Are Curt Schilling's politics keeping him out of the Hall of Fame?

On Tuesday, former pitcher Curt Schilling narrowly missed out on being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a snub he suggested was about the voters — the Baseball Writers Association of America — being opposed to his personal conservative politics and past controversial statements.

Schilling defended himself in a post on his Facebook page shortly after the vote, saying:
“In my 22 years playing professional baseball in the most culturally diverse locker rooms in sports I’ve never said or acted in any capacity other than being a good teammate. …
“The media has created a Curt Schilling that does not and has never existed. It’s one of the things that has allowed me to sleep at night. Not an ounce of that is to absolve myself of sin, Lord knows I’ve committed my share and will do so again. Never malicious, never to willfully or intentionally hurt another person. I was 100% accountable and still am. Even the thought of responding to claims of ‘nazi’ or ‘racist’ or any other term so watered down and rendered meaningless by spineless cowards who have never met me makes me ill. In modern times responding to such drivel somehow validates the claim.”
    Schilling also said in the post that he did not want to be on the ballot next year for his 10th (and last) time, preferring instead to leave his fate up to the Veterans Committee — “men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player.”
    So, is Schilling right? Are his political views — he is an avowed supporter of ex-President Donald Trump and the 45th president endorsed the possibility of a Schilling congressional candidacy in 2019 — the reason that baseball’s writers have kept him out of the Hall of Fame nine times? And if they are, should they be?
    Consider that Schilling has:
    * Expressed support for the rioters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6
    * Shared a transphobic Facebook post (which led to his firing by ESPN)
    * Compared Islamic extremists to Nazis in a tweet (he apologized)
    * Promoted a post that suggested journalists should be lynched
    * Retweeted a tweet that suggested one of the survivors of the 2018 Parkland school shooting was a “paid crisis actor”
    Now, the question is whether any of that matters — and how much it matters — to Schilling the baseball player, and whether he deserves admission to the Hall of Fame.
    Let’s start here: Schilling pitched for 20 years and won 216 games with a 3.46 ERA. He was a six-time All Star and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting (awarded to the best pitcher in each league) three times. He was a part of three World Series winning teams.
    There are plenty of pitchers in the Hall of Fame with fewer wins than Schilling. Or a higher ERA. Or who were never part of a World Series championship team. (There are also pitchers with more wins and lower ERAs than Schilling not in the Hall.)
    So, on his stats alone, Schilling absolutely has a case to make that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. It’s not an airtight case but it’s a solid case. (Side note: Schilling got 71% of the vote of the BBWAA on Tuesday; he needed 75% for entrance.)
    But the qualifications to be in the Hall of Fame aren’t solely stat-driven.
    The rules provided to the BBWAA to guide voting for the Hall of Fame include this language: “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.”
    Which means that it’s not just about how good you were on the field. The voters are also tasked with considering less objective measures in the character space like “integrity,” “sportsmanship” and “character.”
    And it’s that so-called “morality clause” that has kept players like Pete Rose, who admitted he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds, out of the Hall of Fame despite his clear on-field qualifications. But that clause is, by nature, subjective. In a game so dependent on numbers and data, no one has ever really codified what that morality clause actually entails. Like: What’s disqualifying and what isn’t?
    There seems to have developed a broad consensus that admitting to having taken steroids or being heavily linked to the baseball steroids era is disqualifying. So, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds aren’t in the Hall of Fame and neither are Alex Rodriguez or Sammy Sosa. (Bonds got 61.8% of the vote on the 2021 ballot, good for second behind Schilling. Clemens got 61.6%, which placed him third overall.)
    But Schilling poses a different question: Should someone with political views that are widely regarded as intolerant be allowed to be a member of baseball’s greatest?
    In short, there’s plenty of unsavory stuff there. But should someone’s views about things totally unrelated to his baseball career be enough to keep him from being elected to the Hall of Fame? Washington Post sports columnist Barry Svrluga suggests that Schilling is simply the guinea pig of a problem long percolating in the process. He writes:
    “Curt Schilling sure doesn’t seem like a Hall of Fame person. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a Hall of Fame player. He wants to extract himself from the process because he’s ‘mentally done’? Fine, whatever. What’s more important is that the process be overhauled and the Hall return to being a celebration of the best to play the game rather than an annual exercise in ethics and morality in which the people tasked with documenting the honorees also determine them.”
      While I generally agree with what Svrluga is arguing — explicitly make rules that separate the sports achievements out from the rest of a person’s life — it may be impossible to do in our current moment.
      The struggle over Schilling is a reminder that there are no real cultural lanes any more. Sports bleeds into politics which bleeds into entertainment, and on and on and on. Everything is so inextricably linked in our modern cultures that disentangling sports achievement from political views (or anything else) is extremely challenging to even attempt.

      Comments are closed.