The baseball writers have spoken and Mariano Rivera (unanimously), Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina will be immortalized in Cooperstown this summer, but not Curt Schilling. In the days and weeks leading up to Tuesday night’s Hall of Fame announcement, Red Sox hero Curt Schilling had been trending at around 70% of the vote, and the experts could not rule out a “hall call” for the big righty. According to the voting tracker, Schilling peaked at 74.2%. But historical trends tell us that as more and more votes are counted, numbers tend to level off and borderline players who appeared to be gaining momentum will actually lose a few percentage points down the stretch. This trend held true for the candidacy of Curt Schilling in his seventh year on the ballot. When all was said and done, he finished with 60.9% of the vote, a steep decline from initial indications. One theory for the misleading nature of early voting returns is that the writers who decide that they won’t be voting for the controversial candidates (Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, etc.) are choosing not to make their ballots public before the official announcement in order to avoid potential scrutiny. In other words, early numbers are skewed in favor of the likes of Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling because a swath of writers who left them off their ballot are not yet being accounted for. Once you factor them in, you get a final number that is well off the anticipated.
Regardless of the discrepancy between the tracking and real results, I find it shameful that Schilling is being casted in the same light as Bonds and Clemens, both of whom are strongly connected to PEDs. I understand that some writers cannot look past his highly-publicized political comments and otherwise questionable behavior on social media, but his vote totals reflect those of players who cheated the game. Pitching in the Steroid Era, Schilling took no part in BALCO or any other performance-enhancing drug programs. The only substance he was known to use during his career was Toradol. And as Dr. David Geier explains in a 2013 article regarding the use of the drug by Red Sox players, “Toradol is a legal anti-inflammatory medication used in health care largely for post-surgical pain in hospitals. The drug is essentially a much stronger form of similar anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. ... Toradol is simply an anti-inflammatory medication.” In a 2013 interview, Curt Schilling revealed that someone in the organization told him performance-enhancing drugs were an option for him as he tried to work his way back from a shoulder injury in 2008. According to Schilling, the conversation was overheard and reported, sparking a thorough investigation by MLB into the matter. Nothing turned up from that investigation, and the case was closed. Seeing as the closest Schilling came to PEDs was a strong anti-inflammatory and an ignored suggestion that he use something, he should be trending higher than Bonds and Clemens. It is obvious that his unkind words towards writers in the past have had a lasting impact, but when he took to Twitter on Thursday night he had nothing but kind words for the inductees. In the conversation thread that followed, Schilling even defended writers Tim Kurkijan and Jayson Stark against backlash from a disappointed fan.
Listening to the MLB Network conversations leading up to tonight’s announcement, it became very clear that there is a belief in the industry that Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling were each other’s most comparable contemporary and that if one goes in, the other should too. The numbers are very similar, with Schilling having a clear edge when it comes to postseason numbers. Yankees fans need not be reminded of his dominant performance in the 2001 World Series, pitching to a 1.69 ERA over three starts en route to co-World Series MVP honors. And the Bloody Sock Game, his career-defining moment in 2004. All of this evidence adds up to one thing: he has successfully talked his way out of the Hall of Fame, literally. While I don’t agree with the stance of leaving him out over post-career remarks, I do respect the freedom of the writers to express their displeasure in this manner. But with just three years left on the ballot, it is shaping up to be a very close call for Curt Schilling. Although he continues to trend upward, jumping nearly ten percentage points from last year to this year, the Yankee killer might need some luck to get in. Fortunately for him, the coming classes look rather short on prime candidates. Next year, Derek Jeter will probably be the only new-comer to get in. For 2021, there are legitimately no new names that I believe will get anywhere near 75%. And in 2022, Schilling’s final year on the ballot, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz join the fray. Curt Schilling has a lower career ERA than Mike Mussina and just three fewer career wins than Pedro Martinez. A 20-year career, and he remains the only 3,000 strikeout pitcher other than Clemens not in the Hall. Before it is all said and done, I believe Schilling, based on his postseason merits and more, will get the call to Cooperstown he so greatly deserves. Take a look at the numbers. The unfortunate truth is that his words have cost him dearly.