JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Curt Schilling

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

On the field, Curt Schilling was at his best when the spotlight shone the brightest. A top starter on four pennant winners and three World Series champions, he has a strong claim as the best postseason pitcher of his generation. Founded on pinpoint command of his mid-90s fastball and a devastating splitter, his regular season dominance enhances his case for Cooperstown. He’s one of just 16 pitchers to strike out more than 3,000 hitters, and is the owner of the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in modern major league history.

That said, Schilling never won a Cy Young award and finished with “only” 216 regular-season wins, a problem given that only three starters with fewer than 300 wins have been elected since 1992. Two of those — Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz — came in 2015, suggesting that others could follow in their wake.

Schilling was something of a late bloomer who didn’t click until his age-25 season, after he had been traded three times. He spent much of his peak pitching in the shadows of even more famous (and popular) teammates, which may have helped to explain his outspokenness. Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi nicknamed him “Red Light Curt” for his desire to be at the center of attention when the cameras were rolling. Whether expounding about politics, performance-enhancing drugs, the QuesTec pitch-tracking system, or a cornerstone of his legend, Schilling wasn’t shy about telling the world what he thought.

For better and worse, that desire eventually extended beyond the mound. Schilling used his platform to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and, after a bout of oral cancer, recorded public service announcements on the dangers of smokeless tobacco. In 1996, USA Today named him “Baseball’s Most Caring Athlete.” But in the years since his retirement, his actions and inflammatory rhetoric on social media have turned him from merely a controversial and polarizing figure to one who has continued to create problems for himself. Normally, that wouldn’t be germane to the Hall of Fame discussion, but his promotion of a tweet promoting the lynching of journalists — yes, really — during the tense 2016 presidential campaign seemed to have finally brought his momentum to a screeching halt.

Schilling climbed from 38.8% in 2013 to 52.3% in 2016, even while taking a backseat to a quintet of pitchers — Martinez, Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson — whose hardware and milestones led to first-ballot entries. Due in large part to his social media and political battles, he plummeted to 45.0% in 2017, as several previous supporters left him off their ballots even when they had space to spare, either explicitly or implicitly citing the character clause. Yet he regained most of the lost ground last year, even while maintaining his noxious public persona, and the early returns on the 2018 ballot suggest his candidacy is back on track even if he himself has gone off the rails.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Curt Schilling
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Curt Schilling 79.6 48.7 64.1
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
216-146 3,116 3.46 127
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

The son of a career Army man, Schilling was born in Anchorage, Alaska, on November 14, 1966 into a family that bounced around the U.S. before settling in Phoenix. Though he impressed scouts at a tryout camp held by the Reds after his junior year at Shadow Mountain High School, he didn’t make the varsity squad until his senior year, and went undrafted out of school. After enrolling at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona, he pitched in the Junior College World Series, was chosen by the Red Sox in the second round of the now-bygone January draft in 1986, and signed for a $20,000 bonus.

Schilling put himself on the prospect map in 1987 by leading the Class-A South Atlantic League in strikeouts at age 20, but midway through the next year, he was traded to the Orioles along with outfielder Brady Anderson in a deadline deal for pitcher Mike Boddicker. He debuted in the majors on September 7, 1988, with a seven-inning, three-run performance against the Red Sox, but he was torched in his three other starts, finishing with a 9.82 ERA. After being knocked around during a similar cup-of-coffee the following year, he stuck around Baltimore as a reliever for about half of the 1990 season, putting up a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings. Even so, he didn’t exactly impress Orioles manager Frank Robinson, his first big-league skipper, with his personal appearance. Recounted the pitcher in a 1998 Sports Illustrated profile:

“I walk in, I got the earring and half my head shaved, a blue streak dyed in it. He says, ‘Sit down,’ and then just cocks his head and stares at me for a while. Finally, he says, ‘What’s wrong with you, son?’ I just sit there and act dumb and say, ‘Huh? What do you mean?'”

Schilling lost the earring and the blue streak, but his lack of maturity persisted. Summoned from the bullpen in a September 1990 game, he admitted to not having paid attention to the opposing lineup. “The ‘Who’s Up?’ story spread through the organization until it became synonymous with his name. Million-dollar arm. Ten-cent head,” wrote Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. That winter, the Orioles sent Schilling to the Astros (along with outfielder Steve Finley and pitcher Pete Harnisch) for first baseman Glenn Davis, a deal that’s still reviled in Baltimore, less for the future stardom of those departing than for Davis’ flop with the Orioles.

Schilling was not a big hit in Houston, either. After spending the 1991 season in the bullpen, he was traded to Philadelphia for Jason Grimsley just before Opening Day the following year. Six weeks into the season, he finally got another shot to start and was outstanding, completing 10 of 26 turns with four shutouts. He finished the 1992 season 14–11 with a 2.35 ERA in 226.1 innings; his ERA and 5.9 WAR both ranked fourth in the league.

Schilling’s ERA ballooned to 4.02 (99 ERA+) in 1993 as a full-time member of the rotation, but his 186 strikeouts ranked fourth in the league. More importantly, he helped Philadelphia win its first division title in a decade. He then earned NLCS MVP honors against Atlanta with two strong, eight-inning starts in which he allowed a combined three earned runs and struck out 19, though he received a no-decision in both. Roughed up in the World Series opener against the Blue Jays, Schilling rebounded to throw a 147-pitch, five-hit shutout in Game 5 to stave off elimination, though the Jays won the Series on Joe Carter’s homer in Game 6 nonetheless.

The combination of the 1994–95 players’ strike and a trio of surgeries — for a bone spur in his elbow, torn cartilage in his left knee and, most seriously, a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff — limited Schilling to just 56 starts from 1994 to 1996, but he returned to action with improved velocity and continued to miss bats. He whiffed 182 hitters in 183.1 innings in 1996, and though he made just 26 starts overall, his eight complete games led the league. Both his 3.19 ERA (134 ERA+) and his 4.9 WAR cracked the top 10.

Despite the fact that the Phillies had suffered three straight losing seasons, including a 95-loss campaign in 1996, Schilling chose to sign a below-market, three-year, $15.45 million extension in April 1997. While the hapless team went 68–94, he went 17–11 with a 2.97 ERA (143 ERA+) in 254.1 innings and a league-leading 319 strikeouts, the highest total in the majors since Nolan Ryan‘s 341 in 1977 and the most in the NL since Sandy Koufax’s 382 in 1965. He made his first All-Star team and placed fourth both in WAR (6.3) and in the Cy Young voting, losing out to Martinez, who struck out 305 with a 1.90 ERA for the Expos.

The next year, Schilling became the first pitcher since J.R. Richard in 1978 and 1979 to notch at least 300 strikeouts in back-to-back seasons. He finished with a league-leading 300, and his 268.2 innings and 15 complete games — still the highest total since 1992 — paced the circuit as well; his 6.2 WAR again ranked fourth. The mileage soon caught up to him. Though Schilling earned All-Star honors for the third straight year in 1999 — starting the game for the NL squad, even — he made just three starts after July 23 due to shoulder inflammation, underwent off-season surgery to tighten his shoulder capsule, and didn’t make another regular-season appearance until April 30, 2000. Though not as dominant as in 1997 and 1998, he pitched reasonably well. With the Phillies en route to a 97-loss season, he agreed to waive his no-trade clause and was sent to Arizona for a four-player package on July 26. The Diamondbacks, tied for first place in the NL West at the time of the trade, ultimately fell short of a playoff spot.

With Schilling and lefty Randy Johnson forming the league’s best one-two punch, Arizona won the division in 2001. Schilling set career highs with 22 wins and 8.8 WAR and struck out 293 hitters in 256.2 innings, walking just 37 for an eye-popping 7.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He would have waltzed home with the Cy Young award had Johnson not struck out 372 and won 21 games himself en route to the third of four straight Cy wins; Schilling placed second in the vote.

More importantly, the Diamondbacks won the NL West, and Schilling built on that dominant regular season by sparkling in the playoffs. In the first two rounds against the Cardinals and the Braves, respectively, he threw three complete-game victories and struck out 30, allowing just three runs. In the World Series against a Yankees team seeking its fourth straight championship, he yielded one run in seven innings in a Game 1 win, then duplicated that performance on three days’ rest in Game 4. He was in position to get the win in that game too, until Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim allowed a game-tying, two-run homer to Tino Martinez in the ninth, then Derek Jeter’s walk-off solo shot in the 10th.

The Series wound up stretching to seven games, with Schilling again taking the ball on three days’ rest. He held the Yankees scoreless for the first six innings but departed in the eighth, trailing 2–1 after surrendering a homer to Alfonso Soriano. Johnson came out of the bullpen in relief, and Arizona rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera to win the title. Schilling shared co-MVP honors with Johnson (and soon enough, Sports Illustrated’s Sportsmen of the Year honors as well). For the postseason, he had put up a 1.12 ERA, setting records for innings (48.1 innings, surpassed by Madison Bumgarner in 2014) and strikeouts (56), and walking just six.

Schilling was nearly as outstanding in 2002, with 8.6 WAR, 23 wins, and 316 strikeouts with a 9.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the second of five times he’d lead his league in that category from 2001-06. “He’s Picasso with a machine gun,” marveled Blue Jays pitcher Dan Plesac. “The command of his fastball, to all four quadrants of the plate, [is] like no power pitcher in years.” Schilling’s WAR, wins, strikeouts, and Cy Young vote total took a back seat only to Johnson.

After a 2003 season in which he was limited to 24 starts by appendicitis and two fractured metacarpals (courtesy of a pair of comeback shots in the same game), Schilling waived his no-trade clause for a deal to the Red Sox, who were fresh off their agonizing ALCS loss to the Yankees on Aaron Boone’s walkoff homer. As part of the five-player trade, Schilling signed a three-year, $37.5 million extension with a $13 million vesting option contingent on the Red Sox winning the World Series, something that hadn’t happened since 1918 (the clause actually ran afoul of MLB’s contract rules).

Pairing with Martinez as Boston’s co-ace, the 37-year-old Schilling put up another banner season, with 21 wins, a 3.26 ERA (148 ERA+ in hitter-friendly Fenway Park), and 203 strikeouts. He earned All-Star honors for the sixth time, but a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle hampered him as the postseason came around. Following an unexceptional Division Series start against the Angels, he was chased by the Yankees after just three innings in Game 1 of the ALCS. It didn’t appear as though the injury would matter once New York built a 3–0 series lead, but when the Sox clawed their way back, Schilling took the ball for Game 6 in the Bronx.

The day before the start, doctors performed an experimental procedure — first tried on a cadaver — to secure a tendon in place using three stitches; TV shots that night routinely captured the blood in Schilling’s ankle seeping through his sock. Nevertheless, his body held together long enough for him to turn in a seven-inning, one-run performance, helping the Sox force a Game 7, which Boston won handily. He threw six innings of one-run ball against the Cardinals in Game 2 of the World Series, helping Boston to its first world championship in 86 years.

Despite off-season surgery, Schilling’s ankle continued to trouble him well into the following year. Splitting his time between the rotation and closing — something he’d done regularly only in early 1991 — he finished with an ugly 5.69 ERA in just 93.1 innings. He rebounded to throw 204 innings of 3.97 ERA (120 ERA+) ball in 2006, striking out 183 and finishing with a stellar 6.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but the Red Sox missed the playoffs. Following a strong start in 2007, his season unraveled after he fell one out shy of no-hitting the A’s on June 7; he lost six weeks to shoulder inflammation. Schilling struggled before mustering some semblance of his old form in the postseason: He threw seven shutout innings in the Division Series clincher against the Angels, rebounded from an ALCS Game 2 pounding by the Indians to yield two runs over seven innings in Game 6 and wobbled through 5.1 innings in Game 2 of the World Series against the Rockies — another sweep, as it turned out.

He never pitched a competitive game again. Schilling signed an incentive-laden one-year, $8 million deal to return to Boston in 2008, but further shoulder problems that winter led to a public battle with the team over his treatment. He didn’t undergo surgery to repair his biceps tendon and labrum until June, and couldn’t rehab in time to rejoin the team. The following spring, he announced his retirement.

Schilling finished with 216 wins, a lower total than all but 16 of the 63 starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, only three of whom (Koufax, Smoltz, and Don Drysdale) pitched in the majors during the post-1960 expansion era. The BBWAA voters have taken a long time to accept the idea that pitcher wins aren’t the ideal measure of success in a modern era where it’s understood that offensive, defensive, and bullpen support are major factors in the compilation of those precious W’s. After electing Fergie Jenkins (284 career wins and seven 20-win seasons) in 1991, it took until 2011 — when Bert Blylelven (287 wins) was elected — for another starter with fewer than 300 victories to gain entry via the writers. Given that it took the writers 14 years to elect Blyleven, that Jack Morris (254 wins) was nearly elected before falling off the ballot in 2014, and that Smoltz gained entry armed with a Cy Young award and additional credentials as a dominant closer, it’s still not clear whether a majority of voters has let go of win totals, though the early support for the late Roy Halladay (203 wins) on the 2019 ballot is a positive sign.

Schilling was the first among a wave of excellent non-300 win pitchers to hit the ballot, followed by Mike Mussina (270 wins) in 2014, and Martinez (219) and Smoltz (213) in 2015. Pitching in the highest scoring era since the 1930s, those men more than held their own against lineups much deeper than their predecessors faced, working deep into counts to rack up high strikeout totals before yielding to increasingly specialized bullpens. The shape of their accomplishments may be different than the even larger cohort of pitchers from the 1960s and ’70s who helped set that 300-or-bust standard, but they belong alongside them in Cooperstown just the same. Martinez and Smoltz went in without a fuss, which should open the door for Schilling, Mussina, Halladay, and today’s top starters, whose diminishing workloads may preclude runs at the milestone.

Even so, Schilling’s candidacy has far more than his regular season win total going for it. He was 11–2 with a 2.23 ERA in 133.1 postseason innings covering 19 starts, helping his teams to four pennants and three championships; in the World Series alone, he was 4–1 with a 2.06 ERA in seven starts totaling 48 innings. Other pitchers of his era racked up more postseason appearances and wins, but no starter from the post-1960 expansion era with at least 100 postseason innings had as low an ERA. Among post-1960 pitchers with at least 40 innings in the World Series, only Koufax (0.94) and Bob Gibson (1.89) have lower ERAs, albeit from lower-scoring eras, making Schilling’s accomplishments all the more impressive.

Turning back to the regular season: Schilling’s 3,116 strikeouts rank 15th all-time, and his 8.6 strikeout-per-nine rate ranks third among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings, behind only Johnson and Ryan, and just ahead of Roger Clemens. It’s true that Schilling pitched in an era when strikeout rates were almost continually on the rise, but he was still ahead of the curve: his trio of 300-K seasons puts him in the company of Johnson, Ryan, and Koufax as the only pitchers with more than two such seasons during the expansion era, and he finished in his league’s top five in strikeouts eight times. What’s more, he demonstrated impeccable control while doing so, leading the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio five times and placing in the top five another four times; his 4.4 ratio is the highest of any pitcher with at least 3,000 innings since 1893, when the pitching distance was first set at 60’6′.

Schilling never won a Cy Young award, but he placed second three times during the 2001-2004 span. Because he’s all over the leaderboard in key pitching categories, he scores very well by Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor metric, which gives credit for awards, league leads, postseason performance and so on; on a scale where 100 indicates “a good possibility” of making the Hall of Fame and 130 indicates “a virtual cinch,” his 171 points clear the bar by a mile.

Schilling’s ability to miss bats and prevent runs led to eight top five finishes in WAR and nine seasons of at least 5.0 WAR; among his contemporaries, only Clemens (14), Johnson (11), Maddux (11) and Mussina (10) had more of the latter, while Martinez had as many. Schilling’s 79.6 career WAR ranks 26th all-time, about six wins above the standard for Hall of Fame starters. His peak score of 48.7 WAR is 1.4 wins below the standard — a couple runs per year, spread out over seven seasons. His overall JAWS, however, is 2.3 ahead of the standard, tied for 27th all-time, ahead of five 300-game winners (Glavine, Ryan, Mickey Welch, Don Sutton, and Early Wynn) as well as 33 other enshrined starters. That’s a Hall of Fame pitcher.

After debuting with 38.8% of the vote in 2013, Schilling lost and then regained around nine points over the next two cycles before climbing to 52.3% in 2016. The 50% threshold is significant. Leaving aside those on the current ballot, only Gil Hodges received that much support from the writers and never gained entry. However, over the next two Hall of Fame election cycles, Schilling’s public persona, which may have already had an impact upon his support, began to overshadow his candidacy.

Schilling’s politics have been a significant part of his public persona going back to when he stumped for George W. Bush on Good Morning America just hours after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series — an unpopular move in a state that voted heavily for Massachusetts senator John Kerry during that year’s presidential election. But to the point that he surpassed the 50% threshold in voting, his candidacy had withstood numerous controversies and efforts to alienate voters, including but not limited to:

  • His longstanding public feuds with high-profile writers such as ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, Newsday’s Jon Heyman, and the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy.
  • The demise of his video game company, 38 Studios, which received a $75 million loan from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation to relocate from Massachusetts but went bankrupt and laid off its staff of 379 people without notice, violating federal law. The state of Rhode Island filed suit and recouped just $16.9 million in two partial settlements.
  • A fall 2015 suspension from his job as an ESPN analyst for posting a Twitter meme that compared Muslim extremists to German Nazis.
  • His January 2015 claim (later repeated) that his conservative political views were costing him votes.

That last claim was belied by back-to-back double-digit gains on the 2015 and 2016 ballots. Despite his surge, Schilling continued to run afoul of ESPN until being fired in April 2016 for “unacceptable” conduct stemming from his posting of an offensive Facebook meme about transgender bathroom laws, and publicly commenting on the 2016 presidential election. While I can understand the reticence some may have over an employer disciplining an employee over their public expression, employment in such a high-profile job doesn’t come without certain expectations and conditions, and Schilling repeatedly chose to violate conditions with offensive sentiments that obviously crossed the line and rankled ESPN viewers.

Schilling’s rhetoric grew increasingly inflammatory after his firing. On Twitter, days before the 2016 presidential election, he praised a photo showing a pro-Donald Trump t-shirt that advocated lynching; “So much awesome here,” he said of a shirt that read, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” While Schilling later claimed his comments were “sarcasm,” by that point, several BBWAA voters proclaimed that they were withdrawing their support of Schilling’s candidacy at least for 2017, citing the same character clause that many voters use to justify not voting for players connected to PED use. Wrote former BBWAA president Susan Slusser, “I’ve voted for him previously. But seems to me like advocating murder goes against character clause.” Wrote another former BBWAA president, Jose de Jesus Ortiz, “[P]roposing lynching pretty much sinks his chance on my ballot on character clause.” Wrote Shaughnessy, “[Schilling] has transitioned from a mere nuisance to an actual menace to society.” Said Heyman in a radio interview, “There is a line there to me and he crossed that line by espousing lynching.”

They weren’t the only voters who shied from Schilling. According to the @NotMrTibbs Ballot Tracker, which collects the published votes of every voter willing to share (71.0% did in 2017, either before or after the election), Schilling was dropped from the ballots of 35 voters who had supported him the previous year. While 18 returning voters and 12 out of 15 new voters added him to their ballots, presumably on the strength of his statistical credentials rather than his offensive rhetoric, he was the only one of 34 candidates to lose significant ground — 7.3 percentage points — relative to 2016. In the 2018 cycle, even as he continued to polarize the electorate, he regained most of that lost support. Via the Tracker, 25 returning voters included him where they hadn’t the previous year, but another 11 dropped him; meanwhile, nine out of 13 newcomers included him as well en route to a 51.2% share.

That happened even while Schilling worked to undermine his own candidacy. In mid-December 2017, by the time many voters had sent off their ballots, Schilling did a podcast interview with Paul Nehlen, a white supremacist Congressional candidate from Wisconsin who was dropped as a contributor from Breitbart News — a far-right website the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a “white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill” — for a string of anti-Semitic messages. The podcast, which featured Schilling endorsing and promoting Nehlen’s campaign and describing himself as “a fan,” was taken down by Breitbart soon afterwards. In June 2018, Schilling called climate change “a hoax” and used his Facebook page to promote the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory. Such views appear to have led the Red Sox to distance themselves from him. During the World Series, the team declined to invite Schilling to join ceremonial first pitch festivities that included 2004 teammates Martinez, Alan Embree, Keith Foulke, Kevin Millar, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, and Tim Wakefield. “We did not reach out to him, but it is not out of spite,” an unnamed Red Sox executive said. “It was originally just going to be Pedro and David and Wake and Millar, but we heard from a few others and they are included.” Schilling himself confirmed that he had not been invited, but said on Twitter, “No worries though.”

In all, Schilling has refused to temper his views for the benefit of his candidacy. Just before the 2016 voting results were announced, he told Boston radio station WEEI, “I’m not going to change who I am to make people think differently of me … If my mouth keeps me out of the Hall of Fame, then it’s a flawed process.” He made similar comments before the 2017 announcement, calling the voters “some of the worst human beings I’ve ever known… scumbags all across,” and adding, “I promise you if I had said ‘lynch Trump,’ I’d be getting in with about 90 percent.”

While I can’t blame anyone for thinking less of the man given his conduct and his increasingly corrosive public persona, my study of the history of the character clause for The Cooperstown Casebook leads me to conclude that it’s a mistake to connect Schilling’s words to the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” portion of the Hall’s voting instructions. His comments had no bearing on his playing career, and I don’t believe that the clause — which, for starters, was introduced by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who spent his 24-year tenure upholding the game’s color line — is worthy of increased investment by voters. What’s more, if there’s some definition of “integrity, sportsmanship and character” that can be applied in a positive manner to a commissioner — 2017 Today’s Game honoree Bud Selig — who colluded against free agents and turned a blind eye to the proliferation of PEDs, then the clause should be regarded as even flimsier and more meaningless than anyone has previously considered it. This isn’t the time to further imbue it with greater importance.

Having said that, I’m not alone in believing that Schilling’s pro-lynching tweet went beyond the pale as far as public discourse is concerned, in that it moved from his personally held beliefs (however noxious) to a condonation of violence, and his claim of “sarcasm” doesn’t wash given his failure to apologize or repudiate the post. At a time when the type of right-wing rhetoric Schilling has repeatedly trafficked in has fueled the United States’ inclusion among the most dangerous countries for professional journalists, I don’t blame any journalist for eliminating Schilling from consideration. I’m done telling anybody to hold his or her nose and vote for such a candidate just because of stats and a highlight reel. From a baseball prospective, Schilling is as qualified for the Hall of Fame as any candidate on the ballot. He ranks among the all-time greats based on his run prevention skill, his dominance in the game’s most elemental battle of balls and strikes, and his repeated ability to rise to the occasion when the on-field stakes were highest. Nonetheless, a voter is as free to ignore that conclusion as he or she is my conclusions about the baseball achievements of Clemens, Mussina, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and so on.

The early returns at the Tracker suggest that Schilling’s candidacy has regained momentum, as he’s received 76.1% from the 88 published ballots so far (four of which are anonymous); he’s picked up a net of five votes from returning voters and is 4-for-4 from first-timers. That 76.1% is likely to come down, leaving him short of election this year, but with three cycles remaining after that, he could well get to 75% before his eligibility expires. Or he could continue to sabotage his own progress. Would anything he does surprise anybody at this point?

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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Psychic... Powerless...
5 years ago

Horrible human being who, IMO, deserves induction.

CC AFCmember
5 years ago

Undoubtedly deserving w/r/t on field production. I’m cool if the electorate decides not to celebrate him, though.

There’s clearly a point at which someone could do enough bad things off the field that the game shouldn’t celebrate them. Whether that point was reached by Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe, Bonds, any number of players who promoted segregation (looking at you, cap anson’s ghost) or whether the point is only reached after something like murder is a matter of personal preference, I suppose. I’m comfortable saying schilling’s bigotry and advocacy of violence against a free press reaches the point that he deserves no celebration.

5 years ago

Agree with first part, not second. I can forgive much off-field behavior when it comes to HOF voting. But Shilling continues to keep acting against his own candidacy by the inflammatory things he says publicly.

In a similar fashion to how Pete Rose kept hurting his candidacy—of course the specifics are quite different.

I completely understand any journalist who withholds his vote for a person who thinks journalists should be lynched. Even if that was a bad joke, it’s obvious that Schilling holds a high level of contempt for the very idea of a free press.

While I’m a big believer in the first amendment, I also believe that the right to say whatever you want does come with responsibility for public persons. And that you must take the consequences for your speech when it is as inflammatory has Shilling’s has often been.

5 years ago

Being a conservative makes you “horrible”? Biased much?

He deserves to be in the HOF. He has the numbers and the fame.

5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

I didn’t think anyone would want to claim this guy as one of their own. This ain’t Nolan Ryan we’re talking about here.

5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

Schilling and others like him aren’t conservatives. Conservatives would suppport a free press as laid down in the first amendment. Conservatives would consider character when voting for our commander in chief. Conservatives would distance themselves from anti semites and Nazis, the very ideology so many Americans died to defeat a few generations ago.

Schilling and tbose like him are provocateurs, a type of troll that will say or do anything to strain the boundaries of civility and good taste, then try to walk it back by saying it was a joke, using whataboutism, or blaming those who are outraged. At the same time they have a toxic sense of self entitlement and persecution. They take no responsibility for the results of their words and actions. Every time someone thinks it’s okay to kill a journalist for reporting against their political views, Schilling deserves a tiny portion of the blame.

5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

No, being a bigot is the issue. Well not even that. Announcing his bigotry and issuing lynching threats are. Who in his right mind uses that word now? Anyone who does should listen to Billie Holidays rendition of Strange Fruit.

But he does belong in the HoF.

Antonio Bananas
5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

it’s pretty sad that conservatives are defending hatred. How is that a core part of your belief? BLM immediately condemns hateful rhetoric when people use it in their name. why don’t conservatives do the same?

This seems like more “both sides” false equivalency.

Antonio Bananas
5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

another false equivalent. why conservatives seem to generally support any conservative? he’s an extremist. BLM condemns people who say things like wanting dead cops.

is it so hard for conservatives to police hateful conservatives? or are we just at the point where hate is a core conservative principal?

Antonio Bananas
5 years ago

mistaken double post. Can we please delete this one.

Psychic... Powerless...
5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston


“Being a conservative makes you ‘horrible’? Biased much?”

You seem to be suggesting the following:
— I said Schilling is a “horrible person,” with no further explanation.
— Schilling is a conservative.
— Therefore, it’s his conservatism that makes me think he’s horrible.

Is it possible I think he’s horrible because he expressed approval for lynching journalists?

5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

Conservatives would again be more popular with the wider population if they understood that encouraging violence against our own people is dangerous and unacceptable.

I disagree with looking at Schilling’s entire body of thought/comments and concluding he is a “bad person”. However, he is outspoken and abrasive so often that it becomes more difficult to wave away something especially egregious as an error in judgment. Almost everyone has errors in judgment, and witch hunting from inside glass houses is also dangerous. Schilling knows what he is doing when he injects himself into public political discourse by this point, doesn’t he?

We are in a country where four million children experienced school lockdowns this year – talk about childhood trauma. A republican sent mail bombs to democrat leaders. A democrat targeted and shot republican leaders. A person drove a car into a counterprotest as part of a protest and killed a civilian. Anxiety rises every year and communities are dissolving from virtual living, a drug epidemic, and about twenty other hugely complicated issues. It’s popular to slam PC culture and even cry censorship. But if I’ve learned anything observing society the past few years, it’s that words and conduct really DO matter. We don’t have to agree, or even freakin’ like each other, at all, but everyone deserves to live and pursue their own private Idaho. We have a mental health crisis in the US and a straight irrational health care system that prohibits the most vulnerable from treatment. Yes, words, tone, heart all matter. It shouldn’t be in anyone’s interest for even more random civilians or public servants to be murdered.

5 years ago
Reply to  rhswanzey

“A person drove a car into a counterprotest as part of a protest and killed a civilian.”

This is a bit disengenuous.

5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

I wouldn’t label someone advocating for taxpayer funding of private video game companies a ‘conservative’, if I were you. It sort of goes against, you know, the core ideology of conservatism.

5 years ago

On Twitter, days before the 2016 presidential election, he praised a photo showing a pro-Donald Trump t-shirt that advocated lynching; “So much awesome here,” he said of a shirt that read, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”

He made similar comments before the 2017 announcement, calling the voters “some of the worst human beings I’ve ever known… scumbags all across,”


I can understand why baseball writers would be offended by Schilling’s statements and would cite the Character Clause as reason to keep him out.

In 2011 the exceptionally moral baseball writers elected their fellow colleague Bill Conlin to Cooperstown.

In 2007 Bill Conlin publicly said this: Conlin drew the ire of bloggers after quipping in an email that “the only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth: I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers.”

In 2009 Conlin was reported to the police by an Atlantic City prosecutor for child molestation of her when she was a child. She was a blood relative of Conlin. For some reason this did not make it into the mass media before 2011. I’m sure there was no special favor accorded Conlin here because “reporters” are such a special class of human being that their character is beyond repute.

However, after Conlin’s election to Cooperstown was announced not only did the 2009 report make it into the mass media but three other female relatives came forward with their own molestation stories about Uncle Bill.

Oh BTW, one of Conlin’s last appearances on Philly television was next to Michael Barkann who referred to Conlin as “Uncle Bill”. Conlin had a rubber ducky kids toy in front of him that he periodically squeezed during his TV appearance that made a squeaking duck sound.

As long as we’re talking about character clauses, HOF votes and baseball journalists we might as well get all the facts out on the table.

5 years ago

This would be a better point if the article were suggesting that Schilling’s behavior means that no players should be elected to the hall of fame. Or are you suggesting that guilt by association and baseless accusations are totally kosher?

5 years ago

Just a nit but Conlin wasn’t elected to the HOF.

From Wikipedia; “Winners are not considered to be members of the Hall. They are not “inducted” or “enshrined”, but are permanently recognized in an exhibit at the Hall’s library.”

5 years ago

A classic example of whataboutism.

Pepper Martin
5 years ago

I think it’s safe to say that there are plenty of people who were bad people and who are in the Hall of Fame. That’s not inconsistent with saying that Curt Schilling should not get in to the Hall of Fame because he’s a bad person.

You don’t have to be as good a closer as Mariano Rivera to make it to the Hall of Fame. There are less-good relievers who are still Hall of Fame worthy. And you don’t have to be as bad of a person as Marty Bergen to be kept out of the Hall of Fame* for your character. There are less-bad people than Marty Bergen who are still kept out of the Hall of Fame because of their character.

Schilling’s pretty bad. Curt Schilling is not someone that you would allow into your home. Curt Schilling is not someone who you would allow your kids to speak to long enough to get an autograph from him. I think that if you’ve got somebody who’s a bad enough person that you wouldn’t let your kids speak to him, that person should probably not be in the Hall of Fame.

* – If you’re unfamiliar, Marty Bergen was a catcher who murdered his two children and wife with an ax before beheading himself. He received four total votes for the Hall of Fame between 1937 and 1939 — Jesse Burkett considered him to be the greatest catcher of all time.

5 years ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

From the brief research I’ve done on the subject, it sounds like Bergen was suffering from really serious mental illness at the time he murdered his family. Paranoid hallucinations his wife was trying to poison him, walking backwards so assassins couldn’t shoot him in the back, having a knife fight with an invisible man during a game.

What he did was horrible, but it is difficult for me to assign it to his character or blame someone who is apparently that mentally ill.

Then again, I am not a doctor, and maybe he was faking, I don’t know. But on those facts…

formerly matt w
5 years ago

This character is using his screen name to praise neo-Nazis. There’s no ambiguity about it; weev and Andrew Anglin are full-on Nazis, one with a swastika tattoo and one who’s told his supporters he wants to kill all Jews (he doesn’t call us Jews).

5 years ago

“For some reason this did not make it into the mass media before 2011. ”

It didn’t make it into any media before that. Everyone knew Bill Conlin was an ass; we didn’t know he was a child molester. Since you clearly didn’t follow this in real time, your after-the -fact excuse-making is way off target here.