Hall of Fame journey meets final ballot for two former Red Sox greats

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 9: Former pitcher Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox is introduced during a 2018 World Series championship ring ceremony before the Opening Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 9, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 9: Former pitcher Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox is introduced during a 2018 World Series championship ring ceremony before the Opening Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 9, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Two former Red Sox players get one final shot at the Hall of Fame

The 2022 Baseball Hall of ballot was announced last week. With new additions to the ballot, headlined by David Ortiz, there is a heavy Boston Red Sox influence. Nine total players sported the iconic “B” on their cap, with over half of them having either their best seasons in Boston, or capturing their biggest career achievements with the Sox.

While Ortiz is the lone first-timer who will get first ballot induction consideration from a list of former Red Sox newcomers that includes Jonathan Papelbon, Carl Crawford, Jake Peavy, and AJ Perizenski, there are two iconic Red Sox pitchers that find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum. Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling will make their tenth and final appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Clemens was the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball for the majority of his Red Sox career. He won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards in 1986, and would become a back-to-back Cy Young award winner in 1987. He’d add a third Cy Young award as a member of the Red Sox in 1991. Clemens finished in the top ten in Cy Young voting six times, and made five All-Star appearances over his 13 year career in Boston. Clemens set the single game record for strikeouts with 20 in 1986, and tied that same record a decade later in 1996, his final year in Boston.

Clemens’ 13-year Red Sox career was HOF worthy on its own. His record in Boston was 192-111, with a 3.06 ERA. He’d leave the Red Sox after the 1996 season having amassed 2,590 strikeouts, throwing an astonishing 100 complete games, 38 of which were shutouts. If Clemens had never thrown another pitch after the 1996 season, it was almost a certainty that he’d have found his way to Cooperstown a half decade later.

Clemens, however, would continue to pitch beyond the 1996 season. He’d head to Toronto as a free agent and win consecutive Cy Young awards in 1997 and 1998. From there, he’d find his way to the Bronx, where in 1999, he’d finally become a World Series champion, an accomplishment that had eluded him over the first 15 seasons of his storied career. He’d add another World Series ring in 2001, a season that would see Clemens capture his sixth Cy Young award. He’d win one last Cy Young award in 2004, at age 42, with the Houston Astros.

Clemens threw the final pitch of his Major League career in the 2007 ALDS as a member of the New York Yankees at age 45. He put together arguably the most impressive stat line for any starting pitcher in the modern era. in 24 seasons he won 354 games, struck out 4,672 batters, and had a career ERA of 3.12. He won 7 Cy Young Awards, an MVP award, was an 11-time All-Star, and won two World Series.

On the surface, his accomplishments aren’t just Hall of Fame worthy, but put him in the conversation as possibly the greatest starting pitcher ever.  However, when it comes to Hall of fame enshrinement, induction into the exclusive club goes beyond the numbers and accomplishments.

Clemens pitched the vast majority of his career in MLB’s “Steroid Era”.  This was a period in baseball history where anabolic steroids and performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) were illegal for recreational use in the United States, but not banned or tested for in MLB. The Steroid Era was especially beneficial for hitters, and power numbers surged from the mid-1990’s to mid-2000’s, as batters not only assaulted the record books but also cashed in on huge contracts as a result of PED use. Of course, Clemens was a pitcher, but he would need the same type of performance edge to combat the offensive explosion in the game and pitch at a high level into his mid-forties.

In December 2007, two months after Clemens would throw his final pitch in the Major Leagues, former US Senator, George Mitchell, would release his findings from the results of a 20 month investigation into the use of steroids and PED’s inside MLB. The 409 page document, commonly referred to as “The Mitchell Report”, named 89 current and former MLB players alleged to have taken PED’s at some point in their career. Clemens was among the list of players mentioned.

Because MLB did not test for PED’s, none of the players mentioned faced any punishment from MLB. However, the court of public opinion came down hard on the players mentioned in The Mitchell Report. While MLB could not sanction the players mentioned, the Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) have used the years since the release of the report to punish the players mentioned by keeping them from the Hall of Fame.

Because of the alleged PED use, Clemens finds himself on the 2022 Baseball HOF ballot for the tenth and final time. Clemens, who statistically can be argued as the greatest starting pitcher of the modern era, is joined on the ballot by MLB’s career home run leader, and quite possibly the greatest hitter ever, Barry Bonds, who is also in his final year of candidacy, and was included in The Mitchell Report

Joining Clemens on the ballot for the tenth and final time is former Red Sox  great Curt Schilling. Schilling came to the Red Sox via trade on Thanksgiving day 2003. Just over a month after losing a heartbreaking ALCS Game 7 on a walk-off to the rival Yankees, wunderkind General Manager, Theo Epstein, identified a front-line starting pitcher to pair with Pedro Martinez as the primary focus of the off season and locked in on former World Series MVP and five-time All-Star in Schilling to be that guy.

Schilling’s time in Boston would live up to the expectations that came with him to the storied franchise. He led the American League in wins, going 21-6 in 2004 and was named to the All-Star team.

More famously, however, was Schilling’s gutsy performance in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, pitching for the team’s life after the Red Sox had fallen behind three games to zero to start the series in the ALCS rematch from the previous year against the New York Yankees. Schilling took the loss in Game 1 of the series, and in the process suffered a torn tendon sheath on his right foot, a painful injury that would sideline any player, but even more so for a right handed power pitcher. When the team faced a three games to none deficit, the health of Schilling was an afterthought.

When the Sox took Games 4 and 5, all eyes turned to Schilling, the workhorse big game starter with postseason success who was brought to Boston for games like these. He underwent a temporary, emergency procedure to suture the torn tendon sheath to the flesh around it to stabilize the tendon and limit the already intense pain, allowing him to at least start the game, and give the Red Sox and their season one more game. The result: 7 innings, one run, four strikeouts, and zero walks in a 4-2 Red Sox victory that would even the series at three games apiece.

The emergency procedure that allowed him to take the mound did its best to stay intact, but early on a red spot of blood where the suture had torn began to show through Schilling’s white sock. By the time he exited the game after the 7th inning, the blood had soaked through the sock entirely, and Schilling had cemented himself in Red Sox folklore after the “Bloody Sock” game. The Red Sox would take Game 7, and sweep the St Louis Cardinals to capture their first World Series championship in 86 years.

Schilling would win one more World Series with the Red Sox in 2007, the final year of his Major League career spanning nearly two decades. While his 216 career wins and lifetime 3.46 ERA don’t stand out as “automatic” numbers for HOF enshrinement, every member of the 3,000 strikeout club had been inducted to the Hall, and Schilling finished his career with 3,116 K’s.

Beyond the regular season stats, Schilling is among the best starting pitchers in postseason history. He finished his career with an 11-2 record, a 2.23 ERA, and NLCS MVP (1993), and a World Series MVP (2001), and of course, the “Bloody Sock” game which will be remembered as one of the most iconic postseason performances in MLB history.

Unlike Clemens, Schilling was not named in the Mitchell Report, and has never been brought up with regard to PED suspicion. He was arguably the most dominant right-handed starting pitcher for over the decade that encompassed his prime, and while his career numbers may not be in line with first ballot HOF induction, they were certainly worthy of enshrinement in the years to come.

Schilling’s on-field demeanor and results – especially on the game’s biggest stage – have never come into question, but his personality away from the game has brought his character into question, and the BBWA takes off the field behavior into serious consideration when voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Schilling was never considered a media darling. His relationship with writers and reporters during his playing days can be labeled as surly and even arrogant. And while that behavior may have kept a handful of voters from including Schilling on their ballot in his early years of eligibility, it’s what Schilling has done in the public spotlight in this decade and a half away from the sport that has kept him outside of Cooperstown to this point.

He started a gaming company, initially named Green Monster games, and later renamed 38 Studios, that was given $75 million in funding by the state of Rhode Island, with the promise to create nearly 500 local jobs in 2012. Schilling defaulted on the loan, failed to make payroll, laid off his staff and folded the operation. He was later sued by the state of Rhode Island for repayment.

Beyond his business dealings, Schilling has been vocal in personal, political, and religious beliefs, most notably his opposition to same sex marriage. He signed on with political media outlet Breitbart in 2016 and hosts a weekly radio show expressing right wing views and conspiracy theories that have created their fair share of controversy. Even with everything that Schilling has done to tarnish his reputation or call his character into question since leaving the game, should it keep him outside of the hallowed halls of Cooperstown?

Interestingly, the paths of Clemens and Schilling have been intertwined for over three decades. Schilling, who was drafted by the Red Sox before being traded to the Orioles in a deal that brought starting pitcher Mike Boddicker to Boston in July 1988, credits Clemens for working with him and helping him develop into a dominant starting pitcher who had  20 year Major League career.

Clemens and Schilling would start against each other in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and while neither would factor into the decision, both pitched brilliantly. Schilling’s Diamondbacks would win the game and the series in a walk-off single by Luis Gonzalez in the bottom of the 9th inning.

In 2005, Schilling was called to Capitol Hill to testify about steroid use in the game of baseball. Schilling was called not because he was accused, but rather as a vocal opponent against steroid use in the sport. He specifically called out Clemens, saying that if the allegations of steroid use were true, he should be stripped of the four Cy Young awards he had won since the start of the 1997 season.

Now Clemens and Schilling share the spotlight once again. Each with one last gasp to be immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame alongside the greatest to ever play the game. While their fates rest in the hands of the BBWA HOF voters, and their actions and character away from the field both as active players and in retirement have kept them out of the Hall, it’s undeniable that what both pitchers did on the mound.

As they appear on the ballot for the final time, their hopes for enshrinement will likely come down to just how much the voters take on-field performance and accomplishment into account when deciding who truly is Hall of Fame worthy. Based solely on that criteria, the voters know that Clemens and Schilling are among the most dominant starting pitchers of the last forty years. Will it be enough to overcome everything that’s happened away from the pitcher’s mound?

Enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame requires 75% of the vote from the BBWA. In 2020, Schilling captured 70% of the votes, and fell just 16 total votes shy of election. Clemens, in the conversation for most dominant right-handed starting pitcher of all time, captured just 61% in his penultimate appearance on the ballot.

History shows us that players in their final year get their biggest percentage jump in the voting. The most recent example being outfielder Larry Walker, who jumped from 54.6% percent of the vote in his ninth year on the ballot (2019), and eclipsed the mark for enshrinement in his final year with 76.6% of the vote. While Clemens and Schilling each have different reasons than Walker did for keeping them from Cooperstown, the voting trajectory year over year shows that this final appearance on the ballot represents their best opportunity for enshrinement.

The results of the voting for the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced on January 25, 2022. The 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place in Cooperstown, New York on July 24, 2022.

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