For seventeen big league seasons, was a consummate flirt, always making eyes at 20 wins but never quite working up the nerve to seal the deal.

But that was in his first seventeen seasons.

In his eighteenth campaign, Moose pulled out all the stops and finally hit the target — his 20-9 record and 3.37 ERA for the New York Yankees were good for 5.1 WAR and a fifth place finish in the American League Cy Young vote.

He was 39 years old, sure, but Mussina was still pitching close to primetime levels, just like he had been doing since his days with the Baltimore Orioles.

He had plenty left in the tank.

Find Mike Mussina cards on eBay (affiliate link)

Find Mike Mussina cards on Amazon (affiliate link)

But then, in November 2008, Mussina broke the normal baseball player mold — he retired!

How many guys talk about going out on top but then hold on, just hoping against hope for one final flash of glory?

Plenty, I’d say. But not Moose.

He’d finally hit 20 wins, goshdarnit, and that was enough to put the cap on his Hall of Fame career.

See you later!

It was an unusual move by a star player, and maybe even a breach of baseball’s unwritten rules.

Then, perhaps inspired by Mussina’s boldness, Topps broke one of their own unwritten rules the next spring — they issued a career-capper card for the Cooperstown-bound righthander.

And this was no special celebration card, like Topps sometimes rolled out for guys like Hank Aaron (1974) and Pete Rose (1986). Nope, it was just a plain old 2009 Topps card, number 41, right there between Carl Crawford and Jeff Francoeur.

Which just goes to show that, sometimes, even quiet, solid, dependable — staid — dudes (and companies) can break a rule here and there if the mood strikes them and the circumstances call for it.

Hobby Wow!

If you want a Mussina card that helped break the rules and change the hobby, take a gander at this 1993 Topps Finest available on eBay:

Finest is still one of the most whiz-bang sets the hobby has seen, and it helped set the stage for the super-premium, super-limited cards to come, the ones that still drive big chases and big dollars today.

Check out the full listing on eBay here (affiliate link).