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Baseball Hall of Fame voters have had their morality tested in recent years. The same writers who wrote lovingly about the home-run surge in the ‘90s now have to grapple with the idea of voting suspected steroid users — like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — into the Hall of Fame. Or, in Manny Ramirez’s case, voters have to decide whether multiple positive tests should keep out one of the best hitters of his era.
But of all those players, none deserves more scrutiny than Curt Schilling. On a ballot filled with suspected and confirmed steroid users, Schilling is the most controversial player up for induction.
The baseball case for Schilling’s induction is easy. Over 20 seasons, Schilling was one of the most accomplished pitchers in baseball. He was a six-time All-Star, three-time World Series winner and arguably the best postseason pitcher of his era. By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, Schilling did enough on the field to warrant a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Despite all that, Schilling is the least deserving of the candidates to be seriously considered for the honor. The 53-year-old has spent the last few years rapidly disqualifying himself from the conversation by spreading hateful speech and dangerous rhetoric.
And yet, Schilling still finds himself trending in the right direction. As of Friday, Schilling has appeared on 79 percent of 2020 ballots, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s fantastic Baseball Hall of Fame ballot tracker. While Schilling’s percentage will decline once private ballots get released, this is the best chance Schilling has at being inducted into the Hall.
His induction would be an egregious mistake. A vote for Schilling is confirmation that none of the abhorrent language he’s pushed since his retirement matters. Schilling isn’t held accountable for spreading hate speech or dangerous views. Instead, he gets rewarded with the largest possible platform and the most prestigious title in baseball. It’s a slap in the face to the marginalized groups Schilling has targeted over the past couple years. It tells those communities baseball doesn’t care about them, and turns those fans away from the game. A vote for Schilling confirms that baseball will not only accept, but reward horrible, hateful people.
While Schilling had been outspoken about his political beliefs during his playing career, he began to veer in a far more extreme direction once he retired and started working for ESPN. Schilling was suspended by the network in August 2015 after tweeting out a graphic that compared Muslims to Nazis. He was fired by ESPN in April 2016 after sharing a transphobic meme on his Facebook page. Schilling had been warned by ESPN multiple times that his conduct on social media violated the network’s policy.
Months later, Schilling shared another tweet in which he applauded a shirt advocating for journalists to be hung. The following year, Schilling — then working for Breitbart — interviewed congressional candidate and white nationalist Paul Nehlen. Schilling agreed with and endorsed some of Nehlen’s opinions during the interview, which Breitbart quickly deleted in an effort to distance itself from Nehlen.
For a brief moment, it looked as though Schilling’s comments would doom him. Months after Schilling endorsed the journalist’s tweet, he lost support in his quest for the Hall of Fame. Schilling received 45 percent of the vote in 2017, a sign that there would be consequences for his words.
That was short-lived. Schilling saw his voting percentage rise to 51.2 percent in 2018 and 60.8 percent in 2019. Those increases came after Schilling’s podcast with Nehlen. The Hall of Fame voters were willing to punish Schilling when they felt slighted, but managed to look the away when others were attacked. Even more voters have taken that approach this time around.
Those who continue to cast votes for Schilling justify that vote in a couple ways. They argue that men with histories of questionable off-the-field behavior are already in the Hall of Fame, ignoring the fact that they don’t have to keep that trend alive. They argue that they can’t punish players for what they did off the field despite invoking the character clause to keep out suspected steroid users. But when more serious issues come into play, voters suddenly forget they can invoke the character clause. You only see voters use it when discussing Bonds’ alleged steroid use, not his multiple domestic-violence accusations. The character clause only gets used when voters find it convenient.
The voters who use those justifications to support Schilling are only doing so to rationalize a bad decision. If they can find a loophole that allows them to conveniently ignore all the awful things Schilling has said, they don’t have to grapple with the consequences of making him a Hall of Famer.
That line of thinking is, of course, deeply flawed. Voters cannot simply put Schilling in the Hall of Fame and then ignore everything that happens once he’s there. Getting into the Hall of Fame is the highest honor a baseball player can achieve. Upon induction, that player is celebrated by thousands, gives an inspirational speech about his life and is forever immortalized in Cooperstown. It tells fans Schilling is a player deserving of adoration.
On the off chance Schilling doesn’t make it this year, he’s set up to eventually receive the honor. Players approaching the final years of eligibility usually gain votes in a last-ditch effort to get them in before they fall off the ballot. Schilling is in his eighth year of eligibility. Candidates remain on the ballot for 10 years before they lose eligibility.
Schilling doesn’t deserve that push. It would ignore all the vitriol and hate he’s pushed the past couple years. It taints the Hall of Fame, making it a worse, less inclusive place.
Voters can continue to rationalize their vote by telling themselves nothing Schilling has done away from the field matters, but they know that’s not true. The hatred Schilling has spread matters more than anything he ever accomplished on a baseball field.
Every vote that pushes Schilling close to induction is complicit in both normalizing and rewarding his reprehensible behavior.
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