If baseball’s Sabremetricians could come up with a way to quantify character, Curt Schilling’s would be a negative number.
I bring this up today as I contemplate my Hall of Fame ballot for 2017, a task that over the years has gotten to be less a pleasure than a chore.
As if trying to determine whose numbers are real and whose were inflated by artificial (read: chemical) and therefore illegal means weren’t difficult enough, the Hall has further complicated matters this year by voting in Bud Selig, a co-conspirator with Donald Fehr and Gene Orza in allowing the steroid era to occur in the first place. (See my column on this from last Monday).
Plus, the vitriol directed at voters from the fans and sometimes, from the players, makes what should be a yearly event a baseball writer looks forward to one many of us have come to dread. The “privilege” of voting for the Hall of Fame has become among the most thankless tasks a ball writer can perform.
I thought I had reached my breaking point a couple of years ago when, while covering a Yankees road game in a Midwest city, a pitcher who had recently been voted into the Hall of Fame — he was a borderline candidate at best but I voted for him, I must admit, under pressure from some colleagues — came upon the Yankees beat crew waiting for the elevator down to the post-game clubhouse.
This borderline Hall of Famer looked at the group of people, many of whom had voted for him, and turned to a companion. “Look at all the sheep,” he said, derisively. Then he began making ridiculous bleating noises. I couldn’t decide whether to belt him in the mouth or refer him to a psychiatrist. All I know is in that moment, I was profoundly sorry I voted for him and his slightly-better-than average stats.
But a guy’s personality is not supposed to be the criteria for voting, his performance is. However, voters are human beings and sometimes it is difficult to separate the man from the player.
That is where the question of Curt Schilling’s candidacy comes up for me this year. I have voted for Schilling in the past, based on his superior career WAR (80.7, higher than that of Tom Glavine, Don Sutton, Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, and yes, even Sandy Koufax) and his outstanding post-season numbers.
His personal views have often troubled and at times offended me — he is an unabashed collector of Nazi memorabilia — but I have kept that out of my thought process.
Until, that is, about a month ago, when he retweeted a photo of a man wearing a T-shirt advocating the lynching of journalists, with the comment, “OK, so much awesome here . . .”
Beyond the offensiveness of any reference to lynching, which is profoundly racist in itself, is the threat to the men and women in my profession. That is something I take personally and if Curt Schilling really wants to “lynch” journalists, he can start with me, in a boxing ring with 10-ounce gloves on. That will put an end to his sick little fantasy.
But once again, it points up the difficulty and thanklessness of the task of voting for the Hall of Fame in the first place.
Already, baseball has made it impossible for many of us to vote for its all-time home run leader, a 350-game winner (Roger Clemens), a 600-plus home run hitter (Sammy Sosa) and a three-time MVP (Alex Rodriguez) based on the very understandable belief that steroid use violates the Hall’s “character, integrity and sportsmanship” requirement for induction.
And the Hall’s Today’s Game Era Committee further muddied the waters by enshrining Selig, who was either willfully ignorant of the steroid plague in his game, or complicit in it.
Now comes Dan Shaughnessy, the highly-respected Boston Globe columnist, invoking the character, integrity and sportsmanship clause in regards to Schilling’s apparent advocacy of violence against journalists. (Yes, I know he later “apologized,” but please.)
“Count me out on Curt Schilling,” Shaughnessy wrote two weeks ago. “I have held my nose and voted for the Big Blowhard in recent years (11-2 in postseason, ridiculous walk/strikeout ratio), and he was up to 52.3 percent (75 percent required) last year, but I shall invoke the “character” clause this year. Schill has transitioned from a mere nuisance to an actual menace to society. His tweet supporting the lynching of journalists was the last straw for this voter. Curt later claimed he was joking. Swell.”
That seems like sound reasoning to me. And yet, Schilling has the numbers earn him a plaque. What to do?
The same question applies to the steroid guys, and to the guys who might’ve done steroids, and to the guys who chose not to do steroids and as a result fell a little bit shy of what is generally considered to be Hall of Fame performance.
And even that is open to debate nowadays. Is batting average still important, or is it OPS? Do we give credit for 300 wins, or place more weight on ERA+, FIP and xFIP? Is WAR the be-all and end-all?
It seems no matter who you vote for or what criteria you use, someone will ridicule you for being an ignoramus, or worse. And the players you do vote for seem as likely to ridicule you — or call for your murder — as they are to express their gratitude.
Which brings me to this year’s ballot. I can’t bring myself to vote for a player who advocates — or at least thinks “funny” — a call to violence against me or any of my brethren.
And I can no longer bring myself not to vote for proven cheaters when the person who was supposed to be policing them will soon have a plaque in Cooperstown.
So it seems as if there’s only one solution: I’m giving up my “privilege” of voting for the Hall of Fame.
The Hall, of course, will go on quite nicely without my vote.
And I will be able to sleep soundly without the headache of having to face an “honor” that these days feels more like a curse.
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