The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2021 inductees (or lack thereof) this past Tuesday, and for the first time since 1960 no one was elected by the writers or the veterans committee. That’s 60 years! And implies that the candidates were either weak or borderline. Most of the scuttlebutt centered around pitcher Curt Schilling, who got more votes than any other candidate but still not the requisite 75% for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
I remembered of course that Schilling was part of the most dramatic comeback in baseball history, leading the Red Sox over the Yankees in 2004 after falling behind three games to none, becoming the only team in MLB to accomplish that feat. The Red Sox went on to “reverse the curse,” winning the World Series for the first time since 1918 (before they traded that Ruth fellow to the Yankees). I also recalled that Schilling won two other World Series, one with the Phillies and one with the Diamondbacks. But I didn’t know how his individual stats compared to other hall of famers. Curiosity piqued, I decided to look it up.
The first stat I checked was strike outs, a measure of pitching dominance. It turns out Schilling is in the elite 3K Club, as one of only 18 pitchers in baseball history with 3,000 or more strike outs. With the exception of Roger Clemens, who, like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire is tainted by his steroid usage, every other pitcher on that list is in the Hall of Fame. Now even more curious, I expanded my list to the top 20 strike out leaders in baseball history who are eligible for the Hall of Fame. (Active players are ineligible, so I excluded CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander from the list.)
Schilling checks in at #15 on that list, and besides the aforementioned Clemens, every player on that list except Mickey Lolich is in the Hall. Well, I thought, perhaps Schilling was wild on the mound, issuing lots of free passes to go along with all the Ks. So, I looked at the strike out to walk ratio. Lo and behold, among the top 20 strike out leaders of all time, Schilling ranks #1 in K/BB ratio. Schilling’s ratio of 4.38 strike outs per every 1 walk is far and away the best. The only other pitcher north of 4 is Pedro Martinez at 4.15. And Schilling’s K/BB ratio is more than twice as good as strike out king Nolan Ryan’s 2.04.
In fact, Schilling is one of only four pitchers in baseball history with greater than 3,000 strike outs and fewer than 1,000 walks. The others are Greg Maddox, Ferguson Jenkins, and Pedro Martinez, all in the HOF. By the way, #20 on the Hall eligible strike out leader list is a guy you may have heard of, fella by the name of Cy Young. Young has 313 fewer strike outs than Schilling and his K/BB ratio is a full two points worse than Schilling’s. (And for good measure, Schilling’s WHIP – walks and hits per inning pitched – is the seventh best on this list, ahead of Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Bob Gibson to name a few.)
Based on the numbers, Schilling should be a lock for the Hall. Perhaps, though, he was a bad teammate, a prima donna, a cancer in the locker room. But my recollection of Schilling was as a warrior who would go to battle for his teammates. He certainly did that in 2004, playing through a ruptured membrane around his right ankle tendon that doctors had to suture into place to enable him to pitch. Schilling went on to win Game Six of the ALCS, blood oozing through his sock, and Game Two of the World Series.
What I didn’t know was that in 2001, when Schilling was co-MVP of the World Series while with the Diamondbacks, he also was the recipient of both the Roberto Clemente Award and the Branch Rickey Award. The former is given annually to the player who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” The latter was given annually to an individual in Major League Baseball in recognition of “exceptional community service.” In Schilling’s case, he received the award for his fundraising and outreach efforts on behalf of ALS victims. The guy doesn’t exactly sound like a cancer to me.
So what gives? Did Schilling cheat by throwing illegal pitches? No, that was Perry, Gaylord, MLB HOF, class of 1981. Did he batter and ultimately murder his wife? No, that was Simpson, O.J., NFL HOF, class of 1985. Did he shill for a ruthless dictator? No, that was Rodman, Dennis, NBA HOF, class of 2011.
Schilling’s crime was apparently much worse. He, he, I can barely bring myself to say it, he expressed his opinion. Gasp! After his playing days were over. In a manner the thought police don’t approve of. Oh, the horror!
Whether one agrees or disagrees with anything Schilling has said is completely beside the point. The more important point is the message that what one says is more important than what one does. The Baseball Writers Association of America has apparently bought into this nonsense. In fairness to the BBWAA, roughly 70% of those voting did cast a ballot for Schilling. But those who didn’t need to take a long hard look at the stats and then a long hard look in the mirror and decide if they can think for themselves or will just let the mob think for them.
And those of us who don’t vote for Halls of Fame need to consider what it would be like if something we say one day negates everything good we’ve done in the past.
Kelley Williams, Jr. is a Northsider.