Curt Schilling is a raging jerk. He also belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Hall is about on-field excellence. It’s not about whose ideas we like and whose we don’t.
I voted for Curt Schilling for the Baseball Hall of Fame. So did more than 71% of the people who cast ballots. It means two things: that the former pitcher came up short of the 75% necessary for induction and that, despite Schilling’s belief that everyone is against him for his far-right ideology, a boatload of people consider him Hall material.
That didn’t stop him from requesting that his name be taken off the 2021 ballot for his final year of eligibility. After his eligibility expires, his name will go before the Today’s Game Committee, composed of Hall members, executives and veteran media members, for Hall of Fame consideration.
“I will not participate in the final year of voting,’’ Schilling wrote Tuesday in a Facebook post. “I am requesting to be removed from the ballot. I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player. I don’t think I’m a hall of famer as I’ve often stated but if former players think I am then I’ll accept that with honor.”
If I have this straight, Schilling doesn’t believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame but is upset that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America didn’t vote him into the Hall of Fame. Got it. Meanwhile, the BBWAA is urging Hall officials to keep Schilling on the ballot, saying to him, in essence, “Just try to stop us from possibly honoring you!’’
It’s a messy planet we inhabit, so it makes sense that something that should be as benign and as celebratory as a hall of fame would devolve into people pulling grenade pins with their teeth and throwing tactical strikes.
The Hall of Fame is about on-field excellence. It’s not about whose ideas we like and whose we don’t. It’s about who could play, not about who said what. That seems to be hard for a lot of people to grasp.
There is no moral baseball equivalence between Schilling’s noxious personal beliefs — he publicly supported the U.S. Capitol attacks, among other wacko statements — and Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ use of pharmaceuticals to help them dominate the sport. Schilling’s hateful thoughts on Muslims didn’t make him a great postseason pitcher for the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Bonds’ use of performance-enhancing drugs helped him break Hank Aaron’s career home run record.
We’ve heard all sorts of rationalizations for why Bonds and Clemens belong in Cooperstown. None of them holds up to logical thought.
The argument that Bonds was a great player before he decided to take the first pill or use the first syringe doesn’t mean a thing. His decision to cheat means everything. It changed baseball history, very much for the worse.
It doesn’t matter that lots of other players were doing steroids in the 1990s and 2000s. It matters that Clemens’ success, which included seven Cy Young Awards, was fueled by something other than a powerful right arm. The accomplishments weren’t real. Or, if they were real, then so is Superman’s bench press.
It doesn’t matter if Major League Baseball, benefitting from the power numbers of the Steroid Era, tacitly allowed the cheating to go on. It matters that there was cheating. Why should we honor deception? Because everybody was doing it during that period? Then let’s find a way to honor skyrocketing crime rates, too. Maybe a museum?
Bonds received 61.8% of the vote and Clemens 61.6%. It almost surely means that neither will get enough votes for induction next year, their last year of eligibility. Thank goodness.
It’s coincidence that Aaron died four days before Bonds’ most recent chance of being selected, but the timing offered a contrast that was impossible to miss. Aaron the thoughtful slugger who experienced hellish racism as he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record. Bonds the conniving athlete who puffed himself into a circus strongman to beat Aaron’s record. Aaron a civil rights flag bearer. Bonds a sneering home run hitter obsessed with his legacy.
If anyone had reason to be angry with Bonds, it was Aaron. But when Bonds broke Aaron’s record on Aug. 7, 2007, with his 756th home run, the former Brave congratulated him in a taped video on the Giants’ center-field scoreboard. What grace.
There’s a contrast to be made between Aaron and Schilling, too. One man was about inclusion. The other is not. But for our purposes here, that distinction shouldn’t matter. The Hall of Fame exists to honor great baseball players. It doesn’t exist to honor players’ views. How you became a great player matters. If you cheated, if you took PEDs to get a competitive edge, you don’t deserve to be honored.
Being a raging jerk doesn’t help you hit home runs or pitch better. It makes you a pathetic human being, but it doesn’t have a thing to do with baseball greatness. Greatness being the whole point of the Hall of Fame.