Baseball does not need Curt Schilling to make the Hall of Fame. And for another year at least, the sport can breathe a sigh of relief, as the pitching great just missed election by five percentage points, earning 70 percent of the vote.
Rightfully so. Schilling’s history of transphobic views should exclude him from receiving baseball’s highest honor. And granting him admission in the future would be sending a message that spreading online hate toward the trans community is something that can be overlooked if a pitcher struck out enough guys.
Based on his playing record alone, Schilling was one of the greatest pitchers of his era. His 3,116 career strikeouts rank 15th all-time in baseball history and he is seventh all-time in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Schilling was also one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever, winning three World Series. He shared Series MVP honors with the Diamondbacks in 2001 and helped the Red Sox to the 2004 and 2007 titles.
Schilling’s ‘04 playoff performance also included the famous “bloody sock” games, when he pitched the Red Sox to victory over the Yankees and Cardinals while literally bleeding through his hosiery, thanks to an experimental procedure to hold a loose ankle tendon in place. As if finally beating the Yankees and ending Boston’s 86-year drought wasn’t dramatic enough, Schilling made it look like he also had to survive an Eli Roth film to do so.
Despite those considerable achievements, Schilling’s Hall of Fame case is a lot more complicated. In order to cast a Hall of Fame vote for Schilling, every single voter has to come to grips with saying, “I am willing to award baseball’s highest honor to a player who has repeatedly and enthusiastically used his public platform to spread bigotry without remorse.”
In no uncertain terms, electing Schilling would mean there’s no amount of transphobia that would be disqualifying. It would show a player can spread vile and disturbing anti-trans memes that equate trans women with a cartoonish man in drag, declare “a man is a man no matter what they call themselves,” and respond to his critics with yet another anti-trans meme, and still be worthy of receiving baseball’s highest honor.
This is usually the point where Schilling supporters cry out, “But the Hall of Fame is a gallery of rogues and it has several bigots in it already! You can’t suddenly hold him to a different standard!” It’s a legitimate argument, and there is something to be said for keeping standards consistent.
But here’s the thing about all of the most notorious bigots in the Hall, from Ty Cobb to Tom Yawkey. Not only were they the personification of the “bad old days” of baseball history, but their elevation to the Hall also says a lot about the eras in which they were elected.
Every last one of those guys was a timestamp for a moment in history when voters didn’t bother to consider that the bigotry they embodied would make them regrettable choices for the honor of Hall of Fame induction. And each one of their plaques is a glimpse into just how little an athlete or executive’s hatred for a marginalized group used to matter to people.
Because of this, there are numerous players represented in the gallery at Cooperstown that you have to view through gritted teeth and mutter, “Yeah, 4,189 hits is a lot, but Ty Cobb was also what would happen if you taught a Kid Rock t-shirt how to bunt.”
Here’s the question every Hall of Fame voter needs to answer when considering Schilling: Do you really want to add another plaque that elicits that reaction? Is that what you want to say about where we are as a sport and as a society in 2020?
Schilling’s transphobia makes it impossible to avoid playing morality police. By casting a Hall of Fame vote for Schilling, you’re either choosing to ignore that transphobia, or declaring transphobia is not serious enough to disqualify someone from the Hall. As much as some voters would like to believe otherwise, this is yet another area where it’s impossible to “stick to sports.”
Since Schilling received 70-percent of the vote, his election next year is seemingly a fait accompli. He has the most votes of any returning candidate on the ballot and it’s a weak class. Barring any unexpected compassion for a marginalized community on the part of the voters, he’ll be in. And it will be hard to watch.
The prospect of inducting a transphobe means that the bloody sock won’t be the biggest stain Schilling gives to the Hall of Fame.