The MLB Hall of Fame vote, at least since the Steroid Era, gives us a window into the ethics of baseball writers, and the view is pretty grim. Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballots, many of which are made public before the election results are revealed, annually show dead ethics alarms and an absence of critical thinking, but as someone who has been reading these guys (they are almost all guys) since I was 12, this is no surprise. The smart and thoughtful ones like Joe Posnanski, Roger Angell, Bill James and Peter Gammons, are exceptions. I wouldn’t trust most of the rest to take out the trash.
A player who has been retired for at least five years has to be on 75% of the writers’ ballots (ten players can be listed on a ballot) needed to be “enshrined,” as they like to say in the Cooperstown museum, and a player has ten tries to make it. This year, nobody was selected.
The result was a slap in the face to former Orioles, Philadelphia, Arizona and Red Sox starting pitcher Curt Schilling, and was intended to be. He just missed the 75% level last year, and usually that means that a player gets in the Hall the next time, especially in a year like this one, where there were no major additions to the candidates. Schilling, by prior standards, by statistical analysis, and by the simple reality that he was famous while playing and had a single iconic moment that will keep him in baseball lore forever—the “bloody sock” game, should be an easy call. Yet ESPN and other sources refer to him as “controversial.” Why is he controversial? He’s controversial because he is religious, conservative, Republican, and an outspoken Trump supporter, none of which has a thing to do with baseball. Schilling also, to his credit, refuses to submit to his critics and the social media mobs. He is independent and comfortable with who he is, he is articulate in expressing his opinions (at least by typical athlete standards), and can and will defend his points of view. He shouldn’t have to, however, to be admitted to the Hall of Fame.
His sportsmanship and professional comportment while playing was never less than impeccable. Curt Schilling has a deep respect for the game (one opinion that has been held against him is his insistence that steroid users are cheaters), and he has done nothing since leaving baseball that was sufficiently vile to harm it in any way. To the contrary, he and his wife (now battling cancer) have been active in charity work and community projects. That satisfies the Hall’s so-called “character clause.”
I guess that I’ll stick in here the fact that ESPN fired Schilling as a commentator for tweets criticizing Hillary Clinton and radical Islam, while continuing to employ repeat steroid cheat and liar Alex Rodriguez in a similar role. There you have it: the hierarchy of values of the current sports reporting establishment. Right behind Schilling in yesterday’s results were Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, the former a strongly-suspected PED-user, and the latter well-documented as tied with Lance Armstrong as the most destructive and successful steroid cheat in sports history. There were writers who voted for Barry Bonds who did not have Schilling on their ballots. That’s right: supporting President Trump disqualifies a great player for the Hall of Fame, but cheating on the field does not.
Schilling saw this insult coming, and had already composed and delivered a letter to the Hall that he also posted to Facebook in which he asked to be removed from the writers’ ballot next year, saying,
“I will not participate in the final year of voting. I am requesting to be removed from the ballot. I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player. I don’t think I’m a hall of famer as I’ve often stated but if former players think I am then I’ll accept that with honor.”
False modesty there to be sure: if Schilling didn’t think he was Hall-worthy, he wouldn’t mind the nne years of not being voted into it. There is also an echo of writer William Saroyan turning down the Pulitzer Prize in 1943 saying that those who voted him the honor weren’t qualified to do so. Nonetheless, I’ll applaud Schilling for his counter-attack, which is unprecedented for a player. His absence from the Hall of Fame diminishes the institution, not him or his career.
Curt fights back. No wonder he supports Donald Trump.