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Orioles ponder life without Mussina

November 30, 2000

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Orioles knew they probably would lose Mike Mussina to the highest bidder. They didn't envision their ace joining the hated New York Yankees.

Mussina, the third-winningest pitcher in Orioles history, will be donning pinstripes next season after agreeing Thursday to an $88.5 million, six-year contract with Baltimore's AL East rival.

"They have a tremendous starting staff already, and now they've got Mike," Orioles left-hander Chuck McElroy said. "It's a terrible loss for the Baltimore organization and the Baltimore fans, especially with him going to the Yankees."

New York's starters include Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and Mussina. The Orioles, conversely, have an inconsistent Sidney Ponson, journeyman Jose Mercedes and little else.

Scott Erickson is recovering from surgery on his pitching arm and is expected to be sidelined for the entire 2001 season. The 33-year-old McElroy could be shoved into the rotation, even though he never started a game before last September.

"I just hope that a lot of guys who come in don't try to be a Mussina. You can't be a Mussina," McElroy said. "You have to be yourself. There's only one Mike Mussina, and you can't replace him."

The Orioles might have retained Mussina by intensifying negotiations during the season, but the sides never got close. As the season reached its conclusion, it became apparent that Baltimore was preparing for the worst.

After Mussina's final game with Baltimore, against the Yankees, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said, "I won't sit here and say we won't miss Mike. But we'll survive. If it happens that he comes back, fantastic. If not, we'll move on."

Hargrove was on the road Thursday and did not return phone calls.

Mussina would have been a solid anchor on a team that slipped into a rebuilding mode last season. But his last batterymate in Baltimore, catcher Brook Fordyce, said the Orioles can recover.

"It definitely can be fine. (Ken) Griffey left Seattle and look what they did," Fordyce said. "What I'm saying is, players are going to have to look in the mirror and step up in the absence of Mike Mussina. I think each player's responsibility will jump up, and hopefully that will make our team closer and play better."

It's hard to imagine the Orioles improving without Mussina. And it's almost impossible to compare them, or any other AL club, to the three-time defending World Series champions.

"Losing Moose, it's like a lot of fans have been stabbed, and that wound is going to be hard to heal," McElroy said. "That's how a lot of them are feeling right now, but we can't worry about that. All we can do is go out and give 100 percent and still have our fan support."

That might not be as easy as it sounds. Mussina is the latest on a list of Orioles to leave via free agency, including Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar.

"I know it's a touchy subject in Baltimore," Fordyce said. "I just hope the team can still have a positive outlook, maybe get another pitcher and move on."


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