Via Ed Price:
Appearing on Boston radio station WEEI last Friday, Epstein said, “Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina spent the whole time bitching about [their trip to Japan in 2004] … and by the time the Yankees team got back from the trip they were all using it as a crutch.”
Told of the comments, Mussina said sarcastically, “Yeah, we used it as an excuse for winning the division.”
Well, Moose (at that time) did moan about making the trip. Via Tyler Kepner back on March 25, 2004:
Mussina has no choice but to accompany the Yankees to Japan for the start of the regular season on March 30 against Tampa Bay. But he does not have to be excited.
”It’s just a long way to go,” Mussina said. ”I’m not going to lie to you — it’s hard. We’re going to play baseball. If we were going to sightsee, it would be different. But we’re trying to be physically prepared to play.”
The Yankees’ charter flight, which seats more than 300 but will take about 125 players, wives and staff members to Tokyo, leaves after the game Thursday in Clearwater, Fla. Each player was issued a sweatsuit for the flight, and Gene Monahan, the trainer, wants everyone to drink at least 16 ounces of water or a sports drink each hour.
But it may take more than thousands of water bottles to overcome the jet lag and muscle cramps that can come from a 17-hour flight. Left fielder Hideki Matsui has told teammates to expect to be tired.
”Matsui said it takes five days to feel decent again,” Mussina said. ”When we start feeling decent, we’ll turn around and come back and do it again.”
As a collegian at Stanford, Mussina flew to Taiwan and Europe. But he has never flown to Japan and has no plans to pass the time, other than to eat and sleep. ”How do you spend 17 hours in a tube?” he said.
Mussina does plan to ask Matsui a question as the hours drag on across the Pacific: ”How do you say, ‘I’m tired — this trip is too long’ in Japanese?”
Yes, Mussina is right. The Yankees did win the division that season. But, they did it with little help from him. That year, 2004, turned out to be Mussina’s worst season in the big leagues (up until that point). And, it was a season where the Yankees needed him the most. Clemens, Wells and Pettitte were gone. And, they were replaced with guys like Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown and Jose Contreras – who, as a group, gave the Yankees a below average performance that year. Mike had a chance to be a hero in 2004 and he was not good.
How bad was Moose in 2004? Murray Chass said it best, back in April of that year:
In Mussina’s two starts against Tampa Bay, the Yankees took leads only to have him squander them and lose both games. They scored two runs in the first inning in the game in Japan and four in the first inning in the game in Florida.
Mussina’s performances in both games was reminiscent of a memorable George Steinbrenner scene about 25 years ago, when he summoned a reporter to his office after a young Yankees pitcher, Ken Clay, gave up an early lead against Kansas City.
”Ask me about Ken Clay,” Steinbrenner, the team’s principal owner, said.
”What about Ken Clay?” the reporter asked.
”He spit the bit,” Steinbrenner said, borrowing a term from horse racing, his other love.
But Mussina didn’t just spit the bit. He hated the idea of going to Japan, let everybody know it and very likely suffered from his frame of mind. In speaking critically of the trip to Japan, he sounded like a character out of Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer’s novel ”The Ugly American.” Mussina denied that the second disastrous start in Tampa was a carry-over from the first, but he nevertheless pitched poorly and lost that game, too.
He spit the bit. Indeed.
Because of this, Mussina would probably be better served to keep the bit in his mouth this time and not say anything about what Theo Epstein has to say…because the facts suggest that Theo is right – at least about the part where he says Mussina complained about the trip.