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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #25: Curt Schilling fired from ESPN

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Last year our 25th biggest story was about Curt Schilling’s adventures on social media, so it’s only appropriate we see through to the end of that saga by giving him number 25 in this year’s countdown as well.

After being suspended from his Sunday Night Baseball gig late in the 2015 season and then losing the job outright to Jessica Mendoza for 2016, it was only a matter of time before Schilling, who was in the walk year of his deal with ESPN, would be canned. The man can’t help himself, and in April he helped himself right out of a job.

The final straw came on April 19 when Schilling shared an anti-transgender meme on Facebook and followed it up with supportive comments which took a distinct, inflammatory side in the ongoing debate about access to public facilities for transgender people. He later doubled down in a combative blog post on the matter. While Schilling weighing in in the manner he did was, to many, insensitive to transgender persons. More importantly for his employment prospects, it flew in the face of ESPN’s mandate to its on-air talent to not wade into highly-charged political topics in an inflammatory manner. Schilling broke this mandate many times, of course.

Schilling and his defenders constantly defended his behavior as him simply exercising his First Amendment Rights consistent with his personal beliefs. But ESPN is not the government and does not have to observe the First Amendment with respect to its employees. Like anyone else with a job, when his personal beliefs came into direct contradiction of his employer’s values and in violation of its warnings to him to cease making controversial public comments, his firing was a fait accompli.

Schilling’s firing did not take him out of the headlines, of course. In keeping with his habits, he spent the rest of the year drawing attention to himself. In August he said he would possibly run for office — maybe president one day — though later he ratcheted that back to the U.S. Senate. He’s still undecided on a 2018 run, but he’s laying the groundwork with a series of Schilling-like public policy statements. He’s clearly positioning himself as Massachusetts’ own Donald Trump, complete with a platform on Trump’s very own Pravda, Breitbart. The idea of Schilling winning an election seemed silly until November 8, but now nothing would shock us.

As far as baseball goes, his story may be ending, however. In November he approvingly shared a meme on social media with the words “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required” printed on it, which seemed to advocate for the lynching of reporters. He quickly deleted that when a firestorm ensued, claiming, as he often has in the past, that it was a joke. Reporters did not think it was funny, however, and Schilling is now seeing his support for the Baseball Hall of Fame erode.

If we had to bet right now we’d say this is the last time we’ll have Schilling in our Top 25 Baseball stories countdown. Given his political ambitions, however, and given how, it seems anyway, that this country is moving closer to Schilling rather than he away from it, he may make non-baseball top story countdowns at some point in the near future.

Giants remove pitching coach Dave Righetti

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After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.

According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.

Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.

Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.