Everybody Is Wrong in the Curt Schilling Saga

It would be nice if anybody involved could take an honest look at themselves and see it.
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Everybody is wrong in this Curt Schilling saga. Schilling is wrong to see himself as unfairly persecuted. The writers who didn’t vote for him for the Baseball Hall of Fame are wrong. And the writers who did vote for him are wrong, too. They are not equally wrong, but they are all wrong on some level, and it would be nice if anybody involved could take an honest look at themselves and see it.

Schilling had a Hall of Fame–worthy career, in my opinion and in the opinion of most of the electorate. He is not the most obvious Hall of Famer—he won only 216 games and never won a Cy Young award—but you don’t have to look that closely to realize he belongs: Add ERA+ (127) to WAR (79.5, according to Baseball Reference) to his extraordinary postseason performances and Schilling deserves a plaque. I mean, Mark Davis and Pat Hentgen won Cy Young awards. So what? Schilling’s combination of excellence and longevity make him deserving of a plaque.

Schilling thinks he is being wrongly painted as a hateful jerk by writers: “Nothing, zero, none of the claims being made by any of the writers hold merit,” he said in a statement this week. The problem there is that Schilling’s actions are well-documented, from his anti-trans Facebook post to his sharing a meme saying that journalists should be lynched. Schilling doesn’t think this makes him a hateful jerk, because Schilling thinks he is right about everything and anybody who does not share his narrow, far-right worldview is the enemy. There is ample reason to think of Curt Schilling as a hateful jerk.

But that should not keep him out of the Hall of Fame. He was an exceptional pitcher, and a guy you wanted on your team, if not necessarily at the dinner table with you. The Hall of Fame is supposed to honor baseball’s most successful people, not its best. The so-called “character clause” should apply in the context of a player’s baseball career.

This is the difference between Schilling and other controversial candidates. One can reasonably argue that Pete Rose or Roger Clemens tarnished the game to a degree that should keep them out of the Hall. I am not saying I agree, but at least their character failures affected the game. Schilling’s did not.

It’s fair to point out that, while Schilling has repeatedly trashed the integrity of the writers, most of them still voted for him. He got 71.1% of the vote, more than Tim Raines received when he was in his ninth year on the ballot, as Schilling just was. If you put Schilling’s vitriol aside, Raines was a similar candidate to Schilling: He did not seem like an obvious Hall of Fame player for most of his career, and he does not have the award hardware or counting numbers to bolster his candidacy, but his overall contributions made him worthy.

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Most of the 116 voters who left Schilling off the ballot probably did so for baseball reasons. Hall voters are notoriously fickle. More than 40 voters left Frank Robinson off the ballot. More recently, Tom Glavine, a more obvious Hall of Famer than Schilling, received 92% of the vote. So most voters supported Schilling’s candidacy, and most who didn’t probably questioned his on-field accomplishments … and yet, Schilling only needed 16 more votes to get elected. It’s fair to assume that if everybody thought he was a great guy, he would be in by now.

It’s hard to feel bad for him, and I don’t recommend trying. But he should be in. The argument that Schilling does not deserve to make a speech in Cooperstown is dubious; if Schilling wants to spread his views (he clearly does), he has plenty of outlets. It’s frankly unlikely that even Schilling would use his Hall of Fame induction speech to say journalists should be lynched and the 2020 presidential election was rigged. But even if he did, that would not change the fact he had a Hall of Fame–worthy baseball career.

So the people who voted for him were correct … but also wrong, because they shouldn’t be voting at all. There is simply no reason for journalists to decide who gets in the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s baseball’s Hall of Fame, not ours. I have a lot of friends who vote for the Hall, and they take the job very seriously, but that doesn’t mean they should do it.

We are here to report on, break and analyze news, not to make it. It’s a fairly simple concept. I have heard writers say that, as unbiased reporters who are constantly around the game, they are the best people to decide who belongs, and that may or may not be true, but it is completely beside the point. Deciding who gets in should be the Hall’s task. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, but I have never voted for the Hall.)

Journalists have been voting for halls of fame and awards for so long that it just seems like part of the job. But journalists should not be deciding these things. We should not get to apply professional ethics as we choose, based on whether they keep us from doing something fun. This is most glaring when writers vote for All-NBA teams, because making an All-NBA team makes a player eligible for a super-max contract, which increases the player’s income by tens of millions of dollars over the course of the deal. It is just absurd that a journalist can determine that simply by deciding how good a player is, and then turn around and expect a normal professional relationship with the player. It’s embarrassing.

Making the Hall of Fame does not automatically trigger a salary increase like that, but it has a considerable effect on a player’s historical standing and income potential. Curt Schilling deserves to be in, based on the standards of his profession. Writers should not be deciding this, based on the standards of ours.