The Corner


Baseball and Politics — and Baseball Politics

In response to The Pledge and Priorities

Curt Schilling has said that his politics are costing him votes for the Hall of Fame. The other day here at NRO, Aaron Goldstein argued specifically that in the most recent balloting, earlier this winter, baseball writers backed away from Schilling because he supported Trump last year in the presidential election.

A few problems dog that theory. One is that Schilling did better in the 2017 voting than he’s done on average in his five years of eligibility. Remember, the procedure is that every baseball writer with a vote selects up to ten names from a list. Most writers select fewer than ten. In 2017, the percentage who included Schilling among their picks was lower than in 2016 but higher than in 2013, 2014, and 2015, his only other years on the ballot. Look at the graph.

You could come up with a hundred theories for why the dips (2014, 2017) and the spike (2015–16) occurred when they did. Aaron correlates the second dip, but not the earlier dip or the spike, with Schilling’s political activism. I don’t see it.

A related observation is that Schilling has been vocal on the right for a long time. Against the wishes of the Red Sox ownership, he campaigned for Bush after Boston’s glorious postseason in 2004. He campaigned for Scott Brown in 2010. Schilling is bluff and brash, and his support for Trump in 2016 is what you would expect. What Schilling with his characteristic outspokenness affirmed about his politics last year was nothing that baseball writers didn’t already know when they were voting for him, or not, in previous years.

The most obvious argument against enshrining Schilling in Cooperstown is that his numbers are borderline. They make him neither a long shot nor a shoo-in. The Bill James Hall of Fame Career Standards are a helpful composite metric. The average Hall of Famer scores 50; Schilling, 46. If anything should put him over the top, it’s the unquantifiable but indisputably brilliant October narratives he helped create late in his career: his puncturing the Yankees’ “mystique and aura” in 2001, and of course the bloody sock in 2004, the year the Sox finally buried the curse of Babe Ruth.

Writers are instructed to consider a player’s character when they vote. Some critics object that it’s a subjective attribute, but the weight we assign to any statistical accomplishment is no less a value judgment. Two hundred wins, you say? “That’s a lot.” “It’s not enough.” “Koufax won 165 — what, he wasn’t good enough?” The back-and-forth goes on forever. It was meant to. If players automatically got plaques for meeting certain statistical criteria, what fun would that be?

Whatever character is, it’s more than just not taking steroids or not betting on games. Like anyone, baseball writers respect gravitas, which may be one reason that Schilling’s former teammate Manny “What — Me Worry?” Ramirez, the World Series MVP in 2004, fared so poorly this year (23.8 percent), his first time on the ballot.

Enjoy the game tonight. Go Braves.