This is all Curt Schilling’s fault, really. With Hall of Fame season upon us, the baseball world performed its annual implosion. Uppity ESPN writers, crusty, dry-lipped malcontent columnists, and furiously misguided Twitter eggs joined the debate of who should be checked on the ballot, who should be left off altogether, who should be allowed in to Cooperstown but not for a couple of years, which players had been mainlining horse tranquilizers for their careers, and which dementia-riddled voters were covering for accidentally sending in a blank ballot by claiming they had done it on purpose.
But mostly, we talked about Schilling, the broken man who spent last night arguing with an unverified account he claimed was Sidney Ponson. The man joyfully expressed his bigotry in his post-playing career, which is assumed to be the reason he won't get to give a speech this summer to a crowd of, in all likelihood, disgusted baseball fans who couldn’t get out of earshot fast enough. His candidacy was a loud, long-winded debate that carried onto this very web site and in the end solved nothing.
Schilling was not awarded immortality this year, but the worst part was, local writers (not that I blame them), naturally looking for the "Phillies" angle in all of this, touted him as the closest thing we had to a connection to the whole Battle of Cooperstown this year, and we got to spend weeks seeing him described as "Former Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling."
Was there nobody else involved in the mess to whom we could relate; to whom we could look past the high horses and dodge the flying spittle and to see in red pinstripes?
Yes. Billy Wagner was also on the ballot.
I don’t think anybody was going to make the drive for the ex-Phillies closer Pat Burrell once called a "rat." Wagner doesn’t have any friends in the Delaware Valley because he said the Phillies "ain’t got a chance" at the playoffs in July 2005, which, compared to what I have heard (and said) about the Phillies’ playoff chances of the past is pretty G-rated. I mean I guess you could fault him for using a nonstandard informal contraction, but based on the death threats, Philadelphia’s problems with Wagner never seemed to be a grammatical issue.
So both of the guys who received votes and had worn Phillies uniforms in the past didn’t have any supporters in our neck of the woods, leaving us without a "guy" to root for. Except that, as was brought up pretty late in the game, Pat Burrell and Matt Stairs were on the ballot this year, too. There was just so much talk about Schilling that the folk legends/Phillies Wall of Fame members and, in Stairs’ case, current employee, didn’t dominate any of the coverage.
There’s still time, though; if we regroup, organize a letter-writing campaign, and
No former Phillies make HOF. Schilling (45 percent) and Wagner (10.2 percent) stay on ballot. Burrell and Stairs get no votes. Fall off.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) January 18, 2017
Per the ancient scroll from which the rules of baseball Hall of Fame voting are chanted every year by a 210-year-old monk wearing a tiny hat, Stairs and Burrell, having received not even a vote of sympathy or novelty, are now off the ballot entirely. The ghostly wards of the infamous baseball museum undoubtedly told them of this after coming to them in the night, which again, is per usual for Cooperstown. Stairs, eating a stack of night-waffles, and Burrell, grabbing a Gatorade from his fridge during a break before "going again in ten," probably received the information with aplomb.
They likely had no fantasies of being even close to inducted, given that their numbers, while fine, were nowhere near the elite level that the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent. But after another January of babbling about character clauses and Ty Cobb, it’s a bummer that two guys who have our genuine, unrelenting support don’t even get to sniff the inside of the museum without paying for admission. Although I can’t imagine "museum-smelling" being at the top of Burrell’s summer itinerary anyway.
We could have advocated for them a little more; given them the whisper of ignored support a contingent of fans on the internet can typically provide. We could have made banners to let them know we cared and stood outside their houses, after taking off work and finding out where they lived, of course. We could have invested a bunch of time and effort and resources into you know what I am exhausted just thinking about this, we clearly would have just tweeted a couple of times and done nothing else.
"Why do you have a printed out screenshot of Pat Burrell on a slip 'n slide and not one of your newborn nephew?" people in our apartments would ask.
"Because some people need our support more than others," we'd calmly explain, not realizing we were shouting.
Stairs and Burrell weren't going to and don’t need to be in the Hall of Fame; hieroglyphics describing their playoff heroism have already been etched into the bowels of Citizens Bank Park in the Phanatic’s ancient, indecipherable language. They were never going to make it and literally everyone knew that; it would have just been some much-needed levity during the process to see their names uttered in sentences in close proximity to the incoming class.
Support, we've been told, is good. In the words of Mike Schmidt on Tribute Night in 1990,
Calling Philadelphia fans spectators hardly describes your impact. You help mold the spirit of a team. Your positive feedback is crucial in the Phillies' right to stay on top. You know, I'm often asked what I miss most about the game. It's tough to sort out all the wonderful memories and come up with a definite answer. But I can tell you this; I'll always miss the goose bumps I got when you cheered me.
Just wait until next year, when the dead of winter will once again crackle with worthless squabbling and old men will again act like children while citing an intense honor bestowed upon them by the gods.
For truly, this is America’s pastime.