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Pro/Con: Should Curt Schilling be in the Hall of Fame?

Our own Justin Klugh and John Stolnis debate whether Schilling’s off-field antics should keep him out of Cooperstown.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Curt Schilling is one of the most controversial figures in baseball right now, and his possible induction into the MLB Hall of Fame one day is a hot topic of debate.

Here at The Good Phight, two of our staff writers, Justin Klugh and John Stolnis, debate whether or not Schilling’s statements and social media posts supersede his performance on the field as a potential inductee.

Justin Klugh - Why Curt Schilling Won’t Get My Hall of Fame Vote:

During the summer of one of my most maladroit teenage years, my father decided that he and I would go to Cooperstown.

We didn’t take a lot of family vacations, but I think it was something he had always wanted to do, and even though my interest in baseball had been replaced by a new interest in eating It’s Pasta Anytime at two in the morning, it was something that I had wanted to do, too. I just didn’t have the capacity to speak with my mouth to my parents at the time.

We rode in mostly silence up to New York, checked into our hotel, and went on to have exactly the sort of bonding, life-changing odyssey that parents and children are supposed to have at the Hall of Fame. Not only did we have full, actual conversations, but my interest in the sport was reinvigorated. I suddenly wondered what the Phillies were up to. I checked. They sucked. I didn’t feel a similar inclination to do so again until a couple of years later when Aaron Rowand ruined his face for my respect.

Nevertheless, the magic of Cooperstown and fragments of Aaron Rowand’s face combined to create my intense passion for the sport and the Phillies that infests my cockles to this day. I’ve been writing for sites like this one for a long time, but it wasn’t until I was several years into doing so that the torch-wielding, self-serious baseball nerds who cluster around the Hall of Fame every year around this time ruined it for me.

I was coming up in the post-strike steroid haze. As a doe-eyed school chum, I hated Barry Bonds. I went to a Phillies game against the Giants during the most fiery fallout of his steroid controversy and Citizens Bank Park was a carnival; guys dressed up like Juicy Juice boxed drinks, people holding posters comparing the size of his head to when he was a rookie, and one heckler in particular yelling "YOU JUST COULDN’T LIVE UP TO DADDY, COULD YOU BARRY?!?" And I was like, "Yes. This is good." Steroids were bad and baseball was good. It was the right thing to try and torture as best we could the man embodying them at the moment.

Now, at the time, I wasn’t aware of steroid usage was pretty rampant, that baseball had a long history of beloved players popping banned substances, how normal PEDs were in sports, and how everything I liked was secretly bad in it own terrible little ways. I was on the side of the shaming baseball writers who felt they had been graced an ancient honor to allow or deny players entry into the Hall of Fame. How dare these cheaters ruin my personal father-son moments by polluting the hallowed Hall with their drugs?!

As I came to several cynical conclusions over the next few years, my viewpoint flipped, and I decided that there is nothing magical about Cooperstown and nothing special about the Hall of Fame. It was just another museum, induction into which requiring the approval of pious high horsemen who had no problem viewing a player's success through increasingly subjective filters.

A bit more growing up later, and as with most things, I’ve come to land somewhere in the middle. There is little magic to be found in a building full of dry leather artifacts and plaques about racists, but there is plenty to be found on the faces and in the spirits of children taken there by their parents. So now, when I consider the Hall of Fame, which isn’t often, I mostly shrug, think about what a great dad I have, and unpause Netflix.

But now, we’re back; but not because of steroids, or modern statistics, or any of the other polarizing debates in this sport for which there are reasonable voices and screaming zealots on either side. We’re back because Curt Schilling is on the ballot.

I first learned who Curt Schilling was in 1993, when I began logging cognizant memories and watching the ‘93 Phillies video yearbook over and over again. On that video, Schilling is one of the lovable team’s mouthier goofballs, endearing himself to me, a six-year-old, quite easily, even if I didn't understand all of his humor.

Like some of his fellow Phillies alumni from that year, Schilling went on to be known as something other than a lovable, mouthy goofball. Since we’re never too far from the internet in 2016, we’re never too far from Schilling spouting rhetoric that makes the world a dumber, angrier place. He is quite confidently awful about many issues, but given his small amount of celebrity, he has been allowed on television to expound on topics about which he, again, quite confidently, is awful. He is proud of what he does and prouder still that he upsets people. In my opinion, he does not seem like he wants to help - he simply wants to be heard.

I was of the mind that he was a bad person but a great ball player, so without any debate, if deemed good enough, he should be ushered into the highest echelons of baseball’s records in Cooperstown. But then I thought, "What if being a hate-spewing human sewer... actually cost him something?"

I realize punishing someone for their behavior in an entirely different area of their career is tricky, and pretty much obliterates the concept of "objectivity" that is supposed to hold journalism together. But I asked myself the question anyway, because it seems to be that Schilling is a special case - and that HOF voters rejected objectivity a long time ago.

The first question people ask is, of course, "If Schilling is kept out, where do we draw the line?"

Well. I’m not an expert, but... we could draw it here. We could draw it at anti-Muslim memes and the support of lynching journalists, and then use that line to determine that players who are proud to marginalize people don't get to feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves because they were gifted athletically. But I don’t have power, influence, or a Hall of Fame vote. Writers who do are busy boasting their risque "I don’t like Schilling’s opinions... but he has my Hall of Fame vote!" headlines, and then presumably, per their new 'bad boy' personas, trying cigarettes for the first time.

You can say you’re not glorifying him for his views, but Schilling has proven he’ll make anything about them - use any platform, grab any mic offered. He simply wants an audience. Claiming his baseball skill is worth broadening that audience just isn’t worth admission into a museum to me. Which leads to the next pro-Schilling mantra, "If Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame, then we can’t deny Schilling!"

I get that. But here’s the thing, though - yes you can. Does Cobb’s place in the Hall mean we, a supposedly more enlightened people 80 years after Cobb’s entry into Cooperstown, have to follow the same rules that allowed a man - who went into the stands to attack a heckler missing eight of his fingers - the sport’s greatest honor? I hope that Schilling is never jailed for something he says. But I could never listen to him speak and check a box next to his name in support of him. The holiness of Cooperstown may have faded for me since childhood, and though I acknowledge that, the sanctity of a baseball museum is less important in my mind than sending a message that Schilling's active support of hate is unacceptable.

Voters are perfectly comfortable using failed steroid tests to keep players out - "if he doesn't care about his place in history, why should I?" asked one baseball writer this year about the candidacy of Manny Ramirez. If a "place in history" is that much of a concern, then that same writer - who did vote for Schilling - doesn’t care how a spouter of pure hate chooses to represent himself. Steroids may be offensive to baseball, but a player going beyond being "a bad role model" or "morally questionable" and actively attempting to reach into the world and cause real harm should be offensive to everyone, and its perpetrator does not deserve to be honored, whether it happens on or off the field.

Was Schilling good at baseball? Unarguably. But maybe this time, we let hate speech outweigh a bloody sock. Maybe we start making it easier for people to know where the line is, and we don’t let Schilling be the moral barometer of the next generation of inductees. The players, drones, and sentient computers of this sport’s future can be as hateful and misinformed as they want to be, and teams have proven they are willing to put aside any number of character flaws if you can light up the radar gun. But they should do so knowing that it will cost them the respect of their peers and observers.

If they can live with that, then, hey; tweet away. We all know where the block button is.

John Stolnis - Why Curt Schilling Will Get My Hall of Fame Vote

The increase in transparency in the MLB Hall of Fame voting process over the last few years has been a good thing. Thanks to the excellent work by the great Ryan Thibodaux and his outstanding BBHOF Tracker, we get to see a majority of Hall of Fame ballots as they are cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Sure, many of the old school guys don’t make their ballots public, and they’re mostly the ones who only vote for two or three guys every year because they believe only players who urinated liquid gold during their playing days are worthy of enshrinement.

This year, there’s been an uptick in support for a number of players who were linked to PEDs during baseball’s steroid era. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, in particular, have made huge leaps forward. In 2016, Bonds was named on just 44.3% of ballots cast, and Clemens was on 45.2%. Now, with about 35% of public ballots in, Bonds and Clemens are both around 70%.

Thus far, 20 people who did not vote for Bonds last year put him on their ballot this year. Only one person has dropped him from their ballot. For Clemens, 21 people have added him, only one has dropped him. That’s a net gain of +19 for Bonds and +20 for Clemens.

They won’t be inducted this year, but they are trending in the right direction.

The same isn’t true for former Phils ace Curt Schilling, who was named on 52.3% of ballots last year, trending upward. However this year, Schilling has lost 19 votes and gained 9 for a net loss of -10 votes.

The reason is fairly obvious. Schilling got on his computer this year and used his Facebook and other social media accounts to espouse some thoughts that upset a lot of folks. He was fired by ESPN after one particular post concerning Muslims and terrorists. He’s made comments supporting North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law, which prohibits transgender people from using public bathrooms for the gender with which they identify. He encouraged the lynching of journalists in a Tweet, and his political status as an ardent Trump supporter has gained him no love among those who do not support the President-elect.

I don’t like Curt Schilling or his views. But how much of a person’s public statements, politics, and off-field issues should factor into their Hall of Fame induction?

Cooperstown’s criteria for being inducted into its museum includes the following sentence known as "the character clause."

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played. (words were bolded by me)

It is two of those words, "integrity" and "character," that have prevented players like Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire and now, it appears, Schilling, from being inducted. However, the induction of Bud Selig, the MLB commissioner who was in charge during the height of the "steroid era," to Cooperstown has apparently given voters a moral opening to also cast votes for Bonds and Clemens this time around.

The Hall of Fame gives writers the privilege of interpreting their criteria however they want. And it is their right to either keep Schilling out if they don’t like him. But where do you draw the line? What actions or statements off the field make a player un-electable?

Clearly, his retweeting of a post that found humor in the idea of lynching journalists is enough to warrant exclusion, and if you're using that as your reason to keep him out, I can't say you're without merit.

But I am just not a fan of using the "character clause" to keep any player out, including Bonds, Clemens or Schillling. Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame, as he should be, even though he was also regarded as one of the worst human beings to every play Major League Baseball. One can only imagine what his Twitter feed or Facebook page would like today.

Of course, the "character clause" didn't exist until 1944, long after Cobb's conclusion, so I recognize that the Cobb comparison isn't entirely applicable.

So the only question for me is whether Schilling was good enough to be a Hall of Famer on the field, and based on Jay Jaffe’s JAWS statistic, which uses WAR and other metrics to compare the careers of Hall of Famers, Schilling’s 64.5 JAWS was plenty good enough, ranking 27th all-time. The only starting pitchers ahead of him not in the Hall of Fame are Clemens (3rd) and Jim McCormick (19).

Mike Mussina is ranked just behind him in 28th, and Schilling is far ahead of other Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers like Tom Glavine, Nolan Ryan, Jim Palmer, Roy Halladay, Juan Marichal, and Don Drysdale.

His regular season and postseason numbers seem to indicate he should get in someday, and if I had a vote, I would put him on my ballot, despite any past comments I find distasteful or flat-out offensive.

Look, I’m not wild about inducting a guy who holds opinions that so many find offensive. But the Hall of Fame is a museum, and players like Schilling, who did enough on the field to warrant it, should be included in that museum.

Even if he is contemptible.