The fallout of the Capitol insurrection on January 6th that left five dead, numerous Baseball Hall of Fame voters have asked to amend their ballots after controversial QAnon supporter Curt Schilling supported the insurrection.
Schilling has been a lightning rod during his entire tenure on the Hall of Fame ballot for his alt-right conservative views, including posting a picture to his Twitter account of someone wearing a tee-shirt that read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required” with Schilling added the comment, “OK, so much awesome here…” That didn’t exactly endear himself to the writers who would be voting for him.
But it has been his increase in vitriol around the 2020 election, and his unfettered stream supporting the unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud that has made Schilling a unique case for the voters. That has culminated in a series of videos and posts to his Twitter account regarding the Jan. 6th event at the Capitol:
For the voters, the issues run deeper than player statistics. The criteria by which Hall of Fame voters gauge a player reaches beyond the numbers into the subjectivity of a player’s character.
The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) election rules provide just 23 words by which to make their selections by:
“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.”
It is the elements of “integrity” and “character” that many writers have been struggling with. There are certainly players in the HOF that call into question such subjective terms. There are adulterers, drunks, users of drugs, and cheaters of one form or another enshrined in Cooperstown.
Schilling, however, presents a case of extremism that has only been discussed with players from an era in the distant past where racism was completely out in the open, especially in the south. How today’s voters would assess the likes of Cap Anson or Ty Cobb – both notable racists – would certainly be different than today.
As Matt Speigel, MLB columnist on 670 AM in Chicago and a contributor to Marquee Sports Network notes, should the Hall of Fame allow for such action by the writers, it would create dilemmas for future candidates.
The larger issue is the gyrations that the writers are going through in weighting that vague voting rule. Are voters to be subjective about character when the player was active, or after their playing career has ended? How much about the player’s character should be considered compared to his contributions on the field?
One of baseball’s greatest postseason pitchers (over five of them and 12 series he posted a 0.968 WHIP, 2.23 ERA, and a .846 win record) Schilling’s 20-year career was shining with six All-Star Game appearances (1997-99, 2001-02, and 2004), runner-up to the American League Cy Young Award three times (2001-02, 2004), as well as co-MVP of the 2001 World Series. So, it’s not like Schilling isn’t Hall of Fame-caliber as a player.
As to his personality when he played, it’s a mixed bag. In 1999 then Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ed Wade blasted Schilling for how he conducted himself on a national conference call with the media in which he demanded more money or be traded.
“Curt has a right to express his opinions,” Wade said at the time. “But that’s all they are. Much of what Curt says is irresponsible and his comments often are not based upon facts.”
“Every fifth day, Curt has the opportunity to go out and be a horse on the mound. Unfortunately, on the other four days, he tends to say things which are detrimental to the club and clearly self-serving.”
At the same time, he won the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award in 2004.
As a BBWAA member in my sixth year and one that will have the privilege of being able to vote for the Hall of Fame starting in 2025, I won’t have to deal with the issues surrounding Schilling. As of publication, odds are high that no one on the ballot receives the requisite 75% to reach induction when results are announced on Tuesday. Schilling will have one more year on the ballot for the writers before he drops off. From there, the Veterans Committee would have to decide how to consider him. But, I can say that myself and other writers that are active Hall of Fame voters are weighing what granting inclusion into the Hall of Fame would mean for an extremist. In doing so, you elevate the platform for the likes of a Curt Schilling to spread their views. They also can command more money for speaking engagements. Schilling was already on the edge before the events of January 6th. Still, pulling votes back at this point would create controversy not only now for Hall of Fame voters, but almost certainly in the future. While the BBWAA has created the voting criteria, the ability to allow ballots to be changed rests on the leadership at the HOF. Whether they would allow such action would be opening Pandora’s box.