pitching in Yankee Stadium, a more spacious park than Camden Yards. He will also benefit from a stronger bullpen anchored by closer Mariano Rivera.
"Quality of bullpen is important to me. The Yankee bullpen has been extremely good for a number of years," Mussina said.
There were reports that Mussina, who grew up and still lives in the small town of Montoursville, Pa., had reservations about playing in New York. Yesterday he said that wasn't an issue.
"I rode the subway here when I played for Baltimore," Mussina said. "New York is a great city."
The move is likely to further upset an already angered Orioles fan base angered by a succession of decisions by Angelos over the past few years that has turned the franchise from a division champion into a perennial loser.
The decision not to pursue Mussina, who is second only to Cal Ripken in popularity among Orioles fans, ranks with the forcing out of manager Davey Johnson, letting announcer Jon Miller leave, signing Albert Belle as a free agent and trading B.J. Surhoff and other veterans in the middle of last season as moves that have created animosity between the Camden Yards fans and the franchise. An anticipated rise in ticket prices will likely increase those feelings.
Despite spending 10 years in an Orioles uniform with a career mark of 147-81, Mussina, a first-round draft pick out of Stanford University in 1990, said the team that seemed to want him most was the Yankees.
"It just came down to who really seemed to want me on their team the most," Mussina said. "Joe Torre called me not even a week after the World Series, before he went on vacation. To me, that was a pretty big gesture."
The Yankees courted Mussina because they considered him to be among the top pitchers in baseball. Despite going 11-15 in 2000, Mussina posted an ERA of 3.79. He also led the American League in innings pitched (237*) and was third in strikeouts (212).
"This is a great, great day for the New York Yankees," said team president Randy Levine.
The Yankees did all they could yesterday to bring Mussina into the Yankees legacy at the news conference announcing his signing. They brought in Hall of Famer Yogi Berra to present Mussina with uniform number 35 Berra's first number before he switched to No. 8, which has been retired in his honor.
The deal that the Yankees gave Mussina a $14.75 million average annual salary makes him the second- or third-highest-paid pitcher in baseball, depending on how Clemens' new contract is evaluated. While Clemens and his agents consider his $30.9 million extension a two-year deal that averages $15.45 million, the Yankees say it's a three-year contract that averages $10.3 million. Mussina also trails Kevin Brown of Los Angeles, who averages $15 million under a $105 million, seven-year contract.
The only position players with higher average salaries are Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado ($17 million) and Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones ($15 million).
The Orioles now will have to deal with having Mussina appear in a New York uniform at Camden Yards, where the Yankees already appear to have more fans in the stands when they come to town.
With Mussina gone and Scott Erickson out for all of next season following "Tommy Johnson" surgery, the Orioles could open next season with a decimated pitching staff that consists of Jose Mercedes, Sidney Ponson and a series of journeymen and untested prospects. They are reportedly pursuing free-agent starter Kevin Appier, and Thrift said yesterday that Mussina's status has not affected their planning for next year.
"We had to go forward with our building of a team for next year with or without him," Thrift said.

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