Oriole's brother tries for objectivity as sports talk host

THE MEDIA MUSSINA

August 07, 1994|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,Contributing Writer

He is asked to comment on the same topics any Baltimore sports talk show host would be.

"Should Mike Devereaux be benched?"

"Should Johnny Oates be fired?"

"Who's to blame for the impending baseball strike?"

What sets this co-host apart from others, however, is that he lives with the Orioles' star pitcher.

In fact, he's the pitcher's brother. Mark Mussina, younger brother of Orioles right-hander Mike Mussina, can be heard weeknights from 6 to 8 as Nestor Aparicio's sidekick on Sports Forum on WWLG (1360 AM).

After several appearances as a guest on the program last winter, Mark began doing the show on a regular basis in May. He will be leaving Sports Forum at the end of next week to student teach in Pennsylvania.

"There certainly are worse jobs a 22-year-old can have for the summer," Mark said.

Mark's dual role as Mike's brother and a radio personality puts him in a unique, if awkward, situation.

The critical nature of sports talk shows in the '90s is not exactly conducive to close friendships between the hosts and the players.

But Mark, who says he is mistaken for tennis star Pete Sampras rather than for his brother, believes his family ties do not cloud his objectivity.

"I'm careful about what I say about the players, but I try to be as objective as I can," said Mark, a lifelong Yankees fan who has become an Orioles supporter for obvious reasons.

"For example, when people say we have to get Devo out of the lineup, I try to look at what's wrong with his swing. He used to crush inside pitches and now he just misses them. That's what I go into."

Fortunately for Mark, his brother has the best lifetime winning percentage among active pitchers (.704), so it's not often that he's put in the position of having to defend Mike's performance.

"When Mike does have a bad game, I just say what didn't work for him, what pitches were in bad locations," Mark said. "As of yet, I haven't really had to be critical of him."

Mike, who said he has never listened to Mark on the radio, said he had no reservations about his brother becoming a media member.

"I don't worry about it because he understands the situation," Mike said. "He lives with me. If I feel I have a reason to worry about it, I can tell him he's done.

"He understands how I feel about the media and how they can bother you. He's not hanging out in the clubhouse or being buddy-buddy with everyone. He is one of the few media people who understands more about a player as an individual."

Aparicio, conversely, takes a no-holds-barred approach in his criticisms of players, managers and front-office personnel.

"Nestor takes shots at everyone and I take shots at him," Mark said. "I play the straight man. I contribute the cerebral, intellectual and analytical parts to the show."

It was Mark's intrinsic knowledge of the game that prompted Aparicio to make him a co-host.

"The first thing people will say is here's a guy cashing in on his brother's name," Aparicio said. "But all you have to do is listen one night to know this is not a poster boy. He really knows what he's doing.

"He's not a super reporter or anything like that. He just knows the game. He's like my [Peter] Gammons. He probably knows more situational stuff than half the guys on the team. I sit at a game with Mark and learn a lot about the game from him."

Mark acquired his baseball knowledge from being both a participant and an observer.

Like Mike, Mark was a three-sport athlete (baseball, football and basketball) at Montoursville (Pa.) High School.

He was not blessed with Mike's natural ability, however. So, instead of following in his brother's footsteps in professional sports, Mark -- who earned his degree in May -- wants to be a teacher.

As his summer job on the airwaves comes to a close, Mark is uncertain whether he will pursue a career in broadcasting.

"It could be," he said. "As of right now, though, it's still for fun. I've learned a lot and I've seen how you have to get started. But I really haven't thought seriously about it."

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