He is one of the greatest post-season pitchers in the history of baseball. His career 80.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is 6th best of any pitcher to debut in the last 40 years. His career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.38 is the best for any pitcher with a minimum of 1,200 innings thrown since the 19th century.
And he is not in the Hall of Fame. Is it possible that Curt Schilling is the first player in the history of the sport who will Tweet his way out of Cooperstown?
The raw data:
CURT SCHILLING (5th year on ballot, received 52% of the vote in 2016)
- 216 wins, 146 losses (.597 winning %)
- Won 20 or more games 3 times
- 3.46 ERA, 1.137 WHIP (walks + hits per inning)
- 127 career park-adjusted ERA+
- 3,116 strikeouts
- 4.38 K/BB ratio (best in MLB since 1884 with minimum 1,200 innings )
- Member of 3 World Series Champion teams
- 11-2 with 2.23 ERA in 19 post-season starts
- 2nd in Cy Young Award voting three times
- 6-time All-Star
- 80.7 career pitching WAR (16th best for all pitchers since World War II)
I absolutely, positively am baffled that Curt Schilling is not already in the Hall of Fame. OK, I actually do understand why, I just passionately disagree with the naysayers. Here are the negatives and my rebuttals:
- Schilling only had 216 career wins. It’s true, that’s not a lot for a Hall of Fame pitcher. Schilling was a middle reliever early in his career, not finding his groove as a starter until he was 25 years old, when he went 14-11 with a 2.35 ERA for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was also injury-plagued late in his 20’s so his 436 career games started is low. Still, there are 17 starting pitchers in the Hall with fewer career victories. So, while his win total isn’t a selling point, it’s certainly should not disqualify.
- His career 3.46 ERA is high. Well, not as high as it seems. Schilling pitched during the most prolific offensive era baseball has seen since before the Second World War. His park-and-era-adjusted ERA+ (127, or 27% above average) is much more impressive. That’s the same ERA+ as the marks posted by Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and better than the career ERA+ for luminaries such as Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Steve Carlton, and many others. In fact, it’s better than a whopping 45 starting pitchers already in Cooperstown.
- He never won a Cy Young Award. Well, sorry folks, no, he didn’t. Pardon him for finishing 2nd twice to his teammate on the Arizona Diamondbacks, Randy Johnson, who was in the midst of a ridiculous run of four straight awards.
- His Twitter feed.
I’ll talk about Schilling’s Tweeting habits at the end of this piece but first, let’s examine his credentials on the field.
When evaluating the Hall of Fame resume of a player or a pitcher, I try not to focus on Wins Above Replacement because I believe a Hall of Famer should be elected based on tangible accomplishments that the average fan can understand and appreciate. If a player has an uncommonly high (or low) WAR, that to me is a signal of further investigation into the reasons why that might justify a yes or no vote on a plaque in Cooperstown. Still, there are only two other pitchers in the history of baseball with a WAR higher than Schilling’s 80.7 who are not in the Hall of Fame. One is Clemens, who isn’t in the Hall for obvious reasons. The other is Mike Mussina who, like Schill, is on this year’s ballot. That deserves a really long look.
For pitchers, WAR is a little more difficult to grasp than for batters. I’m not going to get into the weeds here but Schilling’s best-ever strikeout-to-walk ratio plays heavily to his favor in the WAR calculation. Speaking of which, I would argue that being the best in modern baseball history (since the start of the 20th century) at something as important and basic of striking out lots of batters out and walking very few deserves a spot on a bust in Cooperstown.
But for me, the biggest (by far) reason to put Curt Schilling into the Hall of Fame is his superlative post-season record. He was an integral part of three championship teams and a critical part of another team that won the pennant but lost the World Series (the 1993 Phillies). For those who have forgotten, let me recap his October exploits.
- Won Games 1 and 5 of the 1993 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, propelling the Phillies to the Fall Classic.
- The Phils blew a 6-run lead in Game 4 of the World Series and suffered an excruciating 15-14 loss. The bullpen was bloodied and battered and Philadelphia was facing elimination in Game 5. Schilling took the hill and gutted out a complete game, 147-pitch shutout for a 2-0 victory. Although his team would lose Game 6 to the Joe Carter walk-off, Schilling’s big-game rep was established.
- In the 2001 NLDS against St. Louis, he pitched two complete games, with a 1-0 shutout in Game 1 and a 2-1 victory in the win-or-go-home all Game 5.
- He started Games 1, 4, and 7 of the World Series against the three-time defending champion New York Yankees and tossed 21.1 innings of 4-run ball. He didn’t win the decisive Game 7 but kept them in the game long enough to get the walk-off victory in the bottom of the 9th.
- Facing elimination in the famous “bloody sock” game, the injured Schilling tossed 7 innings of one-run ball in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, a crucial step in the Boston Red Sox’ historic comeback from being down three games to none to their bitter rivals the Yankees. Schilling was an integral part of the team that “broke the curse.”
- Although he played a lesser role in the Sox’ second title in 2007, he did pitch 7 innings of shutout baseball in the clinching Game 3 of the ALDS.
All told, Schilling toed the rubber five times in which his team needed to win or watch their season end: his team won all five games. Five win-or-go-home starts. Five team wins.
To me, his eleven October wins are worth 60 or 70 regular season wins. Some players are “bystanders” as their teams win championships. For two of Schilling’s three rings, his teams would absolutely not have won without him. All told, he is (in my opinion) the most valuable starting pitcher in the LCS era (post 1969), although Madison Bumgarner is getting really close.
Still, most likely because of the relatively high career ERA (3.46) and his low win total of 216, Schilling has never gotten above 52% of the vote. And now there’s an unpardonable sin far greater than posting a low win or high ERA.
Curt Schilling may be the first player in baseball history to Tweet himself out of the Hall of Fame.
Despite the fact that he and Mussina are the only remotely qualified starting pitchers on the ballot, Schilling’s level of support has merely held steady at 52% on this year’s ballot while Mussina has surged from 43% to over 60%. The difference: Schilling is a controversial guy, an ex-player turned analyst who was fired from ESPN essentially because of his right-wing political views. During the recent presidential campaign, Curt was shilling for Donald Trump and openly speculating about running against Elizabeth Warren for the the U.S. Senate in 2018.
Schilling has a Trump-like Twitter habit and, in 2015, his social media feed cost him his job at ESPN. Schilling had previously been suspended for a month when he sent a Tweet comparing Muslims to Nazis. The last straw (to ESPN) was a Facebook post about North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law.
Despite the controversies, on last year’s Hall of Fame voting, Schilling lost just 8 votes from BBWAA writers who made their ballots public while gaining nearly 40. It was entirely predictable that both Schilling and Mussina would gain a lot of votes last year because the previous two ballots were clogged with other fantastic starting pitchers (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz).
This year, another one without any Cooperstown-worthy starting pitchers being added to the ballot, both Schilling and Mussina should have made big gains with the voters. Mussina has. Schilling has not. On the contrary. Among the voters who have already revealed their ballot choices, Schilling is going backwards. The “exit polls” below (courtesy of Ryan Thibodeaux’s Hall of Fame tracker) show the ballots that have been revealed to the public in advance of Wednesday’s official announcement.
This can only be explained one way and it’s not that dozens of writers had an epiphany that Mike Mussina was a better pitcher. Here are their numbers on the field, side by side.
By the numbers, these were two great pitchers, both of whom deserve a plaque in Cooperstown. Mussina was more durable while Schilling was injury-plagued, hence the difference in games started and wins. But Schilling makes up for it by being one of the best October pitchers ever.
Still, there are a lot of HOF quality players eligible for enshrinement this year so it is fair to assume that some of Schilling’s lost votes are due to the crowded ballot, with writers changing their mind about who to vote for. After all, Mussina has lost 8 votes this year as well, as have Fred McGriff and Trevor Hoffman. But to lose 25 votes from a year ago? That can only be explained by this particular Tweet, one that has earned him the wrath of many of the writers:
As he has done before with some ill-thought-out Tweets, Schilling took down this particular post fairly quickly but the damage was done. Some writers have not taken kindly to Schill calling a T-shirt that talks about hanging journalists “some kind of awesome.”
“Count me out on Curt Schilling. I have held my nose and voted for the Big Blowhard in recent years (11-2 in postseason, ridiculous walk/strikeout ratio), and he was up to 52.3 percent (75 percent required) last year, but I shall invoke the “character” clause this year. Schill has transitioned from a mere nuisance to an actual menace to society. His tweet supporting the lynching of journalists was the last straw for this voter. Curt later claimed he was joking. Swell.”
— Dan Shaughnessy (Boston Globe)
“I omitted Schilling this year after voting for him first four years simply because there were 10 other players I was happier to include on my ballot.
And for the record, I would think it’s obvious that espousing lynching journalists isn’t a political view. I know of no liberals or conservatives who believe in lynching journalists. It’s just vile.”
— Jon Heyman, MLB Network contributor (on FanRag Sports Network)
“To me, this falls under Rule 5 of the [Baseball Writers Association of America] rules for election, specifically the reference to integrity and character. I was prepared to vote for Curt again this year but changed my mind after his Twitter comment. Whether or not he meant it as sarcasm didn’t matter to me. I was disgusted by the fact someone would either endorse the act of lynching or make light of it, and it didn’t matter to me if it was journalists or any living being.”
— Kirby Arnold (retired from Everett Herald as told to espn.com)
On the other side:
“Curt Schilling’s Hall Of Fame chances should be judged on his playing career, not his politics.”
— Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe)
“Acting like a Grade-A jerk, saying or writing politically or racially charged things or disliking the media shouldn’t disqualify him for his significant accomplishments on the playing field. Thus, I will separate any personal disagreements or political feelings and continue to vote for Schilling.”
— Peter Botte (New York Daily News)
And a player’s view:
“It’s funny. There’s a lot of discussion you can have on the merits of Curt Schilling. But I don’t think his political views should play into that. That had nothing to do with his baseball career.”
— Tom Glavine (on espn.com)
And now a couple of Schilling’s responses:
“The Hall of Fame vote, to people like Dan and Wallace Matthews and Jon Heyman, is power to them. That’s how it works when you give weak people power. They want to ‘hold it over me’ or something like that? Please. An arbitrary process done by some of the most vindictive and spiteful humans I’ve ever known? One I stopped having control over nine years ago?
I sleep fine. My three World Series rings, trophies and 20-some years of amazing memories are all mine, and always will be.”
Curt Schilling (as told to espn.com)
“I saw guys who cheated, who did steroids, I see guys who did a domestic abuse charge, I see guys who did drugs, I see guys who threw games.. Gary Sheffield admitted throwing balls away intentionally when he was in Milwaukee…. So, my character? You’re going to put my character on trial against a Barry Bonds or against guys who ruined other guy’s lives so their legacy would remain even though it doesn’t?”
Curt Schilling (on WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan”)
So, it’s clear that Curt Schilling is not going to change and not going to back down. Just as he was as a player and analyst, he’s going to remain outspoken, throwing fastballs with his words rather than his right arm.
His last point, about people putting his character on trial against steroid users, is poignant. Schilling has long been outspoken against PED use and what he has done with his Twitter account has nothing whatsoever to do with what he did on the field while PED-users gave themselves a competitive advantage over their peers.
I’m hoping that the dip in Schilling’s voting support is the writers’ way of slapping him on the wrist. It’s a crowded ballot with a lot of great players to choose from. It may just be what Heyman implied, that he’s not voting for him this year but will reconsider in the future. The next two years will see starting pitchers Johan Santana, Jamie Moyer, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt hitting the ballot. All five had excellent careers but I can’t see a logical argument that would put any of them above Schilling (or Mussina) for the Hall of Fame. This is Schilling’s fifth time on the ballot so there’s time for him to regain the momentum he’s lost in the balloting this year.
My own take? It’s patently ridiculous if people are withholding their vote because they’re offended by Schilling’s politics or his offensive Tweet. All that should matter is what he did on the field. I’m hoping that he’ll bounce back next year, that the writers who withheld their votes will look at this as a “one year penalty for offensive Tweeting.”
The Hall of Fame’s “character clause” reads this way:
“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.“
You can make a very compelling argument that PED users fail on this clause with respect to any of the words “integrity,” “sportsmanship” or “character.” Does Curt Schilling fail on any word here other than “character,” and was his character an issue while he was a player?
His record or playing ability? We’ve gone through it already. A little shy of cumulative longevity but filled with accomplishments.
Integrity or sportsmanship? Nobody has ever accused Schilling of being a part of the PED culture of baseball.
Contributions to the team(s) on which the player played? I would say that three World Series rings would be pretty high on both the “record” and “contributions” tabs.
So all we have is the word “character.” Why don’t we take a look at some of the other characters already enshrined in the Hall of Fame?
In his book Cooperstown Confidential, author Zev Chaffets (a contributor to the New York Times Magazine) wrote an entire chapter called “The Question of Character” in which he went into exhaustive detail about the character of many of those currently enshrined.
According to Chaffets, the Hall has two former Ku Klux Klan members (Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby) and multiple members who actively thwarted the participation of black players in the Major Leagues (most notably Cap Anson). Chaffets reminds us about Babe Ruth’s whoring, multiple players’ drunkenness, Mafia connections and unreported gambling scandals. Regarding Ty Cobb, he writes, “We were told that he sharpened his spikes to intimidate infielders… We were also aware that he sometimes got into fights on the field, a form of trying hard. What we didn’t know — or care about – was that Cobb was a sociopath, a nasty drunk, a raving racist, and maybe a murderer.”
But the key paragraph of Chaffets’ work is here:
“The early Hall of Famers were probably neither better nor worse human beings than other players of their day, or any cross-section of red-blooded young men with money in their pockets and time on their hands… Writers were a part of the team. Not only did they travel with the players, they sometimes roomed with them on the road, at the team’s expense. Writers and players socialized and kept each other’s secrets. When the public somehow did learn about Babe Ruth’s whoring, Grover Cleveland Alexander pitching drunk, or Tris Speaker betting on games, these lapses were spun by reporters as harmless and even charming examples of the sporting mentality.”
— Cooperstown Confidential (Zev Chafets)
In the grand scheme of character issues among Hall of Fames, Curt Schilling’s offensive Tweet about journalists seems rather mundane. It was in poor taste and displayed a bad sense of humor but it wasn’t an offense so great that it should keep him out of the Hall of Fame. But that seems to be what’s happening right now.
One of the greatest big-game pitchers in the history of the sport deserves a spot in Cooperstown. It won’t be this year. Hopefully it will be sometime in the future.
Thanks for reading.