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Stick to Sports: The Character Clause, and Why Curt Schilling is Being Blackballed from the HOF

Updated: Sep 26, 2018

By Matthew Grasso



Everyone remembers it. Mention it to any baseball fan and it elicits memories of the pinnacle of grit: the ultimate competitor willing his team to victory. Game Six. 2004 American League Championship Series. The Bloody Sock.


Curt Schilling was no stranger to big moments. By the time he took the Yankee Stadium mound that chilly Bronx October night, he had already made thirteen career playoff appearances.[1] He had pitched for the pennant before, and he had started a World Series Game Seven. But this was different. His Red Sox were in the midst of history. No major league team had ever come back from a three games to none deficit in a seven game series. Every night was an elimination game. The Red Sox had two obstacles standing in their way: their rival New York Yankees, and an artificially stabilized tendon in their ace’s ankle.[2]


Curt Schilling was masterful that night, pitching seven innings of one-run baseball as blood soaked through his now-famous white sock.[3] The Red Sox won the game, as well as Game Seven the next night, and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals, winning their first World Series in eighty-six years. For nearly ten years, the Bloody Sock was immortalized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.[4] The same, however, cannot be said about its owner. On January 24th, Curt Schilling was, for the sixth time, unable to receive the necessary votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame.


Over the course of his twenty-year career, Curt Schilling won 216 games, and amassed 3,116 strikeouts.[5] He won over twenty games three times, and struck out 300 batters in three seasons.[6] While he never won a Cy Young award, he finished top-four four times, finishing second in three of those instances.[7] Schilling is a six-time all-star, and currently ranks sixty-third all-time with a career wins above replacement (WAR) of 79.9.[8] Schilling’s biggest contributions, however, came in the postseason.


In nineteen career postseason starts, Schilling went 11-2, pitching to a 2.23 ERA.[9] In the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2001 playoff run, Schilling went 4-0, and pitched over seven innings in Game Seven of the World Series, before giving way to Randy Johnson.[10] The two aces shared the title of World Series Most Valuable Player. To many, if Curt Schilling was not a Hall of Famer based on regular season merit alone, this elite postseason career pushes him over the hump. However, the voters have found reasons to exclude Schilling from the Hall, most of which stem from his post-playing career.


Members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame are elected by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA).[11] Any person who played a career of ten seasons or more is placed on the ballot for the Hall of Fame five years after their retirement.[12] In order to be elected, a player must appear on at least 75 percent of the ballots in a given election.[13] As of the 2018 election, Curt Schilling has peaked at 52.3 percent.[14] When writers are asked why they do not vote for Schilling, they usually point to Rule Five of the BBWAA Rules for Election. Rule Five states “Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”[15] While it is without dispute that Schilling meets most of these requirements, it is his character that causes controversy.


There is some merit to their complaints. On August 25, 2015, Schilling for tweeting an infographic comparing Muslims to Nazis. He was immediately suspended by ESPN, where he was an analyst for Sunday Night Baseball.[16] Less than a year later, he was fired by the company after he shared a meme on Facebook, this time supporting transgender bathroom bills, and seemingly mocking the transgender community.[17] Schilling has also been an avid supporter of Donald Trump, and has been outspoken in his belief that Hillary Clinton should be imprisoned for her use of a private email server.[18] In October, 2016, Schilling began a daily radio show for Breitbart, a far-right news network.[19]


During his life, Schilling has had run-ins with the media, none more damning than a 2016 tweet of a man at a Donald Trump rally. The man’s shirt called for the execution of journalists, and was called “awesome” by Schilling.[20] Many sports writers took offense to this tweet, feeling it was an affront to their profession and their colleagues in all areas of the journalism universe.


The Hall of Fame is debated amongst baseball fans like the Constitution is for legal scholars, with “should there be a ‘big Hall’ or a ‘small Hall?” being the equivalent of narrow vs. broad interpretation. Just as single words in the Constitution have been debated for two centuries, Curt Schilling’s politics views, his outspokenness, and his attacks on the media have brought the character clause into view. Many see his career as Hall of Fame worthy. He has the highest seven-year WAR average of any starting pitcher not in the Hall of Fame other than Roger Clemens, who has his own controversies.[21] But the writers see his post-playing career as a detriment. Those with this viewpoint seem to only look at the negatives.


Schilling founded both Curt's Pitch For ALS and the Curt and Shonda Schilling Melanoma Research Fund.[22] Additionally, he used his 2014 cancer diagnosis as a way of urging Major League Baseball to find ways to prevent players from using chewing tobacco.[23] In 2017, Schilling created Operation Bullpen to gather donations of food and supplies and traveled both to Houston and Puerto Rico to deliver these goods to those affected by the summer hurricanes.[24]


Even for those writers who believe that the bad outweighs the good, Curt Schilling would not be the first man of “poor character” in the Hall of Fame. These same writers chose to vote Chipper Jones into the Hall in 2018, despite having an online history similar to Schilling’s. In recent memory, Jones has tweeted arguing that the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, and suggesting that alligators should be put in the Rio Grande to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country.[25]


By all accounts, Curt Schilling had a Hall of Fame caliber career. His statistics are worthy of induction, and yet he is being excluded due to what amounts to a grudge held against him by the baseball writers who vote for him. A career worthy of immortality in Cooperstown has been ignored because Schilling and the press did not get along, because he used his platform to speak his mind, and because of his political views. There are people in the Hall of Fame who are Republicans, and there are people in the Hall of Fame who are Democrats. Some of them voted for Donald Trump, others for Hillary Clinton. Athletes have used celebrity status to address their personal beliefs for decades. Curt Schilling’s views, and his outspokenness, should not preclude him from the Hall of Fame. The BBWAA are given six criteria to judge a player on: record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to his teams. Based on his play between the white chalk lines of a baseball diamond, he checks off five of those boxes. To not check off the sixth, character, would be to fault a man for thinking differently than the voter.



[1] Curt Schilling Career Statistics, Baseball-Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/schilcu01.shtml.

[2] Associated Press, Doctors Sewed Skin to Tissue on Schilling’s Leg, ESPN (Oct 21, 2004), http://www.espn.com/mlb/playoffs2004/news/story?id=1906213.

[3] 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS) Game 6, Red Sox at Yankees, October 19

, Baseball-Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA200410190.shtml.

[4] Associated Press, Curt Schilling's Bloody Sock Sells for $92,613 at Auction, USA Today (Feb. 24, 2013, 3:41 AM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2013/02/24/curt-schilling-bloody-sock-sells-at-auction/1942457/.

[5] Curt Schilling Career Statistics, Baseball-Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/schilcu01.shtml.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Baseball Writers Ass’n of Am. Rules for Election, r. 2, https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/rules/bbwaa-rules-for-election.

[12] Id., at r. 3(B-C).

[13] Id., at r. 4(C).

[14] Curt Schilling Career Statistics, Baseball-Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/schilcu01.shtml.

[15] Baseball Writers Ass’n of Am. Rules for Election, r. 5, https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/rules/bbwaa-rules-for-election.

[16] Callum Borchers, Curt Schilling’s Long History of Saying and Tweeting Controversial Stuff, Washington Post (May 5, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/25/curt-schillings-failures-and-controversies-have-led-him-from-bloody-sock-to-breitbart/?utm_term=.c90ff56eef17.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Mike Coppinger, Curt Schilling Applauds Shirt Threatening Violence to Journalists, USA Today (Nov. 7, 2016, 8:32 PM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2016/11/07/curt-schilling-tweet-shirt-threatening-journalists-donald-trump-rally/93456970/.

[21] Starting Pitcher JAWS Leaders, Baseball-Reference, https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/jaws_P.shtml.

[22] Jackie MacMullan, Curt Schilling not Hiding his Scars, ABC News (Oct. 25, 2014, 3:08 AM), http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/curt-schilling-hiding-scars/story?id=26447674.

[23] Id.

[24] Warner Todd Huston, Operation Bullpen: Curt Schilling Literally Does Whatever it takes to Bring Relief Supplies to Houston, Breitbart (Sep. 3, 2017), http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/09/03/operation-bullpen-curt-schilling-literally-does-whatever-takes-bring-relief-supplies-houston/. See also Alex Reimer, Curt Schilling is in P.R. Helping with Hurricane Recovery Efforts, WEEI (Sep. 29, 2017, 1:26 PM), http://www.weei.com/blogs/alex-reimer/curt-schilling-puerto-rico-helping-hurricane-recovery-efforts.

[25] Mark Townsend, Will Past Controversial Tweets Impact Chipper Jones' Hall of Fame Chances?, Yahoo (Nov. 25, 2017, 3:59 PM), https://sports.yahoo.com/will-past-controversial-tweets-impact-chipper-jones-hall-fame-chances-205915891.html.

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