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D-backs on the Ballot, #3: Curt Schilling

Will the Schill inch closer to Cooperstown?

Curt Schilling waits in dugout Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
  • Years active: 1988-2007
  • Stats: 569 games, 3261.0 IP, 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 80.7 bWAR
  • Years as a Diamondback: 2000-2003
  • Stats as a Diamondback: 108 games, 781.2 IP, 58-28, 3.14 ERA, 26.0 bWAR

Curt Schilling is on the ballot for his sixth time, having got 45.0% of votes last time. So far, he has comfortably been able to stay on the ballot, but has also fallen well short of the 75% necessary to achieve election to Cooperstown. Here’s how his numbers have changed since his first appearance on the form in 2013:

  • 2013: 38.8%
  • 2014: 29.2%
  • 2015: 39.2%
  • 2016: 52.3%
  • 2017: 45.0%

That’s quite some variation. For instance, that’s at least 63 writers between 2014 and 2016 who decided he was worthy of going into the Hall of Fame after all, and 31 more who went the other way in the year from 2016-17, and did not mark him on their ballot last time. However, early suggestions indicate there may be an uptick for Schilling. At the time of writing (January 11), the Hall of Fame Tracker, which monitors people who reveal their ballot, has Schilling listed on 66.3% of forms disclosed. That compares to 50.3% for Schilling in 2017’s election, so if the trend is maintained across all ballots, could see Curt surpass his previous high.

Schilling’s previous numbers have been hurt by his tendency to court controversy with his non-baseball statements. That may have particularly dampened enthusiasm for him last year, during the heat of the presidential election campaign in November, when Schilling posted (then quickly deleted) a Tweet expressing approval for a T-shirt with the words, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Given the constituents voting are largely current or former journalists, this may have not been the best way of Curt winning minds and influencing people. [Though these days, sadly, any political statement potentially risks offending one half or other of the population.]

There’s some indication he has been forgiven, after a 2017 relatively free of further controversy. For example, BBWAA member Kirby Arnold said last year, “I was prepared to vote for Curt again this year but changed my mind after his Twitter comment.” The tracker indicates Schilling is back on Arnold’s ballot again this year, as well as Jon Heyman’s for similar reasons, and it appears those who have added Schilling this year, significantly outnumber those who removed him. [These re-adders include Mike Shalin, who proclaimed last year he wouldn’t vote for Curt because the player’s collection of WW2 memorabilia included Nazi items. Not sure what happened there.]

All of which has significantly over-shadowed Schilling’s on-field merits, and those are considerable. His 80.7 bWAR, for example, is rather more than the 74.0 posted by Tom Glavine, who had a career of similar length at around the same time as Schilling. Glavine went in to Cooperstown on the first ballot, with 91.9% of the vote. And that WAR doesn’t even include Schilling’s post-season record, winning three World Series rings with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Overall, he went 11-2 across 19 playoff starts with a 2.23 ERA, and only four pitchers in baseball history have more post-season wins than Schilling.

He may have been overshadowed at his peak. While Curt was second in the Cy Young three times, two saw a unanimous #1 choice ahead of him (Randy Johnson in 2002, Johan Santana in 2004), and Schilling received only two first-place Cy Young votes in his entire career. His golden opportunity to break through might have been 2003, when Johnson managed only 114 innings. But Schilling was injured too, missing six weeks in June and July with a broken hand after hit by a Sean Burroughs line drive, and wasn’t helped by the D-backs going into rebuild mode. Despite an excellent 2.95 ERA, Schilling only went 8-9, and the Cy Young that year ended up going to Eric Gagne.

But, just as with Orlando Hudson yesterday, I’m not going to go into Schilling’s time with the Diamondbacks in detail - we’ll cover that when we get to his slot in our All-Time Top 50. From early in his career, a couple of interesting notes. In January 1991, he was traded from the Orioles to the Astros - also in that trade was Steve Finley, whom he’d play alongside on the Diamondbacks. Schilling was also initially a reliever. From his debut in September 1988 through early 1992, he had started just five games, and was only moved to the Phillies rotation that year after a slew of injuries helped leave them with just one of their Opening Day five still pitching by mid-May.

He was a three-time All-Star there, from 1997-99, but the Phillies rebuild led to the trade which brought him to Arizona. There, he formed one of the most fearsome pitching 1-2’s in baseball history in 2001-02. Another rebuild eventually saw him on the move again, and the legend only grew in Boston, as he helped end the Curse of the Bambino, complete with a bloody sock. His last major-league start came in September 2007, although he didn’t officially announce his retirement until March of 2009. Since then, there have been more downs than ups, including both cancer (likely a result of chewing tobacco) and bankruptcy.

Can’t help thinking, it’s weird how the roles of Schilling and Johnson have reversed since retirement. The Big Unit is now the laid-back one, not the angry guy. So will Schilling ever get into the Hall of Fame? That probably depends on whether or not he lets his baseball deeds do the talking for him. But Curt may simply not be bothered, preferring to exercise his right to free speech over having the ability to give a speech at Cooperstown. I mean, I’m not sure he even wants to be in the club, considering he reportedly said last year, “There are some of the worst human beings I’ve ever known voting. There are scumbags.” We’ll see how things develop over the years.