Schilling and Shilling
This is the latest of a series of Baseball Hall of Fame-related posts leading up to the big announcement of the new inductees on Jan. 25. Thanks, as always, for your readership and support.
I don’t suppose there really is much left for me to say about Curt Schilling. As I’ve written many, many times, I think he was a truly great pitcher, one of the greatest pitchers ever. And as a Hall of Fame candidate, well, he’s torpedoed his chances by trolling and saying and spreading a bunch of dumb and controversial and hateful things and then saying he was being persecuted for being a conservative and then asking to be removed as a Hall of Fame candidate, which a number of voters were more than happy to do.*
*There are 152 ballots that have been made public by Ryan Thibodaux … and so far, 20 people who voted for Schilling last year pulled his name from their ballots this year. At the same time, two people have added Schilling to their ballots this year, which is interesting, and only five of 12 new voters voted for Schilling. He is not officially eliminated, but like those experts love to say on election night, there are not nearly enough votes left in Palm Beach County to get him into the Hall of Fame.
So, no, Schilling won’t get into the Hall of Fame his last time on the writers ballot, which means it will be up to a veterans committee of former players, managers and executives to decide if he belongs in Cooperstown.
Schilling seems to believe that next committee will vote him in and when they do it will be infinitely more meaningful than being voted in by the know-nothing writers. I can’t argue with that.
And maybe they will vote him in. I don’t know how that will play out.
We’ll have to wait five years on all that. In the meantime, Schilling has made me think again about something that is, yes, self-serving and seemingly unrelated: The incredible reaction to The Baseball 100. I cannot tell you how many times over the last few months people have asked me why the book has done so well — it was probably the No. 1-selling sports book of 2021. I’ve talked about the reasons why that success is kind of ridiculous*.
*Baseball books have not done as well lately, it is almost 900 pages long, it is expensive, it was not available in bookstores or on Amazon at various times because of supply chain issues, it did not get a lot of major media coverage, etc.
So why did it happen? There are probably many reasons, some that I’m too humblebraggy to mention, but Schilling offers another clue to why, I think, The Baseball 100 has resonated with so many people.
It is entirely and utterly about baseball.
And Hall of Fame voting, alas, is not at all.
We like to have fun here at Joe Blogs. Baseball. Football. Tennis. Chess. Family. Basketball. Music. Infomercials. Movies. Olympics. Hockey. Nonsense. Magic. In short, it’s an adventure. I hope you’ll come along.
As you might know, Schilling is in the Baseball 100 — he’s No. 88 on the list. In the essay, I try my very best to tell a full story of Schilling, who is a man of deep and baffling contradictions. He has dedicated so much of his life to charity. He is, by all accounts, a devoted father and husband. I’ve seen his kindness up close. And as for the rest, well, the “Personal Life” section of his Wikipedia page is almost 3,000 words long, with subheads like “Conflicts with players” and “Conflicts with management” and “Conflicts with the media” — “conflicts” is a pretty big word with Schilling.
But the larger point is he’s in the book because I truly believe he’s one of 100 greatest players in the history of baseball. That’s what the book is: The 100 greatest players in the history of baseball in my view. Barry Bonds is in there. Roger Clemens is in there. Pete Rose is in there. Rogers Hornsby is in there. Alex Rodriguez is in there. Ty Cobb is in there. Gaylord Perry is in there.
And, honestly, I never even considered leaving them out because for me, the sort of people they were off the field, the drugs they may have taken, the rules they may have broken, the cheating they may have done, well, all of that is part of their story. And all of that is part of baseball’s story.
I don’t think anyone will be surprised to know that baseball’s best players are not always baseball’s best people, that baseball’s best players do not always play the game fairly, that baseball’s best players sometimes have opinions that will offend a large number of people, etc. Because that’s humanity too.
That’s easy to talk about when writing a book — in fact, it’s vital to talk about when writing a book because you want to tell the whole story of the game, the great, the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. The fact that Hornsby, as just one example, was a real SOB doesn’t make his place in baseball history any less meaningful or important or interesting. In some ways, it makes his place in baseball history even more interesting.
But the Hall of Fame plaque room … well, that has become something else entirely. It’s less about history and more about being an “honor.” It’s the closest thing a baseball player can get to knighthood or sainthood.
Maybe it was always intended to be something like that. From the start of the Hall, almost nobody voted for Shoeless Joe Jackson. To be exact, two people voted for Shoeless Joe in 1936, the first year of balloting, and he received two votes when the baseball writers were nominating players for the 1946 ballot.
And that’s it. As far as I know, there was no rule preventing people from voting for Shoeless Joe, it was just a near-unanimous consensus that he didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame after taking money from gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series.
But, it should be said, that other than Shoeless Joe, “character” — whatever that word is supposed to mean — did not seem to play a particularly important role in Hall of Fame voting. Every now and again, a player with superlative character like Lou Gehrig or Roberto Clemente was given a special exemption and voted in early. But with few exceptions, discussions revolved around baseball. Few writers seemed to think that Ty Cobb or Rogers Hornsby were admirable people. But they were incredible ballplayers. And there was no consideration at all to keep them out of the Hall of Fame. Cobb got the most votes in the very first Hall of Fame election — more than more honorable men like Walter Johnson or Christy Mathewson.
And in ’42, with World War II raging and on a ballot that had 44 people who would eventually be elected to the Hall, the voters elected Hornsby … this, even though baseball’s commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was opposed because of Hornsby’s well-known gambling addiction to betting on horse racing.
John Lardner’s famous words after Hornsby was elected: “The baseball writers seemingly have no regard whatever for the state of the Rajah’s soul. They voted him to the Hall of Fame anyway, for the simple but slightly unavoidable reason that he was the best-right-handed hitter that most of them ever saw.”
Think about that: Lardner wrote those words EIGHTY YEARS AGO.
The more things change …
I’d say something did break in 1992, when the Baseball Hall of Fame pulled Pete Rose from the ballot. That was unexpected — even Bart Giamatti, when announcing Rose’s permanent ban, said that Rose would be on the Hall of Fame ballot. But with Rose banned from baseball, the Hall of Fame did not want to deal with the possibility of him getting elected to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think he would have been elected; but we can’t be sure. He did receive 10% of the vote purely as a write-in candidate.
But those votes didn’t really count. Rose’s removal was a clear sign that the Hall of Fame was willing to step in to keep certain less-commendable players from getting a plaque.
And then, of course, the PED-era players started coming on the ballot, and Joe Morgan weighed in on official HOF stationary — basically demanding that writers not vote for PED users.
“We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame,” Morgan wrote on behalf of “many Hall of Famers.” “They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.”
And now, well, here we are: The Hall of Fame vote seems to be about everything BUT baseball. It’s like we’ve entirely lost the plot. On Tuesday, Boston’s Dan Shaughnessy made waves by, for the second year in a row. voting only for Jeff Kent. Without specifically trying to break down Dan’s mindset (?), I think it’s fair to say that when you look at this ballot of players and decide, for whatever hodgepodge of reasons, that the only player worthy of election is Jeff Kent, you are no longer voting for the best players and no longer voting for the people who best represent the game.*
You are just voting for … well, I’m not sure? Someone who maybe didn’t use steroids, once lied after getting hurt doing motorcycle stunts on the highway, mostly had the good sense to keep some of his more controversial opinions to himself* and wasn’t nearly as good as Scott Rolen?
*David Grann, in The New York Times Magazine, reported that Kent, back in 2002, while standing in front of his locker surrounded by a group of reporters, began to take off his towel and first asked if any of them were “queers.” Grann pointed out that nobody reported this; he was trying to show that there was a different standard for Kent** than there was for Barry Bonds, who undoubtedly would have been savaged for saying anything like that. But beyond the double standard, teammates would say that the statement was pretty consistent with Kent’s general behavior and feelings about LGBTQ people; he would later donate money and campaign against same-sex marriage in California.
**This double standard is something that several people who were around the Giants a lot couldn’t help but notice. The key difference was race, certainly, but it also didn’t hurt that Kent spoke to reporters while Bonds, often, did not. “They are both, on balance, talented, churlish jerks a lot of the time,” Salon’s Joan Walsh wrote about Kent and Bonds. “One key difference being that Kent always cultivated the media.”
Anyway, none of it has much to do with baseball. And that’s sad. Talking about steroids and domestic abuse and HGH and gambling and rule-breaking and cheating and bad behavior … you may find it important, but it’s hardly a party. And, it feels like maybe we forgot that the Hall of Fame is supposed to celebrate baseball.
Tom Tango pointed this out: Since 2013 — the year Bonds, Clemens and Schilling came on the ballot — the Hockey Hall of Fame has inducted 34 players, the vast majority in their first or second year of eligibility, six of them women. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a different animal, but since 2013, 81 people have been elected, including players, coaches and executives.
And the BBWAA has elected just 22 players (some of them suspected steroid users) while not electing the all-time home run leader, perhaps the greatest pitcher ever, the two players who basically revived baseball with their incredible 1998 home run chase, perhaps the greatest postseason pitcher ever, two of the greatest right-handed hitters ever and a first baseman with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, and now you can probably add one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history to the no-fly zone.
I’m not saying this is right or wrong — people will always argue (and it’s a fair argument) that it is this sort of persnickety voting that makes the Baseball Hall of Fame the most exclusive and best Hall of Fame.
But I am saying that it’s a lot less fun.
I mentioned shilling up top … I’m sure most of you have already gotten your copy of The Baseball 100 and, if you were in on the book early, you might have gotten a book that was signed and inscribed with whatever inscription you wanted.
Well, hey, let’s do that again. As I’ve written here already, Michael Schur’s new book, How to be Perfect is coming out in a couple of weeks, and if you preorder the book from our good friends at Rainy Day Books, he will sign it and inscribe it with anything you want. I’m going to have him sign mine saying, “You won every single PosCast draft we’ve had.”
Anyway, since Mike will be in Kansas City, we thought it would be cool to do a PosCast at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. More details on that to follow, but in the meantime, since I’m already going to be at Rainy Day Books … yeah, I’ll sign some more copies of The Baseball 100. And, yeah, I’ll inscribe it with anything you like.
Hey, Opening Day is coming up (maybe)! Mother’s Day! Father’s Day! Birthdays!
One more fun bonus: If you order BOTH books, you will be eligible for a super, special surprise gift. I don’t know how many super special surprise gifts Rainy Day has to give out but I do know what it is. And it’s pretty great.