As I sit down to write this post on December 27th, Curt Schilling has already lost 17 of his BBWAA supporters from last year’s election. After topping 58% last year, he’s gained just 7 new votes. The seeds of this dramatic turn of events were buried in the 2016 reesults.
With a hat tip to Mr. Tibbs’ wonderful BBHoFTracker, in 2016 with only Ken Griffey and Trevor Hoffman receiving support among newly eligible candidates, several players, including Schilling, leapt upward. Curt went from 46% to 59%, gaining 39 new votes. But even so, Schilling lost eight votes to “lead” all returning candidates. A candidate making a big move seemed like an odd one to lose the most holdover support. In early 2016, Schilling wondered whether his outspoken Republican politics were being held against him.
In 2017, we know that at least one of his views is.
In a year when Schilling mused about running for the U.S. Senate and became a Bretibart radio host, his November 7th tweet set the stage for the debacle he is facing right now. Schilling retweeted a photo of a t-shirt that read “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” His comment in the tweet: “Ok, so much awesome here…”. Schilling later deleted the tweet and attempted to deflect criticism by pivoting—to Bengazi.
Live by the tweet, die by the tweet.
Threatening one’s own electorate is never a smart way to win an election. Unless you’re running unopposed in Russia or its satellite nations. But the question is this, Are BBWAA members right to deny Schilling election over this behavior?
The answer is nyes. But let’s step back a minute to understand why that could be.
The Case Against Curt
A majority of voters put Schilling on their ballot last year. Miller and I both advocated for his election and voted him into our little HoME. We see him as an easy yes vote. He’s not an inner-circle kind of guy, but to us he’s easily way above the Hall’s average pitcher.
The problem is that the BBWAA hasn’t adjusted its idea of an electable starting pitcher. They see 216 wins and need to ponder a while whether they can make an exception for someone with such a low victory total. But people began moving toward him. If his growth from 2015 to 2016 was fueled by a reevaluation of his career, that’s one thing. If it was fueled by the lack of a newly eligible top-line starting-pitcher, then he was a relatively borderline candidate for many voters to begin with. After all, they’d dispatched an extremely similar pitcher, Kevin Brown.
Their logic is wrong. Whether it’s reacting to just one tweet or if it’s just those 216 wins.
The Case for Curt Schilling
Miller and I have always made it a point to separate the on- and off-the-field lives of players. We’ve seen how the Hall’s character clause is used and sometimes abused by steroid moralists who don’t know their sports-drug history. We’ve seen it used to delay or deny other candidates as well, especially when compounded with sports drugs. We’re not in the pop-psychology business and don’t want to be, thanks. But the BBWAA seems to be. So they do what they do. In reality, the case for Curt Schilling boils down to this:
- His win total in modern times is fully acceptable, especially for someone who blossomed a little late.
- His trad stats are excellent, including one of the greatest K/BB ratios in history.
- As great as they are, his trad stats and second-gen stats underrate him because he was historically amazing at suppressing unearned runs.
- All of which lead to outstanding his value-based stats.
- His peak is really nice, and he had numerous good shoulder seasons as well.
- For those into using postseason numbers, he was a monster in October.
- Bloody Sock.
It’s plenty more in combination than all but about 30 other pitchers in history can claim.
The One Possible Argument Against Curt Schilling
There is, however, a potentially persuasive reason not to elect Curt Schilling to the Hall of Fame. It’s called the greater good. Though I haven’t seen any of the writers come out and use it yet. Probably because it’s potentially explosive.
Unlike this corner of the internet that virtually no one goes to, the Baseball Hall of Fame is a cultural institution of national, even international, importance. The BBWAA and the Veterans Committee are the gatekeepers of something very special in upstate New York. Something whose reputation means a great deal to baseball, and yet something that’s not nearly so important as the world that surrounds it.
A greater good argument against Curt Schilling could go like this:
- Bigotry is morally repugnant
- Although no one but Curt can know what’s inside Curt Schilling’s heart and mind, he has made numerous statements and posted many social-media messages that despite his public statements otherwise either appear bigoted; strongly suggest bigotry; or at the very least reveal an appalling lack of simple respect, a willful ignorance about why things are offensive, and a willingness to prioritize his own need to express himself above a healthy consideration for others—oh, and he’s a radio host for Breitbart, which is a gutter for so-called alt-right fake news and dog-whistle commentary
- Curt Schilling seems unable or unwilling to control his impulses effectively in the realm of making needlessly controversial public statements and must be considered a wildcard when it comes to what he might or might not say on the dais
- The Hall of Fame’s membership includes Jackie Robinson, Negro League players, and many others who were subjected to bigotry in their lives and on the field, and giving a bigot a microphone could be disrespectful to them and their memories, even if the speaker sticks to baseball
- Our society is far better off if we embrace diversity and pluralism, and bigotry has no place in America
- Therefore, electing Schilling is potentially bad for the Hall of Fame and bad for America.
We can argue all day about whether Schilling is or is not a bigot. What we can’t argue is whether hatred should ever be held as an American value, especially in the post-Civil-Rights-Era. In the process of inducting a Hall of Famer, being a jerk, an indecent exposure arrestee, a drug offender, or a domestic abuser is far from a bar to enshrinement. (There’s some folks out there who want to elect a guy who did time for tax evasion and drug trafficking, had a steroid dealer as a house guest, and got banned for betting on his own team!) But those things do not affect the greater good so deeply as the potential for prejudicial speech emanating from one of the world’s most important sports celebrations. That is, the potential for a person to legitimize bigoted thinking or speech by bringing into the mainstream a conscious or unconscious view that is exclusionary or worse on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or sexuality. Why would anyone, this line of reasoning goes, want to reward such demagoguery right now when the so-called alt-right and its followers are feeling emboldened by the election of a president whose remarks, tweets, and denials of intent mirror Schilling’s in many ways?
So the greater good argument would simply go like this:
Not in Jackie Robinson’s America, not in baseball’s house.
Penalizing Curt Schilling for one quote-tweet shouldn’t bar the door. But his public statements, taken in their entirety, may be reason enough. It’s a tough choice to make, and I’m not even sure, myself, what I’d do. I’m only suggesting the one, legitimate line of reasoning against Schilling that I can see. To use the greater good rationale would require a level of moral deliberation the BBWAA probably shouldn’t be forced to exercise. They are reporters, not moral philosophers. I don’t envy them their decision.