Mike Mussina likes to feed deer. Ben McDonald likes to kill them. "I've already told him, 'Keep it up and you're going to have an animal population problem on your hands,' " McDonald says. His large, round eyes grow even bigger at the thought of all those plump, trusting bucks bouncing happily across Mussina's property in suburban Pennsylvania. "I said, 'All it takes is one phone call, and I'll take care of it.' "
Mussina is a big Star Trek fan. McDonald is a Fox kind of a guy who thinks it doesn't get any better than Married...With Children. "I wouldn't watch Star Trek if it was the last show on TV," McDonald says.
Mussina is rock-and-roll, crossword puzzles, Stephen King, subtle humor and, thanks to taking summer classes, a Stanford graduate who needed less than four years to earn his economics degree. McDonald is country, Supersoakers, Field & Stream, slapstick and one of the most legendary college baseball players ever. "One summer I played in the Alaska summer league, and another summer I played on the Olympic team," says McDonald, who left LSU after three years. "See, that was summer school for me. This is my life. I can always go back to college."
Both of them were high school punters. Mussina was the only one who kicked with his shoe on.
In the elongated vastness of the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse at Camden Yards, you will find the lockers of Mussina and McDonald at opposite ends, like just about everything else concerning them. Never the twain shall meet. Certainly not on one of the lakes on the 750-acre fishing and hunting playground that McDonald owns in Mississippi. "We have nothing in common," says Mussina, who nevertheless enjoys the company of his outgoing teammate. "He likes fishing. If the fish aren't biting, that ain't fishing. That's sitting on your butt with a string in the water. How exciting is that?"
This much they share: They are homebodies who until last October, when Mussina bought a house in his hometown of Montoursville, Pa., still lived during the off-season in the same bedrooms in which they grew up. In 1992, at the age of 23, Mussina won 18 games and had a 2.54 earned run average—the lowest ERA for an American Leaguer that young since 22-year-old Mark Fidrych (2.34) and 23-year-old Frank Tanana (2.44) in 1976—and then he promptly returned home to the same pictures, clippings and posters that have been pinned to the corkboard-covered wall of his room since he was a kid. McDonald, 26, has remained in his Denham Springs, La., bedroom too. The posters of Julius Erving, Pete Rose and Nolan Ryan still hang there. He plans to move out after his wedding in November, but like Mussina, he will not stray far. He is having a house built, as he says, "within hollerin' distance" of his parents'.
The two righthanders share in this, too: They are the majors' winningest pair of pitchers this season, helping the Orioles (50-36) get to within a half game of the New York Yankees in the American League East at the All-Star break. Mussina (13-4 at the break) and McDonald (10-6) are at least halfway home to becoming Baltimore's first 20-game winners since Mike Boddicker in 1984. Typically, they have not exactly arrived at this threshold like Birds of a feather.
McDonald was the obvious first pick of the 1989 free-agent amateur draft after the Major League Scouting Bureau gave him its highest rating ever. A year later 19 teams passed on Mussina before the Orioles made him their first-round pick. So how can it be that Mussina now is the complete package and that McDonald, even in these best of times, can still be described by the three words that are the most frightening to a parent on Christmas Eve: Some assembly required.
Mussina found himself in a jam during a game two years ago when he decided on his own that the hitter (he can't remember who) was vulnerable to a cut fastball, a pitch that breaks like a slider. Mussina had no such pitch in his repertoire. Of course, the best ones find a way. Mussina fiddled with his fingers on the baseball and broke off a nasty cutter. He escaped.
No one had seen the pitch from him before, including his unsuspecting catcher, Chris Hoiles. After the inning Hoiles sidled up to Mussina in the dugout and said, "Well, I guess if you're going to use that pitch, we ought to have a sign for it."