I watched MLB Network’s coverage of the Hall of Fame announcement Tuesday night and something Ken Rosenthal said stuck with me.
The news Curt Schilling had fallen 16 votes shy of election, followed by Schilling’s 1,200-word screed in which he expressed his wish to be removed from the ballot, led Rosenthal to some introspection. He recalled first covering Schilling in 1988 when Schilling made his major league debut with the Baltimore Orioles and wondered aloud what had happened in the last 33 years.
“This,” said Rosenthal, in reference to Schilling’s latest rantings, “is not the Curt Schilling I knew.”
I found myself nodding in agreement.
I didn’t get to know Schilling until he joined the Red Sox in November of 2003, though I had covered the unforgettable World Series between his Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees in 2001.
The Schilling I dealt with when he was a member of the Red Sox barely resembles the Schilling of 2021.
Yes, Schilling could be outspoken and self-promoting. Not for nothing … former Phillies general manager Ed Wade did famously say of Schilling: “He’s a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.”
Schilling could fill a notebook. He was insightful, egotistical, candid, calculating and fearless. He had an opinion about everything and wasn’t afraid to share it.
Our conversations, naturally, usually revolved around baseball and the media. Schilling would complain about my colleagues and what they had written or said. Sometimes, I would defend them; sometimes, acknowledging his point, I would not. I don’t recall much political talk between us, though it was understood that we stood at opposite ideological ends.
What I remember most from those talks, though, is that Schilling was relentlessly competitive and unapologetically big-hearted.
He worked hard to raise money to fight ALS and to help military families. And as a veteran on a team full of stars, he used his status to benefit others.
In September of 2004, more than a month before the Red Sox would go on to stun the New York Yankees in the ALCS then win the franchise’s first championship in 86 years, the team’s veterans met to vote on playoff shares.
This is something every team in contention for a playoff spot does annually. Essentially, Major League Baseball asks teams how to split up the pool of money collected from the postseason gate receipts. MLB doesn’t care how the players vote and team management has no input. This decision is strictly up to the most senior players on a club.
It’s up to the players to decide how many full shares, partial shares and cash awards there will be. (Every team in the postseason receives some amount from this pool, with the eventual champions, naturally, getting the biggest amount). The more full shares that are voted on by the team’s veteran players, the smaller each of those shares is.
Teams often award half or quarter shares to players who, say, joined the team mid-season, or those who are late-season call-ups. Some also hand out “cash awards” — fixed amounts, like $25,000 or $50,000 to those who contributed to the team in small ways, like bat boys or members of the organization who help organize team travel, etc.
A few weeks after the Sox beat the Cardinals, it was revealed the Sox had set what was then a record for most full shares ever awarded by a championship team. The Sox generously gave full shares to clubhouse attendants and other support staff, worth several hundred thousand dollars each. This was hardly typical.
“Life-changing money,” said one person who was the recipient of one such full share.
After the fact, I was told that Schilling was behind the gesture. (For those suspicious that Schilling was the source of this information, he was not). He argued that for the players, the difference between a full share of, say, $300,000 and $250,000 was minuscule, relatively speaking. But by including more non-players in the distribution of full shares, they could impact the lives of so many who didn’t make seven- and eight-figure annual salaries.
Indeed, some bought houses, paid off mortgages or paid tuition bills with that money. And indirectly, they have Schilling to thank.
That generousness of spirit seems to be lacking from Schilling today. These days, he seems far more interested in demeaning others, creating straw men for his political arguments and creating division. He mocks members of the LGBT community, questions whether students in tragic school shootings were merely paid actors, and seemingly advocates for the lynching of journalists.
So, no, this isn’t about politics. It’s about humanity.
On Tuesday, after he had fallen short of the necessary votes needed for election into Cooperstown, Schilling threw something of a public hissy fit, saying he no longer wished to participate in the process and asking to be removed from next year’s ballot in his final year of eligibility.
Schilling also made a number of contradictory statements within his letter, claiming one hand that he didn’t regard himself as Hall-worthy while simultaneously revealing that he had given it some thought and would like to represent the Arizona Diamondbacks should he gain election.
Along the way, he trotted out that he would accept enshrinement by a Veterans Committee (”men whose opinions actually matter”) as a means of taking one more swipe at baseball writers, who, you know … never played the game.
Schilling has long said gaining induction to the Hall is meaningless to him, but I don’t believe that for a second. I know how much he loves the game and how much he values the game’s history. I know, too, what it would mean for his own legacy and how being in the Hall would be the ultimate validation for him — not because the honor was bestowed by a bunch of sportswriters, but because of where it would place him: among the game’s immortals.
I have voted for Schilling in each of his nine years on the ballot, and assuming that his bid to remove his name from consideration next year predictably falls on deaf ears, will do so again one final time next year.
I don’t like who Schilling has become, and as much as I enjoyed our conversations in the past, I’m not sure I would be interested in talking to him again.
But that doesn’t change my support for his playing career, which in my mind at least, should be paramount in the voting process. And I’ll admit: changing my mind now and taking back my vote would confirm his worst suspicions about the BBWAA and I won’t give him that satisfaction.
It’s my view that Schilling gets some sort of pleasure out of playing the martyr here. Each time he falls short, he gets to say: “See? I told you they were out to get me!” I find that sad, and it reminds me somewhat of Pete Rose, whom I’m convinced, prefers being the outcast, because that feeds into his narrative and, in some ways, allows him to monetize his “bad boy” status.
Despite some of his ugly remarks and behavior, I hope Schilling is elected next year.
I’ll then hold my breath for his induction speech, and hope, perhaps against all evidence to the contrary, that the Curt Schilling I knew — boisterous, opinionated, caring — makes an unscheduled return.