Former G.O.P. Senator Lincoln Chafee, now running for Governor of Rhode Island as an Independent, did a despicable thing yesterday, and almost certainly has no idea why it was so wrong.
During a radio interview, Chafee criticized a deal state economic development officials approved with 38 Studios, a game development company owned by former Red Sox pitcher and World Series hero Curt Schilling. Chafee, who is not alone in his criticism of the loan, argued that too much taxpayer money is being entrusted to a company that has no proven track record. That’s a legitimate point. But to hammer home his point, Chafee decided to attack the character, career accomplishments, reputation and integrity of Schilling, a man he has never met…based on nothing at all.
The signature event in Curt Schilling’s baseball career was the moment in October of 2004, when he took the mound for Boston against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series that would decide which team would represent the American League in the World Series. One more loss would eliminate the Sox, and Schilling was a desperation choice to start the game. He had suffered much of the season from a dislodged tendon in his ankle, and in his previous two starts it had caused him to have difficulty pitching and even walking. With Schilling’s encouragement, team doctors tried an unprecedented and painful quick fix. The tendon was sewn to Schilling’s flesh to keep it in place sufficiently for him to pitch the game. When the pitcher took the mound, blood seepage from the impromptu surgery could be seen on his uniform sock. Wincing with every pitch, Schilling won the game, the Red Sox won the series, and swept away the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, with Schilling and the Red Sox doctors repeating their performance against the Yankees. The pitcher’s bloody sock came to symbolize the team’s 86-year-long delayed World Championship, Schilling’s personal competitiveness, sacrifice and courage, and those values in general.
Chafee, however, thought it was appropriate to say this about Curt Schilling, over the airwaves:
“I just remember his own teammates didn’t like him. They thought he was a bit of a salesman. I remember one of his teammates said he painted his sock, the bloody sock, he painted it. Kevin Millar, I think, said that. I don’t know if I trust Curt Schilling.”
It is beyond argument that what Chafee said is reckless and unfair. All of it is based on hearsay, and misrepresentation of the hearsay as well. Some of Schilling’s team mates didn’t like him; he’s an outspoken, uncompromising personality who marches to his own drummer. There is no evidence that his team mates did not respect him or trust him. No team mate, or anyone else who was involved in the incident, asserted that the blood on Schilling’s sock was not real, and Kevin Millar, who was the Red Sox first baseman in 2004 (he is now an MLB commentator) has vociferously disputed rumors about the “bloody sock.” The so-called controversy about the sock’s legitimacy was launched by an irresponsible off-hand comment by Orioles play-by-play man Gary Thorne, who subsequently retracted and apologized for it after being hit by a tidal wave of testimony, facts, videotape and criticism.
Without evidence, proof, or a single reliable source, Lincoln Chafee publicly called Curt Schilling’s life, career, reputation and legacy a fraud. He accused him of deceiving millions of American, and accepting public accolades based on a willful deception, and indeed being at the center of a cynical conspiracy that required cooperation from players, Boston journalists, Red Sox executives, medical staff and coaches. Chafee did this casually and without thought, because, you see, it was only a baseball game, and Curt Schilling is only a baseball player. Lincoln Chafee cannot conceive of why a blood stain on a sock would be that big a deal, though to a professional baseball player like Curt Schilling, it is as important as any accomplishment in Chafee’s life. Questioning Schilling’s heroism in 2004 is exactly as wrong, mean and unconscionable as the Swiftboaters challenging Sen. John Kerry’s medals of valor for his service in Viet Nam. But at least the Swiftboaters understood and appreciated exactly what they were attacking, and its importance. Chafee—arrogant, insular, elite—decided on the spur of the moment to take almost everything Schilling values—his good name, his reputation for integrity, his place in baseball and Red Sox history, his greatest triumph—and deface them by giving support to a slanderous rumor, just to make cheap political points. After all, he’s a former senator. Curt Schilling? He’s just a jock. Who cares about him? It certainly didn’t hurt that Schilling is also a vocal conservative Republican jock. All the more reason to disregard his reputation and feelings.
The essence of unethical conduct is to harm another human being for personal benefit.
Others who should know better also fail to appreciate the seriousness of Chafee’s conduct. The website Politifact jocularly pointed out that Chafee was 100% wrong, then airily dismissed it as a New England P.R. gaffe (as Martha Coakley discovered, insulting Curt Schilling is political suicide.) A former U.S. Senator spreading character defamation that denigrates a man’s professional life is far more than a “gaffe.” It is an unprovoked assault from a presumed credible source that has long-term consequences. Wrong though it is, it creates doubt, and doubt cannot be erased with retractions or apologies, even ft Chafee offered them. But he did not.
No, contrary to what Politifact says, Chafee did not have the courage or decency to apologize or retract the statement. His spokesman, J.R. Pagliarini said that Chafee respects Schilling’s achievements as a professional athlete and his support of charitable causes and regrets that what he intended as an offhand reference has deflected attention from the real issue.”We don’t trust Curt Schilling in that he doesn’t have a track record of running a business of this size, and as such we’re putting the taxpayers’ money in jeopardy,” Pagliarini said. “He’s not questioning Curt Schilling’s honesty and sincerity. He’s just questioning whether he can produce what he says he can.” Pagliarini did not say that Chafee was completely misinformed about Schilling’s team mates, Kevin Millar, or the bloody sock. He did not apologize to Curt Schilling on Chafee’s behalf, either. If Chafee truly “respected” Schilling’s career or even took it seriously, he would never have so cavalierly called it false; Pagliarini’s statement is clearly untrue: of course Chafee was questioning the pitcher’s honesty and sincerity. Chafee only “regrets” that his unfair, unethical, mean-spirited, untrue and disrespectful comments deflect attention from the real issue—his candidacy.
Well, of course he does. That’s no apology.
If Lincoln Chafee had the courage and integrity of Curt Schilling, he would have apologized genuinely and in person, and for what he really did, which was to attack Schilling personally when his complaint was with the State’s use of taxpayer funds. Ironically, Lincoln Chafee did not give Rhode Islanders any reason not to trust Curt Schilling, but they now have plenty of reasons not to trust Lincoln Chafee.
Chafee questions bloody sock in Schilling deal
By Michelle R. Smith
Associated Press Writer / July 27, 2010
PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Gubernatorial candidate and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, while criticizing a $75 million state loan guarantee to Curt Schilling’s video game company, questioned Tuesday whether the Boston Red Sox great faked his famous bloody sock in the 2004 playoffs.
Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent, made the comments on WPRO-AM a day after state economic development officials approved the deal with 38 Studios, which Schilling founded and owns. The deal has come under fire from gubernatorial candidates and others who say it’s too much taxpayer money to put on the hook for a company that has no proven track record.
“I think it goes back to the principal, Curt Schilling, and the trust that (state economic officials) have in him to deliver,” Chafee said. “I just remember his own teammates didn’t like him. They thought he was a bit of a salesman. I remember one of his teammates said he painted his sock, the bloody sock, he painted it. Kevin Millar, I think, said that. I don’t know if I trust Curt Schilling.”
Schilling’s sock was bloodied in Game 6 of the 2004 AL championship series against the New York Yankees as he pitched just days after ankle surgery. The Sox won the playoffs and went on to win their first World Series in 86 years.
Millar actually defended Schilling in 2007 after a Baltimore Orioles broadcaster claimed that Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli said the blood was paint. Mirabelli denied he said it, and the broadcaster later apologized.
J.R. Pagliarini said later Tuesday that Chafee respects Schilling’s achievements as a professional athlete and his support of charitable causes and regrets that what he intended as an offhand reference has deflected attention from the real issue.
“We don’t trust Curt Schilling in that he doesn’t have a track record of running a business of this size, and as such we’re putting the taxpayers’ money in jeopardy,” Pagliarini said. “He’s not questioning Curt Schilling’s honesty and sincerity. He’s just questioning whether he can produce what he says he can.”
Schilling’s publicist did not immediately return messages seeking comment.