Curt Schilling and the Baseball Hall of Fame: What’s the Issue?

Some people say the former Major League pitcher hasn't been inducted because of the 'character clause' — while others cry foul

Every winter, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) — a group of veteran sports journalists — has serious influence over the course of Major League Baseball history. The group votes and decides which players make it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame (and which don’t).

Writers are allowed to vote for as many as 10 players — and if a player receives votes from 75 percent of the group, then that person will be inducted into the Hall of Fame the following summer.

It’s a simple concept. Journalists are supposed to be impartial, and their job is to cover baseball games — so they should have the proper judgment to make the picks.

For the most part, the concept has worked well for the past 78 years. But then there’s Curt Schilling.

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Schilling has become well-known nationally ever since his baseball career ended because of his outspoken political beliefs. Today he’s an internet radio host for Breitbart News — a position he took after ESPN fired him in April 2016.

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The announcement of his firing came after he shared a meme on Facebook. In it, he expressed concern about the prospect of men potentially abusing transgender bathroom and sexual identity laws to gain entry into women’s restrooms and engage in sexual assault. Schilling was also suspended by ESPN in August 2015 for sharing a meme that compared the threat of Islamic extremism to that of Nazi Germany.

In the past, baseball writers have targeted Schilling for his conservative beliefs. Some even wrote about why they did not vote for him — including Wallace Matthews of the blog NY Sports Day, Boston Globe provocateur Dan Shaughnessy, and NJ.com’s Randy Miller, among others.

It’s worth noting here: The Ringer, a website run by former ESPN employee Bill Simmons, published a piece asserting that sports writing has become an occupation dominated by liberals.

Schilling has publicly supported every GOP presidential candidate since George W. Bush. Even before he was suspended or fired by ESPN, he did not receive the proper amount of votes for a player of his caliber, in this writer’s opinion. He achieved just 38.8 percent of the vote on his first ballot (2013), and while that crept up to 52.3 percent in 2016 — the voting took place in November and December 2015 — it fell back down to 45 percent this year. Schilling, of course, endorsed Donald Trump (on his blog, back in May 2016), was hired by Breitbart (in October 2016), and considered a U.S. Senate run.

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Schilling’s numbers from his MLB career are Hall of Fame-worthy. He is one of only 16 players to strike out over 3,000 batters over the course of his major league pitching career — yet one of only two on the list who is not in the Hall of Fame. The other player is Roger Clemens — who used performance-enhancing drugs in his career.

In the postseason, Schilling was an ace. The three-time World Series champ went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 career playoff starts. His plus-4.092 WPA (Win Probability Added) rating in the playoffs is the best for a starting pitcher in MLB history, as Sporting News has pointed out.

Often cited as a reason Schilling’s not in the Hall of Fame is the “character clause.” That’s a guideline for the journalists who cast votes every year. The rule reads: “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.”

This clause apparently applies to Schilling for his politically incorrect comments over the years that have gotten him in hot water —  such as when he jokingly referred on Twitter to a T-shirt message suggesting that lynching media members was “awesome.”

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Consider, though, the character he exemplified throughout his pro baseball career. In 2001, Schilling won the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team,” according to the official MLB website. During his career, Schilling also ran the charity “Curt’s Pitch for ALS,” and according to the group’s website, it has raised and/or donated over $9 million to ALS research.

This year, Schilling was also actively involved with hurricane relief in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico through Operation Bullpen, an organization of about 20 people. He went down to the sites of the natural disasters to make sure folks got the supplies they needed. The organization reportedly sent over 1.5 million pounds of food and supplies to the relief effort.

Using the character clause as the reason Schilling’s not in the Hall of Fame seems an obvious shot at his politics. The Hall of Fame is also littered with the plaques of players, coaches and executives who weren’t exactly of spotless character — including those who contributed to the league’s segregation of nonwhite players.

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Cap Anson is a Hall of Famer, yet he refused to play baseball against African-American players, according to the Society for Baseball Research. The New York Times has speculated that Hall of Fame ballplayers Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker may have been Ku Klux Klan members. The league also found a Hall of Fame spot for longtime commissioner (1920 to 1944) Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who oversaw the segregated league, along with owners Charles Comiskey and Tom Yawkey, who refused to sign nonwhite players.

During his career, Schilling also ran the charity “Curt’s Pitch for ALS,” and according to the group’s website, it has raised and/or donated over $9 million to ALS research.

Comiskey, who owned the Chicago White Sox from 1901 to 1931, never signed a player of color — while Yawkey’s Boston Red Sox was the last team to integrate (1959).

Domestic abuser Bobby Cox, anti-Semite Leo Durocher, drug smuggler Orlando Cepeda, and tax evader Duke Snider all have plaques in their names installed in Cooperstown. They were exempt, apparently, from the “character clause.”

One might argue times were different, standards were different, situations were different. But given that they hold a sliver of power over how the game of baseball is remembered, the sports writers who vote for the Hall of Fame candidates appear to be punishing someone with whom they disagree politically in order to prove a point.

Tom Joyce
meet the author

Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.

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