'Mike Mussina finds a perch with the Yanks'

Dec 5, 2000 5:30 AM

There they were, seated in front of a media press conference last week: Joe Torre, Yogi Berra, and the newest member of the New York Yankees, former Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina.

"How do you like this, three Italians?" joked Berra.

The rest of the American League was not amused.

Most people consider Mussina to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. However, bettors who continually went to the well with the pitcher for the past seasons while with Baltimore are either broke or have quit gambling. It was far from a winning proposition to bet on the Orioles when Mussina started.

This season figures to be different wearing pinstripes for the right-hander, who turns 32 this week. You see, Mussina has it all figured out.

"I looked at the bullpen and it was one of the big reasons I chose the Yankees," said Mussina, who posted an 11-15 record with a 3.79 ERA last season. "You don’t know how bad the pressure was in Baltimore when everyone was expecting me to be perfect and carry the team every time I went to the mound on every single pitch."

Mussina is a good thinker. He must be. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in economics in only 3½ years.

It’s also time to place Torre up there with the greatest managers of all time. In addition to four world championships in five years, Torre also does the work of general manager — at least, he did in the case of Mussina.

"Joe called me a week after the World Series, right after the parade before he went on vacation," noted Mussina. "It is probably the lead reason why I ended up here."

In fact, it was fairly well known and established that the crosstown Mets actually topped the Yankees’ offer. But at least in this case, money wasn’t everything.

Mussina will wear No. 35, which was Berra’s original number with the Yanks, when he first reached the big leagues as the original "slash" -- outfielder/ catcher Larry Berra.

Then Berra went on to hit every ball pitched over the plate -- and two-thirds of those that weren’t -- and became known as Yogi, and changed his uniform to No. 8, one of the fabled franchise’s retired numbers in his honor.

As for No. 35, it later went to backup catcher and later manager Ralph Houk. And now to Mussina, who may wear the uniform for a while. Good pitchers are scarce these days, so he may be around for another decade.

I’m not telling anyone to bet on the Yankees in the futures. The value’s not there. But I sure wouldn’t bet on anyone to beat ”˜em, either.

Spend a Buck to Make a Buck -- Don’t mess with the National Football League.

The Boston Celtics thought they saw a good opportunity and scheduled a game for the Sunday afternoon after Thanksgiving. The Patriots had played (or, at least, tried to play) on Turkey Day in Detroit, so the Men in Green thought they could score big. Instead, the Celts registered their smallest home crowd since 1979. Football is King!. . .

Things have now come full cycle. I heard an announcer criticize a Wake Forest football player for not wearing gloves. The Deacon dropped the ball in the rain against N.C. State. "If he had gloves on, he might have caught it," said the commentator. Wow!. . .

Jockey Dodie Duys rode a nifty race last week at Suffolk Downs on a 2-year-old that might be pretty good. The colt Clifdiver won easily. "I stepped on the gas and he took off," she said after dismounting. . .

Tuesday’s Suffolk cards are carried by New York OTB. The crowd at the track was small, but the handle was boosted by the Big Apple punters. The niche is there. . .

Rollie Hoyt worked several years at New England tracks and is now with Youbet.com. He tried to get away from racing with a vacation in Bermuda. "I was walking through Hamilton, and there I was staring at a place called The Seahorse and they were betting on the races at Suffolk," he noted. "I couldn’t believe it." I can’t believe it either. Bermuda is a place for golf and swimming, not the track. . .

The Red Sox chose the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend to raise their ticket prices for the 2001 season. They thought they could sneak the hike past the public with little fanfare. It didn’t work. The local media pounced on them with a vengeance . . .

An old friend says, "He who does too many things does nothing."

Onward to Victory.