It’s safe to say that a lot of people don’t like Curt Schilling. And that might be an understatement.
Whether it be his hatred for and frequent run-ins with the media post-career, repeated sharing of offensive material on Twitter, or his seemingly arrogant attitude in general, Schilling does not have as many fans as he did when he was a player. But I’m firmly of the belief that if it happened once his career ended, he should not be penalized for it in the Hall of Fame race.
I first want to dismiss the notion that Schilling was involved with steroids. He pitched in the steroid era, but from comments by him and about him, it would seem that he never took steroids. Here’s Schilling’s quote on the matter (taken from WEEI.com):
At the end of my career, in 2008 when I had gotten hurt, there was a conversation that I was involved in in which it was brought to my attention that this is a potential path I might want to pursue.
It was an incredibly uncomfortable conversation. Because it came up in the midst of a group of people. The other people weren’t in the conversation, but they could clearly hear the conversation. And it was suggested to me that at my age and in my situation, why not? What did I have to lose? Because if I wasn’t going to get healthy, it didn’t matter. And if I did get healthy, great. It caught me off guard, to say the least. That was an awkward situation.
Schilling, according to the Boston Globe, then went on to report the incident to then-GM Theo Epstein. The MLB then launched an investigation. Schilling never failed a PED test, but neither did Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell, and there are a handful of people who think both of those guys were involved with steroids, so there’s no way to know for certain if Schilling actually used steroids. But I think Schilling’s comments on the matter make a fairly convincing case that he never used PEDs.
It’s also definitely not Schilling’s numbers that are keeping him out. Schilling pitched in the big leagues for 20 seasons, compiling a 3.46 ERA and 1.137 WHIP over 3261 innings pitched. His WHIP ranks 18th overall since the beginning of the live ball era. He also racked up 3116 strikeouts, good for an 8.6 K/9 over his career.
Schilling also led the league in complete games four times and led the league in starts three times. He finished his career with 83 complete games in 436 starts, meaning roughly one in every five of his starts was a complete game. Schilling led the league in strikeouts twice, striking out 300+ each time, and he finished a third season a mere 7 strikeouts away from 300.
If you think Schilling’s regular season numbers are good, his postseason numbers are simply ridiculous. Granted, it’s a relatively small sample size (133.1 innings pitched), but he had a 2.23 ERA and 0.968 WHIP in 19 appearances. His K/9 dipped a bit to 8.1, but he won three WS titles, even winning the World Series MVP for the Diamondbacks in 2002.
Also, the bloody sock game is one of the most incredible pitching performances in the playoffs in recent memory. You can read a more in-depth summary of it here, but in short, Schilling tore one of the tendons in his ankle during game 1 of the 2004 ALCS. He then had it surgically repaired and pitched game 6, during which blood was soaking his sock while he was on the mound. In his start, Schilling pitched seven innings, scattering 4 hits and striking out four, while only allowing one run. The Red Sox went on to win the game, win game seven, and then win the World Series, snapping an 86-year World Series drought and making the 2004 Red Sox the only team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series. Yes, the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead in the 2004 ALCS.
Back to Schilling: I didn’t include him on my Hall of Fame ballot. You can read more of my reasoning there, but it basically boiled down to the fact that other people on the ballot needed my vote more than Schilling; I had confidence Schilling would remain on the ballot, but I was not too sure about Sosa, and Edgar is running out of time.
So if he’s not out of the running for PEDs, and people aren’t leaving him off their ballots because of numbers, what’s the problem.
In three words: the character clause. Here’s the excerpt from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America website:
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 italics and bolding are mine, not the BBWAA’s)
Many writers are utilizing the word character to keep Schilling out of the Hall of Fame. Truthfully, I can’t entirely blame them. His Twitter timeline is loaded with controversial, borderline hateful content (some of it far more than borderline). One of his Tweets got him fired from ESPN, with the company saying the following: “ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.” In short, the things he has said after his career ended have likely contributed to his fall in votes for the HOF, and I even mentioned in my Hall of Fame ballot article that he would probably have about 50 more votes had he never signed up for Twitter.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning’s some of the stuff Schilling is saying, but are we really going to let his post-career political leanings affect our view of his career? The fact of the matter is that Schilling was a great player while he was playing, and was not hateful or disrespectful to the media (for the most part, he had a few run-ins with reporters Pedro Gomez and Dan Shaughnessy, but even those were not problematic) during his career. And if we start keeping guys out because of what they’ve said on Twitter, are we going to start admitting guys because of their Twitter? Because I can think of three surefire future HOFers based on their Twitter alone (Dan Haren, Brandon McCarthy, Noah Syndergaard).
Yes, that argument may not be as compelling as some of the others I’ve made, but Schilling didn’t have bad character while he was a player. The baseball writers should be the entirety of his career as a baseball player and nothing else. They’re not voting him in for his work as an analyst, blogger, politician, or anything else, they’re voting him in for his baseball performance and his career as a ballplayer. And that’s why, regardless of how the writers feel about his political leanings, Schilling needs to be voted into Cooperstown before he falls off the ballot.
(Image Credit: Elsa / Getty Images via today.com)