- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

What kind of perks do you think it will take for the New York Yankees to sign Mike Mussina? An armored car to drive in and out of the city? A personalized daily New York Times crossword puzzle? A clause that prohibits anyone with a television camera from asking him a question?
You won't see Mussina asking for his own office at Yankee Stadium or his own public relations person. But he has his quirks, which could be the only thing between him and the Yankees.
Mussina is a small-town guy, his close ties to his hometown of Montoursville, Pa., are well chronicled. He would rather be on the football field as a volunteer coach at his old high school than at a New York nightclub. He would rather have his name in the newsletter of the Lycoming County, Pa., chapter of the American Red Cross than on Page Six of the New York Post.
That is why the Yankees are working overtime to convince Mussina that he can keep his small-town sensibilities and play for them, too. That is why Joe Torre, Brian Cashman and Yankee players have been calling Mussina to assure him that he can still stay pure and join the evil empire.
"I just wanted him to know that New York is more than just Manhattan and traffic," Torre said at a news conference introducing the 2000 World Series video. "New York isn't just a place with a lot of people."
It's a tough call for Mussina, a thoughtful and cantankerous player. If he were unhappy with his lifestyle as a Yankee, it probably would affect him on the field more than most players. He knows what his lifestyle is like as a Baltimore Oriole, no matter what happens on the field, and that may be more important to him than what happens on the field.
Let's face it: If it comes down to pure baseball, it is no contest goodbye Baltimore, hello New York.
If the Yankees sign Mussina, they would have to be a near lock to repeat as World Series champions. He has been among the top five pitchers in all of baseball, with a career mark of 147-81, pitching half the time in homer-friendly Camden Yards and often denied victories because of suspect bullpens over 10 years.
In Yankee Stadium, he finally would win his 20 games and could do so for two or three years in a row, given the current circumstances a winning team playing in a more spacious park, with Mariano Rivera closing his games.
But the string could be about to run out in New York. The difference between the professional and winning persona of recent teams and the chaos that used to exist under George Steinbrenner has been Torre. There has been speculation that next year will be Torre's last. Who knows if Boss George, after having to take a back seat to Torre for credit during this run of four championships in five years, will feel like flexing his muscles again and ruin the winning chemistry.
But it's not like Mussina hasn't seen that before. In fact, he has operated under those conditions virtually his entire career as an Oriole he's worked under five managers and six pitching coaches and still managed to excel. He is a loner by nature and has the intelligence and focus to keep his head while people around him are losing theirs. He can handle chaos on the field. Off the field is where he seems to need stability.
Finally, if it comes down to money, it is also likely no contest. The Yankees reportedly are prepared to give Mussina a five-year deal worth about $15 million a year something Orioles owner Peter Angelos declared he will not do. Mussina has rejected a six-year, $72 million offer from the Orioles.
This, according to Angelos, is the high road. He is representing Orioles ticket holders, sparing them further ticket price increases resulting from such high salaries. I'm sure all you Orioles fans feel very good about that. In fact, if you see Mussina come to Camden Yards next season in a Yankees uniform, just pull out your ticket stub, look at the price and thank the good Lord for an owner watching out for your interests.
It will be a nice change from watching Norman Bates jog out to right field at the top of every inning, looking at the price on your ticket stub and cursing the day that Peter Angelos ever bid for the franchise. Talk about timing. Angelos gets religion after agreeing to pay Albert Belle $13 million a year.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but Angelos could be the exception to that. Mussina has assured the Orioles that he will give them a chance to match any other offer. When it comes down to the reality of having Mussina sign with the Orioles' bitterest rivals and risk even more cheering for New York at Camden Yards, that will be a foxhole moment.
Then we will see if Angelos is still a convert.

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