What More Than 10% of the ’93 Finest Checklist Has in Common

I just finished reading Joe Cox’s Almost Perfect, a book chronicling the events surrounding the 16 nearly perfect games that almost made their way into the baseball record books. 13 pitchers came within one out of sealing the sport’s rarest pitching accomplishment. Three more retired 27 opponents but didn’t get credit for the feat because of extra innings (Harvey Haddix and Pedro Martinez) or an inopportune conversation between Babe Ruth and an umpire (Ernie Shore).

One of those nearly perfect games was authored by Mike Mussina. In 2001 he faced the Boston Red Sox,who didn’t manage to get the ball out of the infield until the sixth inning. 26 Consecutive batters were quickly sent back to the bench after facing Mussina. Half of these plate appearances ended in strikeouts. The pitcher quickly got two strikes on pinch hitter Carl Everett, placing himself one pitch away from the record books. An ecstatic Everett blooped a single into the outfield on that last pitch, ending the perfect game as well as the no-hitter.

That was an amazing game, but nothing out of the ordinary for Mussina. Another perfect game of his was broken up in 1997 by Sandy Alomar with a 9th inning double. Less than a month later, Mussina saw a no-hitter fall away in the bottom of the 8th inning. The following year he was 4 outs away from another perfect game before Detroit’s Frank Catalanotto connected for a double. Combined with the Red Sox game, that’s four near no-hitters and a pair of nearly perfect games.

Apparently a lot of opposing batters had issues facing Mike Mussina, and it wasn’t just the league’s scrubs. Two dozen members of the 199-card 1993 Finest checklist were participants in these four exhibitions of pitching skill. Laying out their cards, the roster is impressive:

Quietly Winning

Everyone knew Mussina was a good pitcher, but his name rarely comes up in conversation’s about the era’s best. He barely missed those no-hitters/perfect games, any one of which would have elevated him in the sport’s consciousness. He didn’t put together a 20-win season until his final year, pitching 18 years without hitting the traditional mark of pitching excellence. Despite this seeming “lack” of winning, Mussina actually boasts the second best win percentage of the 1990s (.673), trailing only Pedro Martinez and beating out the likes of Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Roger Clemens.

Mussina finished with 270 tallies in the win column, a figure that would have likely been above 300 had he played most of career outside of Baltimore. As it happens, Mussina’s entire career took place inside the maul that is the American League East where he had to face hard hitting lineups much more often. Already impressive stats such as a sub-80 FIP- are even better than they initially appear when one takes into account the opponents which he faced.

1993 Finest Refractor #157

This card is the final part of a quartet of near mint stars acquired in one transaction. Like the others, centering is a bit of an issue but this particular card appears to be in better shape than the others. Mussina is a sneaky good player. As a fan, you always knew he was a top pitcher, but as a collector his cards are generally passed over. Aside from pulling a rookie card in a pack of 1991 Score or a finding a ’91 Leaf Gold Rookie insert, collectors just don’t seem excited by his cards. Given his stats and the early arrival of this refractor in his career, I sometimes find myself pulling this card from its storage box and marveling that I got to watch his career unfold in real time.