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OPINION: Why Mike Mussina is a Hall of Famer

As MLB's Hall of Fame discussion returns, here's a look at the case for "Moose"

For 18 years, Mike Mussina pitched through the most demanding division during the least pitcher-friendly era in baseball.

He started his career playing 10 straight seasons for the Orioles before making the jump to the New York Yankees, after signing a six-year deal to play in the Bronx where he would eventually finish out his career.

That career has been scrutinized, analyzed, debated, argued over and everything in between, when it comes to deciding whether or not Mussina's was a Hall of Fame worthy career.

Despite his lack of a Cy Young Award or World Series ring, few pitchers thrived in such a hostile environment from 1991 to 2008, the exact span of Mussina's career. Excluding his rookie season, Mussina won at least 11 games every year, and posted a losing record only once, in 2000 with the Orioles (11-15).

A native of Williamsport, PA, the man known as "MOOSE!" became well known and well respected for his tireless work ethic, his tenacity and his ability to grind through tough outings when it mattered most.

In a 1994 profile by Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated, Verducci described what made Mussina's arsenal so devastating:

"What's most impressive is that from 60 feet, six inches, Mussina can dot the i in his autograph with any one of six pitches. He has three fastballs (a cutter, a sinker and a riser), two curveballs (a slow curve and the knuckle curve) and an astonishingly deceptive changeup that is his best pitch."

Though he signed with the Yankees at the age of 32, he showed no signs of fatigue in the latter years of his career, compiling a 123-72 record in pinstripes and ending his career with a 20-win season in 2008, earning both Cy Young and MVP votes for his efforts.

In nine different seasons Mussina received Cy Young votes, but the closest he ever came to winning the coveted award was in 1999, his fifth and final All-Star season, when he finished runner-up to Pedro Martinez's 23-win, 2.07-ERA campaign.

In his first year with the Yankees, Mussina was stellar, pitching more than 220 innings with an ERA of 3.15. He struck out over 200 batters for the second straight year and won 17 games, while posting a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.10. The Yankees won 95 games and their 38th AL pennant that year, but fell to the Diamondbacks in the seventh game of the World Series.

Unfortunately for Mussina, that World Series ring eluded the steady right-hander his entire career, but his performances in the postseason were still impressive. Moose struck out 145 batters and walked just 33 over 16 playoff series in his career. His postseason ERA stands at 3.42, and stands at 3.00 for his three World Series starts.

Mussina could pitch, but he could also field about as well as any pitcher he competed against, winning seven Gold Glove awards in total. He did all the little things right, and above all else, he was durable and reliable. Mussina reached the 170-inning plateau in all but three of his 17 non-rookie seasons, and made at least 27 starts in every one of his eight seasons with the Yankees.

His first 20-win season was also his last in the Majors, after he had reached at least 18 wins five times before. Mussina earned a grand total of 270 career wins, putting him tied for 33rd on MLB's all-time list, and ahead of 50 other pitchers already residing in Cooperstown.

Mussina's 145 postseason strikeouts are the fourth-most for any pitcher in history, and came in a time when PED use was on the rise, and wins were hard to come by in the hitter-friendly confines of the AL East.

He famously fell one strike short of a perfect game against the Red Sox in Fenway Park on September 2, 2001, which would have made him the fourth Yankees pitcher in history to accomplish the astounding feat. After a brief pause to presumably say "...are you kidding me?" Mussina shook off the raucous crowd noise and secured the win.

That instance was a perfect microcosm of Mussina's attitude on the mound, and his unshakeable nature as a pitcher in the toughest division in baseball.

Mussina's lack of a Cy Young Award or World Series title on his resume should fall to the wayside when comparing those brief moments to the near 20-year career he put forth in the Major leagues. Some pitchers enjoy short stretches of unthinkable domination, while others prolong their effectiveness through outsmarting opponents and maintaining health and longevity.

Mussina falls in the latter (but no less impressive) category. He deserves a place in Cooperstown, and as the country's top writers of the BBWAA get their chance to mull over his extensive accomplishments, Moose may finally get his well-warranted recognition among baseball's finest pitchers in history.