Your next player elected by the writers to the Baseball Hall of Fame could be Adrián Beltré in 2024. The results announced Tuesday, followed by the subsequent ripping of the voters by a guy who otherwise would be on the brink of election next year, Curt Schilling, could be the first of three consecutive shutouts.
When people don’t like the result of a process, they like to blame the process. Because no, the problem could never be the person in the mirror. And if we get a shutout on top of a shutout on top of a shutout, the wailing will intensify with each blanking that the process is broken. It’s not.
It has worked since 1936 and it worked again Tuesday. The problem is the ballot is chock full of checkered candidates, especially guys who hoped there never would be consequences for creating an unfair edge on their fellow players.
Getting 75% of 401 people to sanction PED use as worthy of the highest individual honor in the sport is exceedingly hard. Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, all of whom get a 10th and final try next year, are not getting elected at this rate. Chances for future election by the writers is equally bleak for Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez.
David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez will not be first-ballot Hall of Famers next year. The year after that the best candidate is Carlos Beltrán, who also faces problems of his own making given his leading role in the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal.
That brings us to 2024, with Beltre, Joe Mauer and Chase Utley appearing on the ballot. Maybe Scott Rolen (53%), Billy Wagner (46%) or Todd Helton (45%) will mount a huge run before then. Maybe not.
Schilling is a historically unique case. Writers who don’t vote for him are unable to separate his Cooperstown-worthy playing career from his hurtful rhetoric in retirement. Many of them vote for candidates connected to domestic abuse when they played. I have voted for Schilling all nine years he has been on the ballot. That’s an endorsement of how he played baseball, not the divisive words he tweets after it.
This ninth ballot broke Schilling. “I can say at this point I am mentally done,” he wrote in a rambling Facebook post in which he said he has played with gay teammates, referred to himself as “being an aspie,” said he wanted to go into the Hall as a Diamondback (apparently snubbing Boston for how Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner treated him in his final season there), and that his wife is being treated for cancer with chemotherapy.
Here’s what most people missed about what really broke him: Schilling absolutely hates being tossed into the same curbside bag of unworthies as Bonds and Clemens.
“I’ve never hit a woman, driven drunk, done drugs, PEDs or otherwise, assaulted anyone or committed any sort of crime,” he wrote. “But I’m now somehow in a conversation with two men who cheated, and instead of being accountable they chose to destroy others’ lives to protect their lie. I will always have one thing they will forever chase. A legacy.”
Schilling combined power and control like no other pitcher since the pitching distance was set at 60 feet, six inches in the 19th century. He is the only man ever to pitch his team to a 5-0 record in win-or-go-home elimination games (with a 1.37 ERA). Only Schilling, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax struck out 300 batters three times. When you draw up the short list of names to pick if you had one game you had to win, Schilling is on that list.
None of that has an asterisk. None of that broke federal drug control laws. None of that was as ill-gotten as Lance Armstrong’s and Ben Johnson’s times. And yet what chaps him is that of the 195 ballots first made public, 70% of voters who did not vote for Schilling gladly voted for Bonds and/or Clemens. Among the first half of ballots made public, 31 voters endorsed the careers of Bonds and Clemens but rejected Schilling’s career.
Schilling also ripped writers whom he said concocted a false image of him based mostly on his tweets, which is rich because Schilling can weaponize social media as well as anyone.
In protest, Schilling said he “will not participate in the final year of voting” and has asked the Hall to remove him from the ballot.
“I won’t allow a group of morally bankrupt frauds another year to lie about my life,” he wrote in another post.
Back in 2013, which happened to be Schilling’s first year on the ballot, Jack Morris received 68% of the vote on his penultimate ballot, his 14th. Morris didn’t complain, even though a nasty anti-Morris internet campaign refused to acknowledge the massive “Fame” portion of Morris’s career. The last true workhorse starter changed postseason history and still owns the most starts of eight or more innings in the past 45 years. In his 15th and final year, Morris actually lost 34 votes. Again, he didn’t complain. He was selected to the Hall by a special committee in 2018.
Another candidate on a long losing streak, former players association director Marvin Miller, like Schilling, grew so fed up with the process he asked to be removed from consideration. The Hall did no such thing. He will be inducted this summer.
Likewise, the Hall should leave Schilling on his 10th and final ballot, as the rules specify. Honor the process, not the rant. Schilling’s vote percentage has gone up four straight years from 45% in 2017: 51%, 61%, 70% and 71%. Maybe he would have been elected next year. Or maybe, like the steroid guys, support for a polarizing candidate has just about maxed out. Now the rant, from a guy who says he is not a Hall of Famer but clearly cares, muddies his chances further.
Writers had elected 22 players in the previous seven years, an unprecedented flow of electees. Rolen in his fourth year received more support than Ron Santo ever did in 15 years, though Santo had a higher OPS+ and more hits, homers, RBIs, All-Star selections and top 10 MVP finishes than Rolen. Larry Walker was elected last year with fewer plate appearances than any Hall of Fame infielder or outfielder who debuted after 1947, except for Kirby Puckett, whose career was cut short by glaucoma.
The process has worked. The problem is in the candidacies. This is the Age of Consequences, leaving an awkwardness made jarringly obvious on the same day the great Hank Aaron was eulogized beautifully in Cooperstown for his dignity, humility and the untainted greatness of his career.