Embrace the Chaos: Curt Schilling

In the final installment of Embrace the Chaoswe look at Curt Schilling‘s Hall of Fame resume. More to the point, Schilling is the cautionary tale of what happens when a celebrity doesn’t know when to shut his mouth. His post-career pratfalls and perhaps worse have obscured a brilliant career that merits enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Is any of this his problem, or ours?

We’re setting aside all Curt Schilling‘s self-inflicted wounds for the time being.

Schilling’s resume is odd in that it both suffers from being affected by the 1994 strike and by injury. Considering those two points, and that he was the rare example of someone saved from himself by the strike (counterpoint: the Montreal Expos) and not only came back from injury later but resumed his top-tier form, it seems even more uncanny. Altogether, he had a 12-year peak. Yet, in looking at the career numbers, he kind of resembles a souped-up Jack Morris down to the big game reputation.

A glance at Schilling’s Baseball Reference page shows lots of bold and italics. Black and Gray Ink, Hall of Fame Monitor and JAWS, all above-averages with relative ease. He formed half of two of the toughest pitching tandems in baseball history: with Randy Johnson in Arizona and later with Pedro Martinez in Boston on that fateful 2004 Red Sox.

216 wins against 146 losses. 3,116 strikeouts and 2,998 hits. A career WHIP of 1.13 and 3.23 FIP against a career 3.46 ERA. This isn’t Don Drysdale getting into the Hall of Fame on Sandy Koufax‘s coattails, or Morris needing a committee vote. Curt Schilling was a big-time pitcher who lived for the big moments. He’s also a counterpoint figure moving away from the 300-game winners and the Glavine/Maddux nexus of control pitchers. Where the latter two were snipers, Schilling was a Tommy gun.

Schilling was a gamer and a winner, and he had that postseason moxie we celebrated in Morris. His candidacy on its own merit is frankly an open and shut case.

And, as it turns out, he’s also an acerbic blowhard with hyperpartisan, offensive political opinions and a botched investment in a video game outfit.

It has been suggested in certain places that Schilling should not be allowed to be elected to the Hall of Fame because he may say stupid things from the podium; somehow, his induction to the Hall of Fame would be a bully pulpit for his views. It is possible that Schilling may not help himself, and he has an uncanny knack for making bad situations worse, but to these objections, I suggest three countering lines:

First, voting for a player is based on the player’s contributions to the game. Look it up. Schilling’s odious timbre and sociopolitical views in retirement are not tied to his record, ability, sportsmanship or character as a player or otherwise involved with the game. There is no rule prohibiting players from having bad opinions. Further, bad and possibly worse people than Curt Schilling are in the Hall of Fame. Cap Anson, anyone?

Second, if we’re not voting for a player because of what he might do on one stuffy Sunday afternoon in upstate New York, one might as well be voting for Chone Figgins for his limited contributions to the game, or voting for one’s local state senator who likely hasn’t picked up a bat or glove since middle school. This rationale borders on purile and actually denigrates what the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent, all in the name of what one might fear potentially takes place. It is the height of petty tyranny from those who would otherwise find petty tyranny loathsome. It is ultimately the same rationale by which Marvin Miller was held out of Cooperstown, despite having been a singular force in the advance of the game and for players.

Finally, who actually remembers what anyone says at their Hall of Fame induction? Most churchgoers don’t remember what their respective ministers said last Sunday, and those clergy are supposed to be representative of the voice of God. We remember Bob Uecker‘s because it was hilarious, but do you know what the punchlines were? We remember Ted Williams‘ because it too was a bully pulpit advocating for the election of Negro Leaguers to the Hall, but you don’t know it as though it were the Gettysburg Address. Do you remember Jeff Bagwell‘s speech? Jim Palmer‘s? Heinie Manush? Even if Schilling went off the rails, his remarks will be met with a shrug of history (as they well should).

Rather than expend all this energy on Schilling, shouldn’t we be focusing on the fact that Miller is being inducted this summer while Curt Flood—Schilling’s spiritual opposite: a man whose truncated, yet brilliant career is overshadowed by his outsized influence on baseball’s economic landscape—remains out?

One can celebrate Schilling’s accomplishments as a pitcher, despise his views, vote for him into the Hall of Fame and hope he keeps his focus on the day and the game that put him on a pedestal in the first place. It’s just not worth expending all this energy to keep him out and unwittingly give oxygen to his cause. Save your voting opprobrium for November when the ballots really matter.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.