Baseball writers who refuse to vote for pitcher Curt Schilling for the Hall of Fame are furthering the awful trend of enmeshing sports with national politics.
Schilling frequently expresses right-wing political views — not typical conservative views, but extreme views — that many people, myself included, consider noxious. But the “character” and “integrity” criteria for elevation to the Hall have more to do with the character and integrity of how they conducted themselves within baseball than with some catch-all standard of decency. Otherwise, plenty of major cocaine users, grifters, and carousers who are in the Hall wouldn’t be there.
Of course the character clause would rule out murderers, armed robbers, or the like. But Schilling’s sin is saying and Tweeting awful things. What’s next — removing Ty Cobb from the Hall because he was a racist and a jerk?
Schilling’s case is entirely different from those of players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez, who are widely believed to have used steroids. Those players cheated the game itself, using artificial means to give them competitive edges. They made a mockery of the proverbial “level playing field” that is the very heart of athletic competition. They wrecked the game’s integrity, skewed its hallowed statistics, and made it impossible to adjudge their true worth as players while depriving non-cheaters of the full chance to excel.
Schilling, meanwhile, was never suspected of doping, but he nonetheless put up numbers that are clearly Hall-worthy. We can safely ignore absurd denials of this from the likes of the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, who bizarrely likens him to players whose “Wins Against Replacement” stats (43.7, 56.0, 67.8 and 57.9) aren’t anywhere near Schilling’s 79.5.
Fourteen of the 16 pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts who have been retired long enough for Hall eligibility are in the Hall. Only Schilling and the alleged cheater Clemens have been excluded. Schilling led the league in wins twice, in complete games four times, in innings pitched twice, and in strikeouts twice. His earned run average of 3.46 looks only good, not great, by historical standards, but it was actually superb during the heyday of hitters who were cheating, bulked up by steroids. Schilling was also slowed by injuries for four years out of his age 25-33 prime, yet proceeded from there to put together his best three seasons in the next four years.
And then, of course, his post-season heroics are the stuff of legend. Not only did his famous “Bloody Sock” games become the iconic symbol of the Red Sox destruction of the Bambino’s famed “curse,” but he was twice the Most Valuable Player in post-season series. His overall 11-2 record with a 2.23 ERA in 19 post-season games easily puts him with John Smoltz and Bob Gibson as the top three post-season starting-pitching performers in Major League history.
Yes, clutch play matters. Yes, iconic, even epic, moments matter. And yes, Schilling is far better than just a borderline Hall contender, with more wins than Don Drysdale, Dizzy Dean, Sandy Koufax, and Bob Lemon (among others), and a better ERA than his contemporaries Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, and Jack Morris.
Statistics and lived experience both strongly argue in Schilling’s favor. The larger point, though, isn’t one for statistics nerds. The point is that everyone knows that what’s keeping Schilling from the Hall isn’t his performance, behavior, or integrity within the game or in the clubhouse. Instead, his objectively offensive political views are his main handicap.
The problem here is the same one plaguing Sports Illustrated and ESPN and bombarding NFL viewers with eye-roll-worthy woke commercials. The problem is that sports writers and leagues now refuse to stick to sports. They still love radical Colin Kaepernick, despite his paeans to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Yet when Schilling equates Islamic extremists to Nazis, apparently that’s an unforgivable sin.
It’s time to stop politicizing every aspect of American life. If a man played the game not just well but brilliantly, while honoring all the traditions and rules within his sport, that should be enough. Of course it’s better for the broader culture — for impressionable kids, especially — if athletes’ off-field character is exemplary. But spare us the political tartuffery: The game is about the game is about the game.