No, @gehrig38 does not belong anywhere near Cooperstown, but Curt Schilling does. Should voters separate the two on their ballot in 2018?
There’s not a ton of excitement around baseball at this moment in time. We are still months from the Boston Red Sox taking the field for meaningful games and this year’s hot stove has yet to surpass the temperature of an Easy-Bake Oven. With this in mind, I’d like to turn everyone’s attention towards the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot.
There are many players on this ballot that I believe are deserving of enshrinement who will be snubbed for various reasons *cough* PEDs *cough*. Just for today, however, I will spare you all the agony of the steroid debate and instead focus on a pitcher whose name did not appear on the Mitchell Report.
Take a look via FanGraphs at the career numbers of two pitchers, A and B.
Pitcher A has longevity on his side, accruing far more innings and wins than Pitcher B. However, Pitcher B has vastly superior rate stats and a whopping 12.9 more fWAR than Pitcher A.
Who are these mystery players you might ask? Pitcher A is first ballot Hall of Famer Tom Glavine and pitcher B is Curt Schilling. On paper, it sure looks like Schilling was the better pitcher of the two. Yet, despite this favorable comparison to Glavine, the former Red Sox righty appeared on just 45.0% of Hall of Fame ballots in 2017.
So what gives? Why was Tom Glavine able to coast into Cooperstown, while Curt Schilling fails to gain traction year after year? A quick look into his career should show that this has little to do with Curt Schilling the baseball player.
Curt Schilling the Baseball Player
Curt Schilling the baseball player was one of the best pitchers of his generation. Let’s start with overall career value. Curt Schilling’s 79.8 fWAR places him 20th of all time. TWENTIETH. Just to drive home that point take the following into consideration: there are currently 77 pitchers in the Hall of Fame. Curt Schilling would slot in with more Wins Above Replacement than all but 17 of them.
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And he was far from a compiler. Of the 19 pitchers with a higher fWAR, only the great Pedro Martinez threw fewer innings. Pitching in the shadows of Randy Johnson and Pedro, many people overlook the fact that Schilling the baseball player was utterly dominant. So dominant in fact that no pitcher in the history of modern baseball with more than 2000 innings under their belt possesses a higher ratio of strikeout to walks than Schilling’s career ratio of 4.38 to 1. He pitched through the heart of the steroid era and come out of it with a stat line that bests the majority of the game’s giants.
And then there’s the playoff record. Schilling brought championships to two cities whose fan bases had never seen the Commissioner’s Trophy hoisted by their home nine with their own eyes. Notably, Schilling first won the World Series MVP award for Arizona in 2001 while pitching an immaculate 21.1 innings against New York. He then came to Boston in 2004 and, with blood oozing from his ankle, helped to vanquish New York once again en route to a curse breaking championship. Schilling would help to tack up another banner in Boston in 2007 just for good measure.
This is just a short synopsis of the man’s astounding 20 years in baseball. We could sit here all day and slice Schilling’s career a million more ways and he’d come up a Hall of Famer each time. But that’s not really the problem. As many of you know, the real reason that Curt Schilling’s plaque does not reside in Cooperstown has more to do with his twitter account than his performance on the mound.
The Character Clause
In the years since his retirement, Curt Schilling has stirred up his share of controversies. Notably, hiding behind the infamous twitter handle @gehrig38, Schilling has compared Muslims to Nazis and expressed admiration for a shirt that hints at support of lynching journalists. He has also shared a photo on Facebook that many people, myself included, would label as highly transphobic. His conduct cost him his job at ESPN and, to date, a place in the Hall of Fame.
In an effort to keep Schilling out of Cooperstown, voters have turned to the BBWA guidelines for Hall of Fame voting which state the following:
"Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
The single word “character” has proven to be the death knell of Schilling’s candidacy. This would be perfectly fine if the character clause had been used in a consistent manner in the past. However, as Bill Pennington of the NY Times points out, this is not the case.
The man usually mentioned in the debate on the character clause is Ty Cobb of course. The man dubbed the Georgia Peach reportedly beat a disabled man, chased a black groundskeeper who attempted to shake his hand, and whipped his son for flunking out of Princeton.
Pennington’s piece, however, notes that Cobb is far from the only morally questionable Hall of Famer. In the storied museum’s plaque room you will also find a pitcher who ignored the games rules, a first baseman turned drug trafficker, possible KKK affiliates, a group of men who conspired to keep black players out of baseball and many more men that one could probably argue violated the character clause.
Whatever you or I think of Schilling as a human being, and I don’t think much of him, it is contradictory to punish Schilling for tweeting controversial views while more egregious men reside within the confines of baseball’s holy land.
Curt Schilling is a better pitcher than the majority of hurlers currently enshrined in Cooperstown. He has also made comments that I and many others find highly offensive. The former Red Sox pitcher has been a poor ambassador for the game we love and, if the character clause had been taken seriously in the past, I would be shouting from the rooftops against his candidacy. But by voting for many other morally inept characters, baseball writers have set a precedent. They have made their own bed and now they must lie in it.