The Yankees right-hander said that he knew all along that 2008 would be his final Major League season, having reached the decision to walk away from the game in January, looking to complete what would be his 18th and final tour around the American League.
The fact that he was able to walk away on top, less than two months after completing the first 20-win season of his career, just made his fond farewell all the more sweeter.
"I don't think there was ever a point where I looked around and said, 'You know what? I'm going to change my mind,'" Mussina said Thursday in a conference call to discuss his retirement.
"I just felt so good about the season, the way it was going, and enjoying it and not getting caught up in the bad times. It was like the last year of high school. You know it's going to end, and you just enjoy the ride."
Mussina said he kept the secret from reporters, teammates and even front-office executives because he did not want to become a focal point of the season. But by the time the year was over, he had emerged as the Yankees' most prominent pitcher, making Mussina's situation difficult to ignore.
"People who talk to you about it say, 'Make sure you're doing it for yourself,'" Mussina said. "Every decision you make, there's other factors involved. I have young children and they're getting involved with things. I've been away a long time and I want to be involved more. I'm certainly not getting younger, they're not getting younger and you can't get that time back. It's just the right time for me."
Completing his career with two clubs, the Yankees and Orioles, Mussina notched 270 victories, putting him within striking distance of the conversation for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Having already seamlessly transitioned into a lifestyle of cleaning closets and shoveling snow -- his activities on his first day as a non-active player -- the decision is not Mussina's to make. His supporters will point to a high-octane offensive era and his standing with two AL East clubs among his many credentials.
|Mike Mussina finished his 18-year career tied for 33rd place in wins|
|1.||Cy Young *||511|
|2.||Walter Johnson *||417|
|3.||Pete Alexander *||373|
|Christy Mathewson *||373|
|5.||Pud Galvin *||364|
|6.||Warren Spahn *||363|
|7.||Kid Nichols *||361|
|10.||Tim Keefe *||342|
|11.||Steve Carlton *||329|
|12.||John Clarkson *||328|
|13.||Eddie Plank *||326|
|14.||Nolan Ryan *||324|
|Don Sutton *||324|
|16.||Phil Niekro *||318|
|17.||Gaylord Perry *||314|
|18.||Tom Seaver *||311|
|19.||Charley Radbourn *||309|
|20.||Mickey Welch *||307|
|22.||Lefty Grove *||300|
|Early Wynn *||300|
|28.||Robin Roberts *||286|
|29.||Fergie Jenkins *||284|
|32.||Red Ruffing *||273|
|Burleigh Grimes *||270|
|35.||Jim Palmer *||268|
|36.||Bob Feller *||266|
|Eppa Rixey *||266|
|40.||Ted Lyons *||260|
|* -- Hall of Famer|
Enjoying a resurgent season that saw him bounce back from injuries and inconsistency that marred his 2007 campaign, Mussina made adjustments to his style on the mound and remained healthy off of it.
Finishing the year 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA, Mussina becomes the first pitcher to retire immediately following a 20-win season since Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax hung up his spikes after winning 27 games for the Dodgers in 1966, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
As Mussina approached that 20th victory on Sept. 28 at Boston's Fenway Park, he addressed his proximity to the game's vaunted 300-win plateau, analyzing his situation in a typically cerebral style.
Mussina said that he could not count on having another 20-win season if he were to return, and if the more realistic goal was to win approximately 10 games a year, he'd be pitching to the age of 42 just to attain a milestone mark -- hanging on, even though his best work had already been completed.
"I didn't want to be one of those guys that bounces all over the place," Mussina said. "That's not how I feel about the game. If I can't contribute at the level I want to contribute at, then someone else should be doing it."
The Yankees had not been operating as though they were expecting Mussina to return, as both manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman expressed doubts. Girardi said Wednesday that he was not surprised by reports of Mussina's retirement.
"He had led me to believe that that's what was going to happen at the end of the year," Girardi said. "I wasn't quite sure, in a sense, that I believed him. Sometimes when you get away from it, you really miss it and your family might encourage you to go. But I know he talked about wanting to be home more, and if he does, I won't be surprised."
Mussina has spoken often about how much he enjoys his hometown of Montoursville, Pa. -- certainly, his free-agent signing was one in which New York City was not to be a major selling point. His home features a collection of vintage automobiles and John Deere tractors that demand attention.
Now that he is unburdened of the ticking clock toward pitchers and catchers reporting, Mussina said he is unsure if he will remain in baseball in some capacity. He plans to spend much of his time this April at his son's baseball games, cheering him on alongside the other parents and playing Dad.
"I don't have any real plans -- I'm just enjoying the free time," Mussina said. "Guys who have retired before, I've asked them what they do with themselves, and they say they're busier now than when they were active players. I've been home for 8 1/2 weeks and I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving already. The time is flying and the days are busy."
He compiled a record of 123-72 with a 3.88 ERA in pinstripes, and since signing with the Yankees, no other AL pitcher recorded more wins than Mussina.
"I think I made a name for myself in Baltimore, but I had a lot more exposure and opportunities in New York," Mussina said. "We had seven trips to the postseason, a couple of trips to [World Series].
"You're on a bigger stage pitching for the Yankees. I played my last game as a Yankee, and I think if I would have chosen to return, they would have asked me. I loved playing in both places, but when retirement came around, I was still a Yankee."
Moose among Kings of K's
|Mike Mussina finished his career in 19th place with 2,813 strikeouts|
|1.||Nolan Ryan *||5,714|
|4.||Steve Carlton *||4,136|
|6.||Tom Seaver *||3,640|
|7.||Don Sutton *||3,574|
|8.||Gaylord Perry *||3,534|
|9.||Walter Johnson *||3,509|
|11.||Phil Niekro *||3,342|
|12.||Fergie Jenkins *||3,192|
|13.||Bob Gibson *||3,117|
|17.||Jim Bunning *||2,855|
|20.||Cy Young *||2,803|
|* -- Hall of Famer|
His 270 wins tie Mussina with Burleigh Grimes for 33rd on baseball's all-time list, having most recently surpassed Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266), Eppa Rixey (266) and Jim McCormick (265).
With a 123-72 record, Mussina finished 51 games over .500 with the Yankees while going 66 games over .500 with Baltimore (147-81). According to Elias, he joined Randy Johnson as the only pitchers since 1900 to own a career record of at least 50 games over .500 with two different teams.
"I can't complain at all about my experience in New York -- it was the best," Mussina said. "That's what I'm going to take from what I've been able to do."
Mussina left Baltimore to sign with a Yankees team that had just won four World Series titles in five years, coming off their Subway Series victory over the Mets.
And though Mussina was never able to win the ring that was once thought to be a virtual certainty, he helped the Yankees reach the 2001 and '03 Fall Classics, saying that he leaves with no regrets.
"I'm just proud that the Yankees asked me to come in and do a job for them, and I was able to do it," Mussina said. "It's not easy to go out there 30 times a year and be successful and stay healthy and do what everybody is expecting you to do every time.
"Yeah, I lost, and I didn't pitch great every time. But for the most part over the long haul, I did what I was supposed to do. When you're asked to do a job, you expect yourself to go out there and do it. I'm proud of myself that I went out there and did it as well as I did."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.