For the ninth consecutive year, Curt Schilling appeared on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, and for the ninth consecutive year, Curt Schilling did not make the Hall of Fame. A few years ago, it seemed like a fait accompli that Schilling would eventually make it to Cooperstown immortality—by Wins Above Replacement, Schilling is the 26th greatest pitcher in baseball history, one spot below Bob Gibson, and he enjoys a legacy as one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time.
But unfortunately for Schilling, he has been crippled by a devastating addiction to posting. While Schilling would certainly claim himself to be a victim of Cancel Culture©, persecuted for his political beliefs, a similar ideological standing did not seem to hurt Mariano Rivera, the only unanimous Hall of Famer in history, who like Schilling had a reputation as one of his era’s most dominant pitchers but who unlike Schilling, hasn’t been suspended from jobs in baseball media for sharing memes about murdering journalists and comparing Muslims to Nazis and whatnot.
I’ve stated before and I will state again that if I had a Hall of Fame ballot, I would vote for Schilling, just as I would vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who have been accused of crimes far more heinous than posting. I wouldn’t vote for Todd Helton, who was jailed in 2020 over a DUI, nor Omar Vizquel, who has been accused of domestic violence, but I was already excluding them for not being, I believe, Hall of Fame-caliber players (though I will concede Helton is relatively close). I don’t know where to draw the line, so I’m choosing to not. Maybe that’s not right; I think that’s a subjective thing. Cap Anson aggressively worked to exclude black players from the sport and Tris Speaker was in the Ku Klux Klan, so it’s not as though the Hall of Fame has ever really been an impeccable place.
But Curt Schilling evidently doesn’t want to be in the Hall of Fame, at least in the way he theoretically could have been voted in yesterday, at least if his strong You Can’t Fire Me I Quit energy is to be believed. He stated that he doesn’t want to be on the ballot for a tenth time and that he would rather be enshrined by the Veterans Committee, who he claimed had real credibility on the matter. Because nothing says credibility on the Hall of Fame like the body that inducted Tommy McCarthy, a player less valuable by WAR than Kolten Wong or Dexter Fowler.
While I would have voted for Schilling, despite my complete lack of sadness he didn’t make it in to the Hall of Fame, I think the Hall of Fame should abide by his
bluff wishes and exclude him from next year’s ballot. Schilling risks derailing the entire discourse around Bonds/Clemens (jerks, to be sure, but guys who at least seemingly want to be in the Hall of Fame), Alex Rodriguez (who I always assumed wouldn’t make the Hall of Fame, on steroid grounds, but an absolutely worthy candidate who has done a good job of rehabilitating his image through his media work), and David Ortiz (whose steroid accusations have haunted him considerably less than pretty much any of his similarly accused peers). I don’t think groveling to voters should be considered an asset in Hall of Fame cases, but perhaps outright scorn can be punished, insofar as giving somebody the thing they asked to receive is punishment.
Curt Schilling kept getting chances and he kept digging his hole a little deeper. What I want is to replace him with somebody who deserves a second chance—not necessarily a guy who will make it, but somebody who should get a look. Here are five guys who merit consideration for the Schilling spot.
Jim Edmonds—An obvious pick for St. Louis Cardinals fans, I have always been a bit less sold on Edmonds than most. But he certainly deserves another look. By FanGraphs WAR, he is the 14th greatest center fielder of all-time, and only one ahead of him (Reggie Smith, an honorable mention for this list) is eligible and not enshrined. Edmonds sits ahead of Duke Snider, who made it on his eleventh ballot. Edmonds was overshadowed in his prime by flashier players, but he ended his career with nearly 400 home runs, a higher wRC+ than Ken Griffey Jr., and a shelf full of Gold Glove awards. The obvious parallel is his contemporary Andruw Jones, an even better fielder with a lesser bat but overall similar production. I would personally defer to Jones, by virtue of having the superior top skill, but Jones received the benefit of 5+ years of career relitigation, while Edmonds dropped off after one year and 2.5% of the vote on one of the most loaded ballots in history.
Bobby Grich/Lou Whitaker—According to FanGraphs WAR, Grich and Whitaker are the eighth and ninth best second basemen of all-time. The duo fortified second base in the 1970s into the 1980s in the American League, and while neither had as astonishing of a peak as, say, the National League’s Joe Morgan, the two were consistently terrific both at the plate and with the glove. And yet the two barely combined for over 5% in their lone years on the ballot—Grich received 2.6% in 1992 and Whitaker received 2.9% in 2001. If I had to choose one, I’d probably go with Lou Whitaker, as he had a pivotal role on a World Series-winning team, which is a thing I consider with borderline Hall cases, but that’s really just splitting hairs. Both of these guys deserved more attention in a world in which Roberto Alomar, a worse player statistically, sailed in with 90% of the vote on his second ballot.
Pete Rose—Arguments that Pete Rose, an overrated but certainly Hall of Fame-worthy player, shouldn’t make it into the Hall of Fame are well-taken. He committed the sport’s great sin by gambling on baseball and then spent another decade and a half duping gullible fans by lying about it. But unlike Curt Schilling, the man he would be replacing, Pete Rose clearly wants to be in the Hall of Fame. I do think there’s a difference between MLB reinstating Pete Rose, a thing I outright do not want them to do, and letting him on the Hall of Fame ballot. And an underrated subplot—I don’t think Pete Rose would get in. He’s been so obnoxious over the last thirty-two years and burned so many bridges that I don’t think he gets into the same Hall of Fame that has quite liberally excluded players whose primary sin is being annoying. So everybody wins—Pete Rose stans get to see his name on a ballot, and Pete Rose haters get to dunk on that dork yet again.
Johan Santana—When it comes to the Hall of Fame, I’m a peak over longevity guy. If a guy reaches 60 career WAR because he is a 3 WAR, merely above-average, player for twenty years, I’ll tip my cap to his career, but a guy who puts up even 50 WAR in a shorter period of time catches my eye considerably more. And Johan Santana is barely Hall of Fame eligible—he only played in twelve seasons, two of which were partial and one of which was a last-ditch effort characterized by a 2012 no-hitter against the Cardinals and an otherwise pretty lousy season. But in his prime with the Minnesota Twins in the mid-aughts, Johan Santana was astonishing. He won the Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006 and he probably should have won it in 2005, as well. He was the 21st century equivalent to Sandy Koufax and actually wound up with more career WAR than the Dodgers legend. 2.4% of the vote in a 2018 climate that already has produced seven Hall of Famers doesn’t give Santana his proper due.