NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Former ESPN Analyst Curt Schilling talks about his ESPN dismissal and politics during SiriusXM's Breitbart News Patriot Forum hosted Stephen K. Bannon and co-host Alex Marlow at the SiriusXM Studio on April 27, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
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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.

The press is pretty selective when it comes to judging Curt Schilling’s character

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Former ESPN Analyst Curt Schilling talks about his ESPN dismissal and politics during SiriusXM's Breitbart News Patriot Forum hosted by Stephen K. Bannon and co-host Alex Marlow at the SiriusXM Studio on April 27, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
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Jerry Crasnick of ESPN has a story wondering whether Curt Schilling has “tweeted his way out of Cooperstown.” The question presented is not a new one. It goes like this: Despite his baseball resume, has Curt Schilling’s outspoken and controversial public comments and social media posts turned off voters and harmed his Hall of Fame case? We’ve talked about that a million times here, obviously.

Crasnick’s story, however, provides an interesting wrinkle to all of this: it shows how selective and self-centered some in the media can be when it comes to this question.

Crasnick notes that, even though Schilling has been politically outspoken for some time, and even though he said and did controversial things before this past year, his vote total had been rising. His support went from 29% to 39% between 2014 and 2015 and then shot up to over 52% in last winter’s vote.

Now, however, early tracking of votes is revealing that Schilling, unlike almost every other candidate, is losing a lot of ground this year. According to Ryan Thibodaux, who keeps track of these things, 14 voters out of 80 whose ballots are currently known have changed their mind on Schilling, leaving him off ballots despite voting for him before this year. More will likely follow when final vote totals are revealed. Why? Crasnick:

While Schilling’s right-wing orientation risks offending the sensibilities of any left-leaning journalists, ESPN.com surveyed more than 50 writers who cast ballots this year, and only one (who chose to remain anonymous) said he gave the slightest thought to Schilling’s political orientation in casting his vote. Instead, evidence suggests a singular act six weeks ago might lie at the heart of Schilling’s dropoff in support.

The flashpoint came on Nov. 7 — amid the heat of the presidential election — when Schilling posted a tweet in response to a man wearing a T-shirt with the words, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Schilling expressed his approval, calling the shirt “awesome,” before the comment disappeared from his timeline.

Voters Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe and Kirby Arnold, from Seattle, both specifically cite the anti-journalist thing as the tipping point. New York voter Wallace Matthews was so upset about it that not only did he decide not to vote for Schilling over it, he gave up voting altogether and challenegd Schilling to a fight. It’s fair to assume that others who have changed their mind on Schilling did so based on the November 7 incident as well.

Which is kind of nuts.

I obviously carry no water for Curt Schilling, and in my view the “Rope/Tree/Journalist” thing was odious in the extreme. But how is that your tipping point on Schilling? He gained 13% in the polls a couple of months after he compared Muslims to Nazis and posted racially charged nonsense glorifying the Confederate flag. Earlier this year he slandered transgender people and made “jokes” about violence against political candidates which were not dissimilar to the comments he made about reporters. Yet it’s only when he turned his misanthropic gaze at the press that his suitability for the Hall of Fame was found to be lacking?

As I’ve said many times, I do not believe a player’s “character,” as judged by Hall of Fame voters, should enter into his candidacy. There are scoundrels and worse in the Hall now. There are a lot of guys in there who are thought of as good men who probably weren’t. No voter is in a position to be anything close to a fair judge on that score, even if someone, such as Schilling, makes it easier to judge someone in certain cases. “Character” is a complicated topic for even the most able of observers to assess, so it’s best for people who write about baseball for a living to steer clear of it when it comes to the Hall. As I wrote earlier this week, in my book, Schilling is a Hall of Fame baseball player, even if he’s a world class jackwagon.

But if you’re a Hall of Fame voter who believes that a candidate’s character should enter into the matter, Curt Schilling gave you plenty of ammunition to use against his case before the reporter comment on November 7. That, at least to some voters, going after the press is disqualifying when his equally hostile and dismissive comments about many other groups of people — most of whom are far more marginalized by society than the press — were not is sad.

Sad and telling.

Curt Schilling loves a t-shirt threatening violence to reporters

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Former ESPN Analyst Curt Schilling talks about his ESPN dismissal and politics during SiriusXM's Breitbart News Patriot Forum hosted by Stephen K. Bannon and co-host Alex Marlow at the SiriusXM Studio on April 27, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
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Curt Schilling is on the Hall of Fame ballot and, to gain admittance to Cooperstown, he needs 75% of the electorate to vote him in. The problem (a) the electorate consists of journalists; and (b) Schilling seems to think the idea of murdering journalists is hilarious.

This all arose out of a t-shirt seen at a Donald Trump rally in Minnesota over the weekend with the words “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required” printed on it. If you’ve looked under some of the uglier rocks in the great garden that is the Donald Trump movement this past year, it isn’t terribly surprising to see so ugly a sentiment expressed. Among a certain subset of Trump folks, there is a conviction that the media is the America’s greatest enemy and that anything remotely negative that can be said of Donald Trump is, in reality, a coordinated media conspiracy designed to sink his candidacy. Journalists have been harassed and even attacked at his rallies and have been stalked online by Trump supporters.

Enter Schilling, who thinks the idea of lynching reporters is just grand:

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Later, when he was assailed by scores of people, including several members of the media, many of whom have been sympathetic to Schilling in the past, he claimed he was being sarcastic, and that it was merely a “smart ass” t-shirt. Of course, Schilling has often claimed he was joking or being sarcastic when saying truly vile things, despite the fact that there is no evidence of sarcasm to his comments whatsoever. Schilling, ever the brave soul, has since deleted the tweet.

Most people have used this little episode to mock Schilling. Retired pitcher Dan Haren’s mockery was particularly savage:

It’s an understandable impulse to mock him, as there are always a million jokes to be made at Schilling’s expense because he has turned himself into a clown. But it’s probably worth noting that three-dozen journalists have been killed this year as a direct result of sentiments like the one Schilling is applauding or, at the very least, joking about. In 2015 six dozen were murdered. To Schilling, the notion of promoting the killing of journalists is, at the absolute best, assuming you buy his sarcasm defense, a “smart ass” sentiment.

One wonders how many other atrocities he finds amusing t-shirt fodder. One also wonders how the journalists with whom Schilling-the-broadcaster was nominally a colleague until last year, feel about his “sarcasm.” One further wonders how those nominal colleagues who have Hall of Fame votes will treat his candidacy going forward.