We should all thank Ryan Thibodeaux (@notmrtibbs), repeatedly, for the service he provides to the baseball community through his Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker. Not only does he keep track of every ballot made public, he compares this year’s votes to 2015’s, letting us evaluate the prospects of each person on the ballot not only based on raw numbers, but trajectories. It’s great. With 59 ballots tracked as of Monday morning, we can already narrow the possibilities for 2016. One thing that is eminently clear: Curt Schilling is not getting in the Hall of Fame this year, and probably not ever.
Net gained votes @ 59 ballots:— Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) December 19, 2016
Schilling - 5
The core of any argument in favor of Curt Schilling being a Hall of Famer is captured here, or here, or here. By whatever method of calculating pitcher value you prefer, his career was one of the very best of all time, and undoubtedly one of the best of the modern era. It included decades of regular season dominance, several high-profile playoff appearances (including the famous “Bloody Sock” game of 2004), and leading his teams to three World Series rings. Curt Schilling was one of the greatest pitchers ever, and to some people, that’s where the debate starts and ends. They say his recent turn toward racism, transphobia, advocating violence, and, generally, making a colossal ass of himself shouldn’t impact his Hall of Fame chances.
Perhaps that used to be true. In the pre-internet age, the Hall of Fame served much less as a way of honoring players, and much more as a way of remembering them. History has never been limited only to the pleasant, and it should not be. Future generations should know about Schilling: his dominance, and his unpleasant character. It certainly wouldn’t make him unique in the Hall, which already includes plenty of racists, cheaters, and degenerates. Those players all share one thing in common with one another, and with Schilling: they were really good at baseball.
But that’s not the function the Hall serves in baseball today. At one point, the BBWAA voting probably served a real role, in communicating to the masses of baseball fans who the all-time greats of the game are in the opinion of those few persons who had seen enough baseball to be able to say. Today, anybody can do what I did at the beginning of this article: meander to the Play Index, and look at who the best players are in any one of a vast number of categories.
Similarly, while the Hall of Fame itself still serves a historical role, and includes many delightful and educational exhibits, it’s no longer the only source of that information. As sites like the SABR Bio Project have fulfilled that aspect of the Hall, it’s decreased in importance, and the other, formerly secondary, roles of the Hall have moved up the list.
That’s how we got to the current situation, where the primary role played by Hall of Fame membership, to an overwhelming degree, is that of a personal honor bestowed on a deserving player. Induction weekend in Cooperstown is a blast, not least because it’s a time for fans of each inductee to flock to upstate New York, hear them speak, and celebrate them for the outstanding player and, often, representative of the game that they are. The history of that player and their time in the game is important as well, albeit of secondary importance, as is their status as one of the best of all time. That information is available elsewhere, but the kind of focused recognition and acclamation that comes with induction to the Hall is not.
If you accept that as the Hall of Fame’s function in baseball as it exists today, the question of Schilling’s induction becomes a lot more obvious. Yes, he was one of the very best pitchers in baseball in his time; he is also not the kind of player that baseball should be celebrating and enshrining. It’s not unreasonable to hold baseball players to a higher standard than we hold most people, and it’s particularly not-unreasonable to hold those players who are about to receive baseball’s highest honor to a higher standard. It’s not as if Schilling is a marginal case on a lower standard, either; the best you can say about his recent conduct is that it wasn’t criminal.
So no, Curt Schilling doesn’t need to be in the Hall of Fame, even though he probably wouldn’t be the worst person enshrined. The Hall is about more than just historical greatness, if that’s what it ever was about, and Schilling doesn’t deserve the enormous honor that induction into the Hall entails.