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Curt Schilling Will Reap What He Sows, But Does He Deserve It?

Other than the hot stove, and maybe the CBA negotiations if that’s your thing, there’s really nothing going on in the baseball world. Well, except for Hall of Fame voting. I highly recommend following Ryan Thibodaux around this time (and sticking around all year), because his Hall of Fame vote tracker is the best way to follow the votes flooding in.

There are always interesting things to glean from these ballots. First among them is how voters respond to players suspected or suspended for performance enhancing drugs, and it’s nice to see, at least from this side of the fence, that voters have become more lenient with the supposed “character clause” over time.

Now: about that character clause. The character clause is in the BBWAA Election Rules, where it states: “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.” In theory, the Hall of Fame is about how a player went about playing the game, on and off the field. The problem with this, of course, is conjecture. It becomes particularly problematic as it relates to PEDs because a lot of this is based on assumptions, like the Murray Chass rumor that Mike Piazza had done steroids because he had back acne. Piazza made it in regardless, but it establishes a dangerous precedent: disallowing deserving players because of perceived wrongs.

This brings me back to this year’s voting. In particular, I want to focus on Curt Schilling. Schilling is at a peculiar crossroads as it relates to the character clause. Schilling is one of the most qualified pitchers on the ballot in recent years, even more so than someone like Tom Glavine, and I believe he eclipses Glavine easily in terms of raw performance. He also has the postseason heroics; between the 2001 World Series and the 2004 ALCS, he has tossed sparklers in arguably two of the greatest postseason series of all time.

But, his votes don’t reflect that. He slumped to 29.4% of votes in 2014, then to 39.2% in 2015, and then to 52.3% last year. At that rate, it’s very possible he misses the Hall entirely, or doesn’t make it until his final year. The reasons for his struggles are obvious.

He was suspended from his ESPN broadcasting job after comparing the rate of Muslim extremism in the Muslim community to the rate of Nazism in World War II Germany; he was then fired for a transphobic meme he posted on his Facebook page; he then received even more heat when he replied “so much awesome here” to a meme that said, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”

Schilling is probably fine with this controversy. He spun his freewheeling opinions into a show on Breitbart, which he probably finds much more comfortable than having to combat the mainstream media from within. He may even run for office.

I won’t mince words here. I, personally, think what Schilling says is absolutely abhorrent, and I’m glad no network like ESPN employs someone who actively alienates part of their audience. This list of indiscretions doesn’t even include the time he took money from Rhode Island for a horrible video game investment, or his earlier conflicts with media figures like Gary Thorne and Pedro Gomez.

This is where that old character clause gets tricky. If the BBWAA is going to exclude players who have taken performance enhancing drugs, then should Schilling be excluded for his years of ill intent? My feeling is no, but with a caveat.

As I said, I don’t like Curt Schilling. But if we’re going to start drawing lines in the sand over behavior that is non-criminal in nature, how far does that go? That could be seen as a slippery slope fallacy, but I’m serious. If we start to deem that people’s opinions, as horrible as they are, warrant someone to be ousted from the Hall, then that day could come where we feel like it ends up erasing players from baseball history, for things that posterity may view completely differently. I mean, look at the horrible, horrible people that reside in the Hall of Fame.

Steven Goldman put it well back in 2013:

“There is no escaping that truth either in life or in building your Hall of Fame, be it one of priests or presidents, authors or arsonists, baseball players or baseball players. Scrutinize any of them too closely, or, Heaven forfend, count their back hairs, and the whole thing falls apart. The Bible tells us you can’t find even 10 good men in Sodom. There is wisdom in that; stop looking for what you can’t see and can’t know, because chances are it’s there. Accept it and move on.”

The only difference between Schilling and many of the players admitted in the past is that Schilling has a Facebook and Twitter account where he likes to spout his opinions, but I’m sure we wouldn’t be too happy with, say, a pre-integration player posting their opinions on race.

But that doesn’t mean we forget. Part of remembrance is providing context and nuance, and I think Schilling deserves. It’s possible to believe that he’s one of the most significant players of his era, and also one of the most controversial of his era. History isn’t about manicuring the past, but understanding it. We should understand that Schilling is a bona fide Hall of Famer, and he’s also a terrible person. He isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last.

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Matt Provenzano is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where he studied Information Science and Law and Society. He has been a Staff Writer at SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley since 2013, and a baseball fan since 2002.

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