Bill Madden: Sorry, Curt Schilling (and Barry Bonds), but what the Hall of Fame really needs this year is a shutout

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Bill Madden, New York Daily News
·5 min read
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NEW YORK — Tuesday, the Hall of Fame will announce the results of the 2021 election and in the name of Hank Aaron, I’d really like to see the Baseball Writers Association hurl a shutout.

To say the least, it was not a particularly appealing ballot given the fact that, based on last year’s voting, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were the leading candidates. This was never more evident than the tweets and comments by some of my fellow voting BBWAA brethren still having trouble coming to grips with the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” clause and how it should be applied to the steroids cheats — Bonds and Clemens — and Schilling’s inflammatory remarks in support of the Jan. 6 rioters and anarchists at the U.S. Capitol.

In particular, there was Ken Rosenthal, the respected baseball columnist for The Athletic who only in the last couple of years brought himself to start voting for Bonds and Clemens but now apparently is having second thoughts about them again. “Never have I been more uncomfortable voting for the Hall of Fame,” Rosenthal tweeted on Jan. 5, adding: “Right now I’m considering everything, including whether I still want to continue voting for the Hall of Fame.”

In addition, there was a report — which I’m told was unequivocally false — that a number of writers reached out to the Hall of Fame asking that their votes for Schilling be rescinded in the aftermath of this tweet of his regarding the Capitol riots: “You cowards sat on your hands, did nothing while liberal trash looted, rioted and burned for air Jordan’s and big screens. Sit back and shut up and watch folks start a confrontation for (expletive) that matters like rights, democracy and the end of government corruption.” I’m sure there were indeed some writers who took offense to those remarks and regretted voting for Schilling. So it will be of great consolation for them if he falls short again and has to be consigned to next year’s “ballot from hell” that will include Bonds and Clemens in their last year of eligibility and “Big Papi” David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez in their first year.

For my part, I have never voted for Bonds, Clemens or any of the other steroids cheats for one reason: I believe the Hall of Fame founders put the nebulous “integrity, sportsmanship, character” clause in our voting instructions for a reason. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, if you want me to vote for Bonds and Clemens strictly on their statistics — as roughly 60% of the electorate has been doing every year — then take out the clause. I suspect that’s what voters like Rosenthal would probably like to ease their consciences, even though they know deep down it didn’t take a positive test to determine Bonds cheated his butt off to set the all-time home run record of 762.

And the death of Aaron on Friday only further illustrated why a vote for Bonds was a slap in the face to one of the all-time class acts in baseball — because it served to rekindle all the stories of the vile hate mail, death threats and verbal abuse Hank endured during the course of his lonely chase of Babe Ruth’s longstanding record of 714 homers. I’ve often wondered if so many of the younger Hall of Fame voters who weren’t around — as I was — and witnessed first-hand what Aaron went through, would still vote for Bonds. Never was any record in baseball harder to break considering the circumstances. I could only imagine — he would never say — how Aaron felt when he watched his record being broken by a cheater. Instead, he made a video congratulating Bonds — which they played on the outfield scoreboard in San Francisco the night Bonds eclipsed Hank’s all-time mark of 755 — and never once said anything to disparage Bonds or his ill-gotten record.

As for Schilling, who came the closest to election last year with 70% and is seemingly on the doorstep, I have always voted for him because his postseason record — 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 120 strikeouts, only 25 walks in 133 1/3 innings in 19 starts — is off the charts and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, he did it cleanly. This year, however, I decided to withhold my vote for him, but it had nothing to do with his extremist, inflammatory remarks about the Capitol riot — I’d already sent my ballot in a couple of weeks before. Nor did it have anything to do with the “integrity/character” clause. Schilling’s entitled to his free speech — even his “Rope…Tree…Journalist” tweet suggesting baseball writers were deserving of hanging.

I just felt, after what we all have been through this year, we need a rest from annoying, divisive blowhards like Schilling. The Hall of Fame induction has always been a welcome respite from all the ills of the game and of the world; where people gather to honor the greats of the game and celebrate baseball. I just want Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and Ted Simmons to have their day in the sun — and the otherwise solemn occasion after the deaths of Aaron and all the other great Hall of Famers — free of politics and the kind of self-serving rhetoric that has nothing to do with the game.