There will always be great interest and great debate about the National Baseball Hall of Fame, to the point where we now even have exit polling with the voters. There is always the constant drumbeat about steroids and moralizing, and especially equivalencies: Wait, if that guy is in, why isn't my guy in? It isn't like this with the other sports and never will be. It is all about the force and pull of baseball history, and the way the record book has always connected generations, even now that steroids guys have spilled juice all over the books.

Barry Bonds isn't in yet. Neither is Roger Clemens. There is clear proof that both of them used performance-enhancing drugs, even if the government never made a lasting case against either one of them. Both will eventually get in. There was no proof on Mike Piazza, who finally got in last time, the way there was never any proof on Jeff Bagwell, who will probably get in this time.

There is Tim Raines, who waited his turn, and is now expected to see his long wait finally end. Jack Morris, one of the best big-game pitchers, waited his turn and never made it, even if he came close at the end of his time on the ballot.

This is how it goes with the writers given the charge of making their determination about Cooperstown. It shouldn't just be writers, of course. The idea that Vin Scully never got a Hall of Fame vote and Bob Costas hasn't ever got a Hall of Fame vote is patently ridiculous. That's not even open to debate.

Here is something else that shouldn't be: Mike Mussina, of the Orioles and the Yankees, one of the great righthanded pitchers in baseball history, should not only be in the Hall of Fame, he should be there already.

Mussina came along in 1991, and even made 12 starts for the Orioles his rookie year. After that? Look it up. If people still went to the Baseball Encyclopedia to look these things up, the way they once did, his page would give off a beam of light. High up on his resume is that he did what he did in the meat grinder of the American League East, and in the middle of the steroids era.

He won 270 games against 153 losses across 18 seasons. When he left the Orioles, the Yankees gave him a six-year contract worth around $89 million and when that contract ended, the Yankees still thought enough of Mussina that they gave him two more years on top of that. You know baseball history is littered with dumb long-term contracts for starters. You see what a guy like CC Sabathia looks like now at the end of his own longterm deal with the Yankees. Go back and see how many starters like Mussina got deals longer than five years and then at the end of them got invited to stay.

But it is much more than that with Mussina, who finished in the top six in voting for the American League Cy Young Award nine times and in the top five six times. Besides is rookie year, he had just one losing record in a season. In his time as a starter, in both Baltimore and New York, only Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson won more games than he did. It is the same with innings pitched: Across the span of Mussina's career, only those three guys -- Maddux, Glavine, Johnson -- pitched more innings than he did.

All of this Mussina did in a quiet, dignified manner, also fielding his position well enough to win seven Gold Gloves. I know there are pitchers like Jim Kaat, who won more games than Mussina did (283) and also fielded his position like a champion and isn't in the Hall. Doesn't change the fact that Mussina should have punched his ticket to Cooperstown already.

Mussina could have stayed around and chased 300 wins, which would have made Cooperstown automatic. He did not. He elected to go out on top and go home to his family and live a life. In his last season with the Yankees, 2008, Mussina won 20 games and lost nine and had a 3.37 ERA and started 34 games. Starting with his second season, Mussina never made fewer than 24 starts.

This is part of what he said when he officially did announce his retirement, when he explained that he had long since made up his mind:

"I don't think there was ever a point where I looked around and said, 'You know what? I'm going to change my mind.' I just felt so good about the season, the way it was going, and enjoying it and not getting caught up in the bad times. It was like the last year of high school. You know it's going to end, and you just enjoy the ride."

So he never chased 300 wins. Just excellence. There was even the night in 2003, Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, where he came out of the bullpen for the first time in his career because Joe Torre needed him, and pitched three scoreless innings. We all remember that Mariano Rivera pitched three innings later in that game for the Yankees, and said that if he had to, he was coming back out for the top of the 12th. Rivera had spent his career pitching out of the bullpen. Mussina was a starter. But he was great that night in relief -- if Mussina hadn't been, Aaron Boone never gets the chance to hit one of the most famous home runs in Yankee history in the bottom of the 11th.

When Mussina retired, Derek Jeter, who always got most of the big things right in baseball, said that all of Mussina's accomplishments "represent a Hall of Fame career." He was right about that.

For my mind, Mussina is a Hall of Famer the same as Curt Schilling is, despite the fact that Schilling is expected to go the wrong way this time because of some tweets and political views you are reluctant to poke with a stick. But even if Schilling were more virtuous in the minds of voters than the Justice League of America, he is not as worthy a candidate as Mussina.

He was not just a numbers hanger. Mussina was grace and excellence and consistency and a won-loss record that was finally 117 games over .500. He won 20 games in his last season the way Sandy Koufax did. There was once a guy named Henry Schmidt who won 20 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1930 and then retired. But, since 1920, the only other guys to walk after a 20-win season are Koufax and Mussina. Not bad company for Moose.

Eventually, he will be keeping company in the Hall of Fame with the best starting pitchers of all time. He should be doing it already.