- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

If you're an Orioles fan who still cares, you might want to drop a note to Michael Cole Mussina at Camden Yards, 333 West Camden St., Baltimore, Md. 21201. Something along the lines of "so long, it's been good to know ya."

Mike Mussina has pitched in 285 games, most of them honorably, for the Orioles since 1991. He probably will start four more, beginning tomorrow night against Seattle. Then, almost certainly, he will be gone.

And the Orioles will be shudder! much worse off than they are now.

Last week owner Peter Angelos plunked a six-year, $72 million offer on the table. Mussina and his agent, Arn Tellem, turned it down. Now the offer has been withdrawn, and you don't have to be a genius to know where Mussina will be pitching next April.

Somewhere Else.

Mussina takes great pride in his ability and professionalism. He began this season with a 136-66 lifetime record and a winning percentage of .636, third best in history among pitchers with at least 200 decisions.

His 9-14 record this season certainly is an affront to Mussina, but he can live with that because he knows he has pitched about as well as ever. What he can't live with, what probably will drive him out of Charm City, is what the Orioles have become.

People who disagree with Angelos soon find themselves going, going, gone. He has had a flock of managers, a covey of GMs, and now the team's locker room is populated by "prospects" who just might get the Orioles to .500 in three or four years. Except for icon Cal Ripken, near-icon Brady Anderson and sweet Albert Belle all of them headed downward most of the established players have vanished this season: Mike Bordick, B.J. Surhoff, Charles Johnson, Harold Baines, Will Clark.

Can Mussina be far behind?

Quick, somebody lock the door… . Never mind, too late.

Mussina is the second-best pitcher in the Orioles' 47-year history. And although he doesn't come right out and say so, it's easy to tell that the club's best pitcher doesn't expect to see him around the premises next season.

"You have to consider how many quality guys are gone that has to have an effect on Mike," Jim Palmer said the other day. "It's not about money, because he'll get that wherever he pitches. But now that the Orioles' offer is off the table, you know he's going to entertain others. And we've seen where that usually goes."

Hall of Famer Palmer had eight 20-victory seasons, collected three Cy Young Awards and won 268 games as a lifetime Bird from 1965 to 1984. There were no $72 million contracts in those days, of course, but Palmer loved Baltimore and vice versa. So he stayed to become one of the city's best-loved players during the '60s, '70s and '80s, alongside Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Rick Dempsey, Ripken and everybody's favorite nut, John Lowenstein.

Owner Jerry Hoffberger ran the club in a benevolent, hands-off manner for most of Palmer's tenure, and everybody in an orange and black uniform was trained in the Oriole Way a thorough tutorial on playing baseball with intelligence and spirit. Not even his periodic spitting matches with manager Earl Weaver made Palmer yearn for another venue.

"The great thing then was the continuity," Palmer said. "You knew the same manager and coaches would be there every year, the good players would continue to come up, and you knew the club would win… . You don't know that anymore."

Palmer expects most big-market clubs to pursue Mussina ("he's the kind of guy you put on your Christmas card list"), and he wouldn't be surprised if the worst possible scenario came to pass.

"Let's see," Palmer says. "The Yankees [are working on] a $1.4 billion TV contract, and if [David] Cone leaves, that's $12 million available right there. And you don't think George [Steinbrenner] would go after Mussina big time?"

Sure the Boss would. So would the Indians, Mets, Braves, Angels and anybody else who thinks a guy Palmer calls "the best all-around pitcher in baseball" could put them into a World Series or two.

Meanwhile, the Orioles' rotation will muddle along next season with a Scott Erickson coming off elbow surgery, Sidney Ponson, Jose Mercedes and perhaps a couple of Pat Rapp clones off the free-agent discard pile.

It's sad, very sad, but losing Mike Mussina fits right in with every other bad thing that has happened to this poorly run club in recent seasons. Why should it be any different now?

So long, Mike. It was great fun, but it was just one of those things.

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