Curt Schilling’s political views and sometimes controversial comments seemingly have rubbed baseball Hall of Fame voters the wrong way since he retired after the 2007 season.
But, Schilling’s conservative stance didn’t stop the former Red Sox righthander from taking a sizable leap in his bid to be enshrined as one of the game’s all-time greats in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Schilling, in his seventh year on the ballot, received a career-high 60.9 percent of the 425 votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday, up from 51.2 percent last year. He jumped ahead of Roger Clemens (59.5 percent).
A player needs to receive 75 percent of the vote to be inducted.
Schilling, who spent his 20-year career with the Orioles, Astros, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Red Sox, declined comment, but wrote in a text, “focus on the four guys who got in.”
Former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first player unanimously elected to top the Class of 2019, joined by Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, and Mike Mussina.
Schilling told Fox News that he believes his conservative views have cost him votes.
“Well, the two words come up — the character clause,” Schilling said in an interview with Mark Levin on Sunday on the Fox News show “Life, Liberty & Levin.” “And there’s a couple of issues with that. First of all, I’m putting — I’m now — I’ve seen recently, I’ve been put in the [Roger] Clemens and [Barry] Bonds category. You know, character issues this and that, which kills me because Roger Clemens was such a big influence on my career, but I don’t doubt for a second that I — he cheated.”
While some voters may have omitted Schilling based on his politics, many others (including yours truly), decided that politics and/or social commentary do not matter. That’s the way I have felt. As a journalist, I certainly didn’t like Schilling’s post on Twitter in November 2016 of a man at a Donald Trump rally wearing a T-shirt that read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Added Schilling, “OK, so much awesome here . . . ’’
I covered Schilling when he pitched for the Red Sox (2004-07, helping them to a pair of World Series championships) and if he felt that way about the media then, it was hard to detect because he was usually available when called upon. There were a few bumpy moments, but when you’re outspoken there are always going to be awkward times.
So I throw that stuff out the window when I’m filling out my ballot.
With three World Series rings and an 11-2 record in 19 postseason starts, I’ve always said he was one of a handful of pitchers I’d want on the mound if I had a big game to win. When you add his 216-146 regular-season record, that’s enough for me to check his name on the ballot.
Conspiracy theorists who think the now-famous bloody sock in the 2004 ALCS was a hoax are misinformed. It was, in fact, one of the most courageous acts in sport I have ever seen. I use “sport” because courage for me is usually defined as someone acting in a life-threatening or life-saving situation. I guess you could say he saved the Red Sox.
So Schilling enjoyed one of the biggest gains on Tuesday and may end up getting a boost from Mussina, the 270-game winner for the Orioles and Yankees who squeaked in with 76.7 percent of the vote in his sixth year on the ballot.
Two players who have to be disappointed are Clemens and Bonds. While some early polling of voters had them around 70 percent, the end result was quite different. Both players gained slightly — Clemens from 57.3 to 59.5 percent, and Bonds from 56.4 to 59.1. It was a bad day for both.
Like Schilling, Clemens and Bonds have just three years of eligibility remaining. It appears 2022 (Year 10) could be razor close for both players. As new voters replace BBWAA members who lose their votes after being out of covering baseball for 10 years, the duo may get in. After Derek Jeter comes up next year, there are no obvious choices for the Hall through 2021.
It was sad to see slugging first baseman Fred McGriff get just 39.8 percent in his final year of eligibility. With 493 home runs and 1,550 RBIs, McGriff will be a strong candidate for a Veterans Committee election soon and join 2018 Veterans inductees Alan Trammell and Jack Morris.
It was a nice moment for Martinez, who was elected in his final season of eligibility with 85.4 percent of the vote, the same as Halladay. Without question, advanced stats helped Martinez’s candidacy because his career totals of a .312 average with 309 homers and 1,261 RBIs are short of some of the great sluggers who are in the Hall.
I’ve voted for Mussina since he became eligible in 2014. I always respected that he pitched his entire career in the tough AL East. Mussina became a 20-game winner for the first time in his career in 2008 at age 39, his last year with the Yankees.
Halladay, a two-time Cy Young Award winner and one of only two pitchers to throw a postseason no-hitter, won 203 games and over a 10-year stretch (2002-11) was perhaps the most dominant pitcher in baseball. Tragically, Halladay died at age 40 in an airplane crash in the Gulf of Mexico in November 2017.
In the future, we likely will see a spike in the vote totals for outfielder Larry Walker, who got a huge boost (34.1 to 54.6 percent). Shortstop Omar Vizquel’s totals keep going up — from 37 percent to 42.8 percent. But it’s amazing that Jeff Kent and Gary Sheffield remain stagnant. And Manny Ramirez is holding at 22.8 percent. If it weren’t for steroid allegations, he would be a slam dunk.
Last, but not least, Rivera became the first player unanimously elected. Jeter, his former Yankees teammate, could duplicate the feat next year. But it's amazing that Andy Pettitte, with 256 regular-season wins and a record 19 postseason wins, only managed 9.9 percent of the vote.
Rivera’s career was unmatched. He was dominant with one pitch — a cut fastball — that the righthander threw very naturally. Everybody knew what was coming, but nobody could hit it.
I guess that’s why he was the first unanimous Hall of Famer.