The great debate: Who is the most overrated baseball player of them all? (Bellamy)

Five years from now, Mike Mussina will pick up career victory No. 300. He’ll toss seven solid innings of work against the Detroit Tigers, giving up three earned runs and striking out five. The Yankees will win. The aging vet will be picked up by his teammates and carried on their shoulders into baseball immortality. A few years later, he’ll give a teary speech at the steps of Cooperstown.

Funny-from all that, you’d think he was a great pitcher or something.

Like 3,000 hits and 500 homers, 300 wins is an automatic entrance into the Hall of Fame. Barring injury, Mussina will reach the big 3-0-0 in the next four or five years, leading pundits and voters to turn off their brains and grant him automatic entrance into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, next to the likes of Christy Mathewson and Roger Clemens. Mussina’s Hall of Fame rsum will be what George Tenet would call a “slam dunk.”

Frankly, I’m offended.

Every time I see him pitch on national television, announcers gush, casually throwing around words like “dominant” and “ace.” If they would only hold his credentials up to the light, they might realize that Mussina is nothing more than a poor man’s Tom Glavine.

It may seem that because I Red Sox fan, I’m more than a little biased. But believe me, when deciding who major league baseball’s most overrated player was, I nearly chose Keith Foulke before deciding on Mussina. The difference was clear: While Foulke certainly gets plenty of hype, nobody’s ever gonna put him in the Hall of Fame. Mussina, on the other hand, has received superstar status for more than a decade without ever doing anything to warrant such a distinction.

Don’t get me wrong-Mussina is an excellent pitcher. He has impeccable control, and when he’s on top of his game, he can be one of the best. But he’s also a guy who, much like Chicago’s Kerry Wood, has never lived up to his early hype.

Mussina was brilliant in 1992-his first full season in the majors-and yet he still hasn’t matched that performance in the 12 subsequent years. Think about this: 1992 remains the only full season of his entire career in which his ERA has been under 3.00. The aforementioned Glavine, on the other hand, has been under the 3.00 mark six times.

Despite spending the majority of his career on winning teams, Mussina has never won 20 games in a season, and since signing that $19 million-per-year contract with the Yankees five years ago, Mussina’s total ERA has been 4.16.

Mussina has had two, maybe three great seasons over his entire career-does that sound like a Hall of Famer to you?

Hey, if that’s the criteria, then Dante Bichette deserves to have his bust immortalized in bronze, too, right? If Mussina’s going down in history, we might as well induct Bret Saberhagen. (After all, during his abbreviated peak, Sabes was way better than Mussina has ever been.)

Baseball’s modern era has ushered out the Dominant Big-Game Pitcher, and we’ve settled for solid guys who can go six innings and give way to the bullpen without allowing too much damage. In that regard, yes, Mussina is one of the best pitchers of this generation.

But I don’t think anyone should be rewarded for simply overcoming mediocrity. Mussina is often called an ace by the Joe Bucks and Tim McCarvers of the world, and because of them, he will be remembered that way.

But Mussina never struck fear into other teams the way Clemens, or Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux, or Pedro Martinez did in his prime. Those guys define what it means to be an ace. Mussina is just a second-rate copy.

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