Curt Schilling and the Character Clause

When you enter college as a freshman, they sit you down in a big room and show you pictures of happy under-21’s holding beer cans, obviously plastered. These pictures come from Facebook. “Don’t do this,” the surely well-paid counselor hosting the little pow-wow on acceptable uses of social media tells an earnest room of 18-year-olds. One day, future employers will certainly cull through all of your transgressions on Facebook and Twitter and ultimately send your job application to the bottom of the pile. That’s how it’s supposed to go, anyway.

Now, several hours shy of the grand reveal of the 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame vote, it appears something similar is happening to Curt Schilling.

After positing last year that he lost votes to John Smoltz because of his Republican views, Schilling backed up his statements with a barrage of anti-Muslim posts on Facebook, a long-winded e-mail to blogger Dan Levy in which he somehow defended his racist ramblings, all of which led to a suspension from ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Now, with Ryan Thibodaux counting public ballots, something is clearly up with Schilling’s Hall candidacy.

After receiving 39.2 percent of the vote in 2015, Schilling has been listed on roughly 60 percent of the public ballots. Mussina has been listed on approximately 57 percent. Mussina has gained 23 votes year-over-year based on ballots Thibodaux received in consecutive years. Schilling has converted only seven voters this year. Additionally, seven voters who actually voted for Schilling in 2015 have taken their vote back. No one else has lost votes at a similar clip. In that one-year span, Schilling has won zero games, struck out zero batters, has not been linked to a PED scandal, but has posted quite a few hateful things on social media.

Curt Schilling is clearly losing votes over the right-wing blather he pushed out into the ethers of the Interwebs. There is really no other way to look at it. There are no slam-dunk starting pitcher candidates on the ballot. Many people are beginning to give Roger Clemens their vote. Clemens is actually gaining voters at a faster clip than Schilling (one would presume that Clemens has not injected any performance enhancing substances over the past year, much like Schilling has not thrown a pitch). Of the first-time eligibles, only Ken Griffey is a lock to enter the closely-guarded doors of Cooperstown. There is absolutely no justification for taking Schilling’s vote away. If you take Schilling’s vote, there really is not anyone who is taking it. One year, Schilling is a slightly goofy failed video game developer, the next, he is a right-wing xenophobe. Logically, that rules him out of the Hall of Fame based on some vague character clause. No doubt, everyone yanking their vote away from Schilling is trembling over the prospect of what words might pass his lips should he actually be given the opportunity to make a Hall of Fame speech. Maybe some of the votes for Clemens are coming at Schilling’s expense. That would take quite a bit of rationalization, but it does not seem all that far fetched.

Here’s the thing about Schilling. He actually has done a lot of good things in his life. He’s been a good husband to his wife Shonda and supported her throughout her arduous battle with melanoma. They have set up a charity to help increase awareness about the dangers of excessive sun exposure. He is active in the ALS Association, and quietly raises a son with Asperger’s Syndrome. He battled cancer himself, and now advocates against the use of smokeless tobacco. All of that work is now obscured by a handful of poor moments on social media.

This, sadly, is what happens when you leave the fate of the Hall of Fame in the hands of the moralists at the BBWAA. There is no real set of criteria that defines what exactly makes for “good character.” Show me a Hall of Famer, and I’ll show you a racist, a womanizer, a drunk, or a flat-out jerk (of course, most players enshrined in Cooperstown are very fine, upstanding gentlemen, but the point remains). Schilling certainly comes off as a wack-a-doo by posting anti-Muslim memes (pronounced meem, not may-may, Bryce Harper) and responding to trolls (he was actually viewed as a hero for a short while earlier this year for blowing up some bullies who attacked his daughter on social media). None of that should change the way his on-field accomplishments are viewed. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If you’re a jerk, you don’t get in. Sorry, Dick Allen. Sorry, Jeff Kent. Talk nice to the media, enter Hall of Fame.

Schilling might be a Donald Trump supporter’s wet dream on Twitter, but none of that should take away from his chances to make the Hall of Fame. He is arguably the best postseason pitcher of his era, nearly won three Cy Young awards, recorded three 300-strikeout seasons and almost had a fourth, and displayed some of the finest pinpoint control of any strikeout artist in the history of baseball. Schilling’s career, much like Edgar Martinez‘s, took a while to get rolling, but by the time it did, he emerged as one of the most dominant pitchers of the Steroid Era, while all indications show that he did it cleanly. He is a Hall of Famer, whether or not he is obnoxious and insufferable online. You don’t have to agree with his views (in face, I hope you don’t if I’m being honest), but I think we all can agree that posting on Facebook has no bearing on the merits of Curtis Montague Schilling’s case for the Hall of Fame.

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