April 17, 1998
"I'm learning a lot about medicine," Mike Mussina said in the clubhouse Thursday. "I might take it up when I retire."
Retire? Mussina? Huh? When?
"Next year, or maybe next week," the Orioles' ace said, looking at the bloody wart on the index finger of his pitching hand.
He was just kidding about retiring, of course.
"I've got to laugh about this," he said, "because it's so damn frustrating."
No, the wart won't really hasten the end of his career.
BUT IT COULD SEND HIM to the disabled list and force him to miss a couple of starts, which isn't good news for the Orioles.
Still, it's just a wart, not a sore shoulder or a blown elbow, so it's not really a big deal -- as long as a few weeks of rest does away with the annoying little critter once and for all.
Mussina has pitched with it in some form for the past nine months, he said, although it wasn't really bothersome until recently.
Where did he get it? Who knows where anyone gets a wart?
"I was just told to stay away from frogs when I was a kid," pitching coach Mike Flanagan said.
Mussina had a better answer: "It's a virus," he said, "something called the human papilloma virus. That's what [the doctors] told me."
HE WAS SHOWING THE WART to a circle of reporters after allowing three home runs in an 8-2 loss to the White Sox at Camden Yards. The reporters pressed him for details. The pamplona virus?
"No," Mussina said, "Pamplona is where they run the bulls in the streets. This is papilloma."
Papilloma, Pamplona, pa-thetic. That's his opinion of the whole situation.
"Out of all of my fingers and all of my toes, the wart has to be on this one, at exactly the place where I grip the ball," he said. "It couldn't be on another finger, or on the fourth toe on my left foot, or even on this finger in a different place that didn't matter."
He has seen four doctors and specialists, had the wart treated twice and removed once, and taken advice from anyone with a solution, including a few grandmothers. No one knows warts better than grandmothers, right?
SOAK IT IN PICKLE BRINE, rub it in warm mud, you name the crackpot solution, Mussina has heard it.
"I've heard all the old wives' tales," he said. "I even heard I was supposed to rub a potato on it and bury the potato under a tree."
"Didn't exactly try it," he said.
Any other ideas?
"Well," Flanagan said, "don't you call Merlin the Magician for warts?"
What Mussina did try was having it frozen with liquid nitrogen during the off-season, then having it removed. Both times, it came back bigger than before.
"It's kind of stubborn," he said. "It won't go away. We can't find anything that works."
Actually, there is one procedure guaranteed to work.
"I could put my hand down on a table and they could chop my finger off from the tip to below the wart," Mussina said. "But I would probably be out for the rest of the year if I did that. I probably won't try that."
WHAT WILL HE TRY? WELL, A SPECIALIST was said to have frozen it again last night at Camden Yards. No one knows if that will work.
All anyone knows for sure right now is that Mussina isn't going to try to pitch with it any more.
"I'll be a knuckleballer in about a week if I have to pitch like that," he said.
In other words, it hurts.
"Hurts a lot," he said.
And please understand, he is one of the toughest Orioles of all, one who loathes excuses of any kind and has been on the disabled list only once since 1991.
If he says something hurts, it hurts.
If he says he can't pitch with it, it's bad.
HE WAS "AWARE OF IT" ALL SPRING and in his first three starts, but not until Thursday did it significantly hinder him. He couldn't throw his knuckle curve or other breaking balls because they irritated the wart. His control was affected, too.
"He has managed with it until today," Flanagan said. "Today, it was unmanageable. It was like a bee buzzing around his head."
Thus, the immediate decision to deal with it now, early in the season.
"The goal is to get it behind us now and have him fully healthy and ready later," manager Ray Miller said. "If that means missing a few starts now, fine. I don't care if I'm 10-4 or 4-10, get it done right now. I want Mike Mussina healthy for later in the season."
He isn't healthy now, not with a bloody blotch on his finger that would frighten children.
"And nothing we try is 100 percent guaranteed to work," Mussina said.
Calling all grandmothers!
A Cy Young candidate may soon require your services.
Mike Mussina Fan Page