Right, far right, or wrong, Schilling should be enshrined

 

It’s disappointing to see Curt Schilling losing an election for the Hall of Fame because of a war with the voters, the baseball writers. I never thought this would happen, because of the professional athletes I’ve met, Schilling would be near the top of the list of ones who were cooperative with sports reporters.

I first met Schilling when he was a moderately successful 25-year-old reliever for the Houston Astros. He was a bit chubby, and coaches questioned his work ethic. But when the organization decided to trade him, Larry Dierker told me: “I hate to see us giving up on a young pitcher who throws hard and throws strikes.”

As Schilling developed into one of the game’s greatest pitchers, I spoke with him from time to time, and he was invariably gracious. One time he searched all over the clubhouse to find a chair so I could sit while interviewing him at his locker.

But that was years ago.

Nowadays he apparently has little use for ballwriters, who continue to refuse to vote him into baseball’s Hall of Fame. “There are some of the worst human beings I’ve known who are voting,” he said to TMZ Sports. “They’re scumbags.”

I happen to disagree with him about baseball writers, of whom I’m one, but I would agree with him that he is deserving of induction.

Although it took him a few years to become focused on his craft, Schilling won 216 games in the major leagues. He was one of the all-time postseason greats: 11-2 with a 2.28 ERA, playing for two world champions and wearing a bloody sock while winning a game in the 2004 American League Championship Series.

Among the 16 pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts, Schilling and the steroid-tainted Roger Clemens are the only ones not in the Hall.

Schilling believes the reason he’s not enshrined is that he’s alienated voters by expressing right-wing political beliefs.

There’s no doubt his political rants have cost him votes. Dan Shaughnessy, columnist for the Boston Globe, said he will no longer vote for Schilling after he tweeted agreement with someone wearing a T-shirt advocating violence against journalists. The tweet, since deleted: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.”

The rules for Hall of Fame voting do state that the candidate’s character is to be considered. Shaughnessy feels a person who advocates lynching fails on the character clause.

Randy Miller, a member of the Baseball Writers of America who covered Schilling during his tenure in Philadelphia, has voted for him in the past but turned against him this year, “because he’s a scumbag.”

Scumbags aside, there have been some unsavory characters elected to baseball’s pantheon. Ty Cobb probably committed murder and was despised by almost all who knew him. Gaylord Perry treated teammates terribly – tying at least one to a chair — and admitted he threw thousands of illegal spitballs.

My attitude as a voter: unless there’s a felony conviction, I would not make a character judgment if the candidate was clearly qualified based on athletic achievement.

If he’s borderline, I consider the intangibles. Was he a good teammate? A decent human being?

I had a problem with Don Sutton. He won 324 games, but he was not very dominant. He was a good pitcher who had an exceptionally lengthy career: 23 years.

He was No. 3 starter on the Dodgers behind Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. He was rarely an ace anywhere. The ultimate baseball expert, Bill James, wrote that Drysdale was a “borderline” Hall of Famer. And given that I’ve never heard anyone say Sutton was as good as Drysdale, I hesitated to vote for Sutton.

Character became a consideration. It bothered me that Sutton did not try to finish games. He was no bloody-sock sort of guy. During the last 10 seasons of his career he never completed 10 games in any of them. Some of the Houston Astros referred to him as “Six and Skip.”

He was not well liked by some of his teammates, and he was prickly to me and other reporters, though he also could be quite charming on occasion. Had he been a nicer guy, or shown a little more grit, I would have voted for him.

Well, he made it in without my help, though not on the first try.

Every voter has his own standard. Murray Chass, long-time ballwriter of The New York Times, mailed in a blank ballot this time because none of the candidates reached his standard. He later explained that “the players fell short of what is a HOF player or used stuff.”

He was not voting for Jeff Bagwell because he admitted to using a PED, androstene. He doesn’t vote for Schilling, who pitched to age 40 but averaged just 10.8 wins per season. Not HOF, in Murray’s view.

Like Sutton, Schilling was disliked by teammates. They did not appreciate him covering his head with a towel while Mitch Williams was blowing saves in the 1993 postseason. Garrett Stephenson, a pitcher whose locker was next to Schilling’s, said he was miserable because of the latter insulting him and demeaning him in an ill-conceived method of motivation.

So should he be in the Hall of Fame? I would say yes, because he was truly a superstar, that he was better, more dominating than many who are enshrined. In 2001-2 he was a combined 55-13. He had three seasons of 20+ wins, whereas Sutton, pitching more often, had only one.

Nothing can be more subjective than a Hall of Fame vote. I look for dominance over a period of at least 10 years, but had I been voting when Sandy Koufax became eligible, I would have forgiven the fact that he had only a 6-year stretch of excellence before an arthritic elbow ended his career at 31.

I don’t see Schilling as borderline. His record surpasses that of many whose plaques hang at Cooperstown. But I can see why others oppose him. He can – and does – blame himself for that.

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