Monday, February 1, 2021
On Curt Schilling Wanting Off the HOF Ballot
The Hall of Fame pitching a shutout in this round of Baseball Writers Association of America voting wasn't really that big a surprise. Curt Schilling's post-results tantrum after he fell short by a measly sixteen votes was, somewhat. What to make, then, of Schilling's demand that the BBWAA remove him from its ballot for what would be his final bid for Hall of Fame election by them?
The bad news, for those who've come to consider him poisonous entirely by way of about 95 percent or more of his infamous tweets, is that neither the BBWAA nor the Hall of Fame can just send him off the ballot with a single finger snap. Yet. The BBWAA's ballot rules enjoin against it, and the Hall of Fame may be likely to reject it on those very grounds, no matter what Schilling has asked of the Hall in that regard.
But perhaps the BBWAA should find a way to amend its rule and grant Schilling his request. Maybe the best thing would be for a future Eras Committee to contend with his candidacy. If Schilling thinks his "peers" would be more likely to elect him, someone might remind the former right-hander that one of his own general managers (Ed Wade, Phillies) once called him "a horse every fifth day and a horse's ass the other four."
Schilling's rant included referencing his own having won a few humanitarian awards during his pitching career, but there have also been references over the years to his not quite having been the most popular or respected man in his clubhouses, too. When he teamed with Hall of Famer Randy Johnson on the 2001 World Series-winning Diamondbacks, a member of the organization told baseball writer Joe Posnanski, "[W]ith Johnson, teammates hated him on the day he pitched, loved him the other four days. And with Schilling, teammates loved him on the day he pitched, hated him the other four days."
I'm not a member of the BBWAA. I don't have an official Hall of Fame vote. I am a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, however, and every year we, too, conduct votes symbolically for our own Hall of Fame. Sometimes, we've elected people before the BBWAA. We pitched a shutout this time around, too.
Back in November I wrote about my own IBWAA ballot choices and what the thinking was behind it. My choices did include Schilling. (For the record, I also voted yes on Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner.) In the passage I wrote on behalf of that vote, I concluded, "I don't have to love or respect Schilling as a person to respect what he did on the mound. When you take your children to Cooperstown, and you see Schilling's plaque, just tell them he isn't the first and won't be the last to be a Hall of Famer at the ballpark and a Hall of Shamer away from it."
Immediately preceding that, I cited Jay Jaffe's essay on Schilling in The Cooperstown Casebook: "I wouldn't invite Schilling into my own home, and I wouldn't encourage anyone to view him as a role model, but in my view nothing in his career leaves a doubt that he belongs in Cooperstown. He ranks among the all-time greats via his run prevention skill, his dominance in the game's most elemental battle of balls and strikes, and his repeated ability to rise to the occasion when the on-field stakes were highest."
Jaffe has since changed his mind, and not just because he knows that those who think denying Schilling his Cooperstown plaque comes purely from his support for Donald Trump aren't thinking. Mariano Rivera made no secret of his own support for Trump before his own unanimous election to the Hall, but neither is The Mariano on record as supporting among other Schilling positions the lynching of journalists.
"[A]s a first-time [Hall of Fame] voter," Jaffe wrote after Tuesday's Hall shutout, "I avoided invoking the character clause ... on the grounds that the clause was conjured up by a commissioner (Judge Landis) who spent his entire 24-year term upholding the game's shameful color line. I viewed my omission of Schilling as a protest against the notion that he's owed any deference for his hateful post-career conduct; if he's ever elected, it won't be in my name. More than ever, I stand by that decision."
Writing as I am about to write is painful enough. I watched Schilling pitch over many years of his career. I saw how great he was on the mound, I saw the way he dominated batters whether pitching for also-ran teams or World Series champions. I saw the ways he lived for and triumphed in the biggest of the big games, sometimes despite his body attempting sedition. I also knew Schilling had (and has) a love of the game so deep he never forgot being awed at Frank Robinson managing him early, or getting to pick the brains of Hall of Fame pitchers, or admitting he'd watch Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez when they were teammates "because any day they pitched could be history."
I was too willing to overlook too much simply because by the record alone, the eye test and the deepest statistical look alike, Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame. He may be the greatest or at least the toughest big-game pitcher who ever took the mound. I've seen a boatload of pitchers, Hall of Famers and otherwise, who stood tall and delivered big when the biggest of the big demanded it; I've seen a boatload of pitchers, Hall of Famers, and otherwise, who didn't. (Conspiracy theorists, if you still believe the Bloody Sock Game was fraud, you can still buy my beach club in Antarctica.)
But I'm familiar, too, with the wisdom projected in 1949 by an essayist not remembered much today outside the intellectual circles of those who believe, as I do, in something not much discussed or pondered over the past decade plus: freedom. The essayist was Frank Chodorov, today unsung often enough as a bellwether of the freedom philosophy. Writing in his one-man broadsheet analysis about the leaders of the Communist Party USA brought to trial under the Smith Act, in May 1949, Chodorov demurred from such a prosecution, despite being a staunch anti-Communist himself:
"The danger, to those who hold freedom as the highest good, is not the ideas the communists espouse, but the power they aspire to. Let them rant their heads off — hat is their right, which we cannot afford to infringe — but let us keep from them the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right."
Schilling's political opinions are one thing. So is criticising journalism with which he disagrees. His approval of lynching journalists (recanted swiftly enough, but hardly forgotten), and for things that would indeed amount to depriving others of their rights or at least compromising them in broad sweeps, are something else entirely.
There are journalists who dishonour their profession and our intelligence in ways too numerous. I've had a career as a journalist in regional daily newspapers, regional daily news radio, and trade journalism. I'm too well aware that there are and have always been such journalists. They didn't begin or end with, for one grotesque example, Walter Duranty's notorious use, misuse, and abuse of his New York Times berth to propagate on behalf of one of history's bloodiest tyrannies.
There's no such thing as the perfect, fault-free journalist, whether a straight reporter, an analyst, or a commentator. The day I claim to be one now or to have been one then, just shoot me dead. But the flip side to the precept that "fake news" is news someone (usually in authority) doesn't want to hear or doesn't want known is that there has been fake news as long as there's been news at all.
If it was purely a matter of rejecting Schilling's political opinions that would be simple business. He has the same mere right to be wrong as anyone else, regardless of what today's "cancel culture" left, right, or over-under-sideways-down would argue to the contrary, regardless even of some of Schilling's own remarks that imply merely being wrong should be a punishable crime.
"To be sure," Chodorov also wrote, "our history is not free of political efforts to put limits on what people may think ... authorities [have] sought to get at ideas by inflicting punishment on those who held them ... It is to the credit of the American genius for freedom that ultimately the right to think as one wishes prevailed, even though too often some were made to suffer for it."
Hall of Fame debaters, who are legion, remind others that the Hall itself hardly lacks for honorees of dubious character or thought. Such honorees are not generally known to have called for the execution of the journalists with whom they often disagreed, sometimes appropriately, sometimes inappropriately, sometimes violently. Baseball players have never been immune to testy relations with writers who covered them. Testy relations didn't exactly equal wanting to speed the writers' deaths, either.
It's not just Hall of Famers incumbent or in waiting who've found the baseball press equal to a castor oil over the rocks. But even Jason Vargas threatening to knock a writer the [fornicate] out for daring to question then-Mets manager Mickey Callaway over a dubious non-move that cost the Mets a ball game late wasn't quite threatening to knock the writer the [fornicate] into the cemetery.
Let Schilling rant his head off, wherever he pleases, to whomever he pleases, from whichever forum allows, until or unless he violates that forum's rules flagrantly enough. That is his right, which we cannot afford to infringe, and his right to rant his head off holds hands with anyone else's concurrent right to ignore or denounce his rants. Let us just keep from him the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.
Let us also not insist that a certain group of journalists should yet confer upon him an honor for which they have the privilege of voting since he is on the record as approving their profession's dates with lynch mobs. Not even if giving him 71 percent of their Hall of Fame vote this time equals their telling him, "Thank you, sir, and may I have another."