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Why aren’t writers applying the ‘character clause’ to Curt Schilling?


Ever since the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and other “steroid era” greats have appeared on Hall of Fame ballots, voters have cited the “character clause” as justification for not voting for them. It has seemed that, over the last decade or so, performance enhancing drug use is the only issue for which the “character clause” is invoked.

According to a publicly-available collection of current revealed Hall of Fame ballots — curated by Ryan Thibodaux, Adam Dore, John Devivo, and Anthony Calamis — Curt Schilling is currently on track to achieve the necessary 75 percent of the vote to become enshrined in Cooperstown. Only 17.2 percent of the ballots are known, so a lot can happen between now and when the final ballot is counted. As it stands, it’s mystifying that Schilling has so much support from an electorate that has spent much of the past decade wringing hands over PED users and their purported questionable character.

Just considering his on-field performance, Schilling was a Hall of Fame talent. He retired with 216 wins, a 3.46 ERA, and 3,116 strikeouts. Baseball Reference credits him with 80.6 Wins Above Replacement over his career. He made the All-Star team six times, had three runner-up finishes in Cy Young voting, won a World Series ring three times, and won both an NLCS MVP Award and World Series MVP Award. Schilling is one of only 16 pitchers in the 3,000-strikeout club. As his awards illustrate, he was incredible in the postseason, boasting a 2.23 ERA with 120 strikeouts and 25 walks across 133 1/3 innings. Of his 19 postseason starts, Schilling reached at least the sixth inning in 17 of them and allowed two or fewer runs in 15 of them.

Had Schilling simply galloped off into the sunset when his playing career was over, there would be no debate about his candidacy. But in the time since he’s retired, Schilling has become very vocal about political issues both relating to and not relating to baseball. Once a broadcaster for ESPN, Schilling lost his job after sharing a meme on Facebook expressing anti-transgender sentiment. He later doubled down in a blog post. He compared Muslims to Nazis. Schilling also tweeted his support of violence against journalists, writing, “Ok, so much awesome here…” on top of an image of a man wearing a shirt which read, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”

If nothing else, the anti-journalist sentiment should have hit home for voters since they themselves are journalists. (That this in particular, and not everything taken together, would be the thing that hits home illustrates why we need a more diverse electorate.) The idea that the media is to be distrusted and punished has been spread far and wide over the past two years, helping to result in the United States’ addition to the most dangerous countries for journalists for the first time, per NBC News. These aren’t just jokes — as Schilling claimed — when one has a sizable platform, as he does. Schilling has over 240,000 Twitter followers and hosts a podcast for Breitbart. Is this really someone Major League Baseball would want to honor and forever enshrine?

The Hall of Fame describes the criterion voters use in consideration of players on the ballot: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Moral issues are difficult to quantify, but most reasonable people would agree that using performance-enhancing drugs falls much further down on the list of offenses than transphobia, Islamophobia, general xenophobia, and supporting violence against journalists. That baseball journalists willingly overlook Schilling’s character is disheartening. Baseball writing is an industry that should and commonly does ask for better from the players (and managers and coaches and other writers).

Schilling’s vote percentages, starting from the time he became eligible (2013) to last year, have been: 38.8, 29.2, 39.2, 52.3, 45, and 51.2. More than likely, Schilling will not reach the necessary 75 percent and he’ll be shut out of the Hall of Fame for another year. But even if his vote total comes in around 50 percent, as it has the past three years, that’s still way too much support and it reflects badly on the electorate. That is especially true considering writers every year have complained about a “crowded” ballot and being limited to only 10 votes per ballot. Some deserving players on the cusp, like Edgar Martínez and Mike Mussina, would really benefit from writers ceasing to vote for a former player with lacking character.

John Henry tries to justify the Red Sox’ trade of Mookie Betts

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Red Sox owner John Henry issued a lengthy statement to fans today trying to explain and justify the team’s trade of Mookie Betts. It’s a master class in distortion that will, in all likelihood, make no one happy.

Henry starts by talking about “challenges.” The “particularly challenging” offseason the Red Sox had, the “extraordinary challenges” the Red Sox faced, and the front office’s handling of these “challenges.” He goes on to talk about how he knows the “challenges” affect the fans and how he sees it as his job to protect the organization from these “challenges.”

There’s a lot of passive voice here, and at no point does Henry note that the primary challenge at play here was the team’s decision to cut payroll and get it below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. It’s just a thing that happened to the Red Sox, apparently. They had no agency in this at all.

For what it’s worth, the team keeps denying that the CBT was the motivating factor:

This is laughable, of course, given that Henry himself began the Red Sox’ offseason by specifically saying the team needed top do just that. His exact words from late September:

“This year we need to be under the CBT . . .  that was something we’ve known for more than a year now. If you don’t reset there are penalties so we’ve known for some time now we needed to reset as other clubs have done.”

Three days later, Kennedy himself said it’d “be difficult” to keep both Betts and J.D. Martinez and accomplish that goal. When that all went over like a lead balloon with the fans Henry and everyone else tried to walk it back, but you have to be an idiot not to see what happened here:

  1. Owner demands team get under CBT;
  2. Team president says it’ll be hard to do that without one of the superstars leaving;
  3. Martinez declines to op-out of his deal;
  4. Betts is traded.

They can cite all the “challenges” they want, but they traded Betts in order to slash payroll and they slashed payroll simply because they wanted to, not, as we and many others have demonstrated, because of any compelling reason.

Instead of talking about that, Henry spends the bulk of the statement talking about how baseball’s financial system — free agency, basically — requires teams to make tough choices. Henry:

In today’s game there is a cost to losing a great player to free agency — one that cannot merely be made up by the draft pick given. . . . we felt we could not sit on our hands and let him go without getting value in return to help us on our path forward.”

Losing a player to free agency stinks, but nowhere in the entire statement does Henry mention that the Sox could’ve, you know, not lost Betts to free agency next November.

Nowhere does he note that the Sox had a full year to talk to Betts about a possible extension nor did he mention that the Sox — who print money at a faster rate than anyone except the Yankees — could’ve bid on him in free agency too. He simply does not allow for the possibility that a 2021 Boston Red Sox team could’ve done what the 2020 Washington Nationals did, for example, and sign one of their big, would-be departing free agents in Stephen Strasburg. Nor, for that matter, does he allow for the possibility that they could do what the 2019 Washington Nationals did with their all-but-certain-to-depart superstar in Anthony Rendon: hold on to him in his walk year and win a damn World Series. Guess it was a “challenge” to go into all of that.

Of course, as we’ve seen across baseball this past week, it’s really, really hard to explain something when you don’t want to admit the facts and accept the consequences of it all. That’s maybe the toughest challenge of them all.

The full statement: