“Fame makes a man take things over
Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame puts you there where things are hollow (fame).” — Carlos Alomar, David Bowie, John Lennon
Rarely do I ever get to see two of my biggest passions intersect. As some of you know, I have written two books about the Baseball Hall of Fame. Then, this site was taken over with political and social commentary. I never dreamed these two would collide in any significant way until this week. Well, it’s actually been brewing for awhile, but it spilled over this week.
Bill James wrote a book about the Hall of Fame as well. The original title is the one you see in the headline. It’s sold a few more copies than mine have. It would seem that politics and baseball have no place together, but the bylaws of the Hall of Fame have a character clause and the commissioner has barred players who are on the banned list from eligibility. However, all of those have always concerned what has happened within the white lines. That is true up until now.
Curt Schilling officially got 71 percent of the vote and came up short again for enshrinement. I say officially because a number of voters called the Hall of Fame to see if they could take back their vote for him. He responded by requesting that he be removed from next year’s ballot and immediately be considered by the Veteran’s Committee. Such a threat is as empty as they come, but I’ll have to go into some mechanics to explain why.
You need 75 percent of voters to say yes to you to get in. Each voter can vote for up to ten players, but most vote for five or less. 2021 saw a meager class of new players on the ballot. That led to some thinking that the likes of Schilling, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens might sneak in. 2022 will have some notable newcomers on the ballot. That and the recent events would seem to indicate that his chances are now slim.
What’s changed? This is where I have to be Solomon and split the baby. Curt Schilling has always been a conservative asshole. He has made numerous statements over the years that were either insensitive or inflammatory. However, most if not all of these statements came after his playing days were over. You could credibly claim he was a good teammate and played by the rules while he was playing.
So, why did some want to change their vote? He made statements in support of the insurrectionists on January 6th. For some voters that was a bridge too far. It is one thing to utter politically incorrect thoughts. It is quite another to support a coup. Disagreeing with someone politically isn’t a good reason to withhold your vote. Watching someone support treason is something else entirely.
Supporters of Schilling will correctly point out that the Hall of Fame has a whole host of racists, spousal abusers, and drug users amongst its ranks. That is all true. However, it should be said that we may have learned of those things after the fact and the folks that did know were not the same folks making the decision now. Using whataboutism on Ty Cobb or Cap Anson is not as cut and dried as it might seem.
Both men were reportedly unrepentant racists and their records off the field besmirch their records on it now. Was that necessarily the case then? Did the voters see that as a problem then? How many of them were unrepentant racists themselves? One of the troubles with a character argument is that good character is in the eye of the beholder. Current voters can only use their own rubric. They cannot be forced to use a rubric a voter 80 years ago used.
I’m fairly confident in calling Curt Schilling a scumbag. That being said, I’m not sure his record on the field and his statements off of it have any relationship with the other. Was he seen as an asshole by his teammates? Was their relationship adversely affecting their collective performance on the field? I’m not sure we could say that and judging by the success of his teams I think we can confidently say that’s not true.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is a high honor, but it is also a museum. Museums record history and Schilling is definitely a part of history. His plaque can always reflect the negatives we are debating here. If I were a voter I would be inclined to vote for him. I’d have to hold my nose first and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone else’s opinion, but I would still do it.