I write belatedly to join the debate between Nick Frankovich and Aaron Goldstein about whether pitcher Curt Schilling belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame. Goldstein and I are not regularly in the habit of agreeing (except for our doubts about Donald Trump, which might be thought to make us less supportive, not more, of the Trump-friendly Schilling). But Goldstein is overwhelmingly right: Schilling belongs in the Hall, with votes to spare.
Compare Schilling’s record to that of Jim “Catfish” Hunter. Any baseball aficionado, and anybody who was a fan in the 1970s especially, would laugh, almost uproariously, at the notion that Hunter was anything other than a Hall of Fame pitcher. He was superb in the regular season and a star for two different World Series back-to-back champions. Schilling’s career matches Hunter’s almost exactly. For one thing, he was one of the two best pitchers on not one but two World-Series winning teams (with three total titles) — plus service as playoff MVP for yet a third team that reached (but barely lost) the Series.
But of course, as Goldstein has noted, Schilling was even better in the post-season than Hunter; indeed, he probably was, as Goldstein argues, the best playoff pitcher in history, and the bloody-sock episode was probably the single most memorable pitching feat in post-season (and ranks up there with Jack Youngblood playing the Super Bowl on a fractured leg).
But now look at their career regular-season stats. Wins and losses: Hunter 224-166. Schilling: 216-146. Slight advantage to Schilling, even though Hunter played on teams that were better more often than Schilling’s teams. Earned run average: Hunter 3.26, Schilling 3.46. Slight edge to Hunter, although Hunter played in an era of lower scoring and didn’t deal with steroid-juiced hitters, considerations that more or less even-out the two ERAs. Strike-outs to walks: Hunter 2,012 to 954; Schilling 3,116 to 711. Huge advantage to Schilling. Wins-Against-Replacement players: Hunter 36.6 in 15 years; Schilling 80.7 in 20 years. HUGE edge to Schilling, even after accounting for him having five more years to earn WAR numbers.
Schilling led his league in wins twice, win-loss percentage once, innings pitched twice, strikeouts twice, complete games four times, WHIP twice, and least walks per nine innings twice. Hunter also led in wins twice; he had two seasons with the best win-loss percentage, led only once in complete games and once in innings pitched, and like Schilling led twice in WHIP. Small advantage to Schilling in all these combined — but Hunter makes it even again with one season leading in Earned Run Average. (Schilling did post four seasons with ERAs under 3.0 compared to five such seasons for Hunter, another small Hunter edge, helped by playing in more pitcher-friendly parks and eras.)
So, again, the regular season numbers are as close as one could possibly imagine, but where there are stark differences (WAR and strike-outs to walks), Schilling wins both times.
And, again, then there is the post-season, even apart from the amazing bloody-sock games and the breaking of the Red Sox jinx. Schilling: eleven wins, against just two losses, a 2.23 ERA, two series MVP awards, and a 3-0 post-season record in his final season at age 40. Hunter in post-season, very good but nowhere near Schilling’s spectacularity (is that a word?): 9-6, 3.26 ERA, and no MVP awards.
Yet Hunter was elected to the Hall in his third year of eligibility. Schilling, with a far better regular-season WAR and a huge post-season advantage, has not come close in his five years of eligibility.
It’s a travesty. Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame, without question. The politics involved in keeping him out are despicable.