11/06/08 4:05 PM EST
Mussina earns seventh Gold Glove
Yankees righty wins coveted honor for first time since 2003
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
Mussina bested every other American League pitcher to nab his first Gold Glove since 2003, his third with the Yankees, and his seventh overall since 1996. Now with more AL Gold Gloves than any pitcher other than Jim Kaat, who won 14 straight from 1962-75 and an additional two in the National League, Mussina has entered rarefied air among the top defensive pitchers in history.
And the fact that Mussina won this year for the first time in half a decade seems fitting. This season marked something of a renaissance for Mussina, who posted his lowest ERA since 2001 and won 20 games for the first time in his career.
"I was hoping that I'd be important to the club this year," Mussina said in August, after proving that importance time and again. "I was hoping I'd have a role like I've had in the past."
Mussina easily could have been referring to his role as a defensive asset, which he established in Baltimore last decade and carried with him to the Yankees. Mussina made just one error -- his first in three years -- in 200 1/3 innings this season, despite ranking 11th in the league with 42 total chances. His fielding percentage of .976 was sixth among pitchers with at least 200 innings, and more remarkably, he did it at the age of 39.
Mussina's award came one day after Greg Maddux, at age 42, won his record 18th Gold Glove Award in the NL. Among pitchers in both leagues, Mussina's seven Gold Gloves rank fifth in the 52-year-history of the award.
The first Gold Gloves were awarded in 1957 to one player at each position from both leagues, then expanded the next year to include a lineup of nine players, one from each league.
The winners are selected by AL managers and coaches, who can't vote for their own players. Johan Santana won last year's AL Gold Glove for pitchers, then moved to the NL this season and lost out to Maddux.
Joining Mussina on the AL team was catcher Joe Mauer of the Twins, first baseman Carlos Pena of the Rays, second baseman Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, third baseman Adrian Beltre of the Mariners, shortstop Michael Young of the Rangers and outfielders Torii Hunter of the Angels, Grady Sizemore of the Indians and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners. Hunter and Suzuki each won their eighth straight awards, joining a Gold Glove team that included four first-time winners.
And accolades, most will admit, are nice -- but they can't erase the uncertainty that has surrounded Mussina since last season ended. Mussina filed for free agency on Wednesday, and he has not yet informed the Yankees whether he will pitch next year.
Originally thought to be playing out the final contract of his career, Mussina opened the door for a return after enjoying one of his most successful seasons. He now stands merely 30 wins shy of 300 -- a number that traditionally begs Hall of Fame consideration, and that could entice him to return.
"I'm not sure what he is going to do," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said at season's end. "Whatever Mike Mussina does, he has had a wonderful career up until this point, and I believe that he is a Hall of Famer."
"I don't know what the future holds," Mussina said after winning his 20th game of the season in his final start. "It could be my last year, it may not be my last year. When you get to your 18th season, it could always be your last season."
But if he does return, it's a near certainty that he'll do so with his defensive prowess intact. Mussina has made just 11 errors over his past 11 seasons, and he certainly does not plan on making many more.
"You make adjustments or they find someone else to get the job done -- it's that simple," Mussina said in July. "Fortunately, I've been able to make changes for quite a few years, and that's why I'm still out there."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.