I get the Bonds and Clemens stuff. I really do. I don't like it, but I understand why they're not going into the Hall of Fame in July.
I kind of get the Bagwell and Piazza stuff, too. As in, if the performance-enhancing-drug hysteria is at a certain point, I can understand why rumors and innuendo might be enough for a body of voters who never pretended to be in a court of law. I despise the rationale behind it, but it's not like it was conjured out of thin air.
I can even understand Tim Raines and Alan Trammell not getting the proper amount of respect. They each played in the shadow of a clear first-ballot, inner-circle player throughout their entire careers, and they didn't rack up the counting stats or awards to overcome that.
I don't get the lack of respect for Curt Schilling.
As a Hall of Fame candidate, I mean. As a person, well, sure. He's a true 80 on the "I hope I don't sit next to that guy on an airplane" scale. As a pitcher, though, he was everything that we're supposed to believe Jack Morris was. Schilling is one of those rare cases for whom you can make an airtight statistical case (Roger Clemens is the only eligible pitcher with more wins above replacement who isn't in the Hall), while simultaneously constructing a case based on his intangibles (the bloody sock, a 2.33 postseason ERA in 133 innings).
Schilling was the archetype of the plus-control, high-strikeout pitcher, which makes him something of a snapshot in time. If you wanted to be successful in the '90s and '00s, you pitched like Curt Schilling, missing bats and limiting walks. Few did it better. Or, rather, no one did it better. He pitched long enough to win more than 200 games, and he dominated in a high-offense era. He pitched in four World Series, and he literally pitched with his tendon shooting blood out of his ankle like something out of a Sam Peckinpah movie to help the Red Sox win their first championship in a millennium. Literally!
And he did his best work, his stretch of truly superior pitching, during the peak of the steroids era. If the voters are going to penalize everyone on the list of 205 names the Senator from Wisconsin had in his hand, why wouldn't they give extra credit to the players who excelled against those stacked odds? Considering there's no smoke around Schilling and PEDs, why wouldn't he get a boost?
Instead, he got 38.8 percent of the vote. Now, that's not a death knell for Schilling's chances. Consider Goose Gossage, who picked up an even lower total on his first try, but would be elected on his ninth. Except the tail end of Gossage's candidacy coincided with a host of players who didn't excite the voters, even if they should have. It was easy for Gossage to be something of a cause célèbre in 2008.
But check out the pitchers Schilling has to contend with in the next two years:
Remember that note up there about Clemens being the only eligible pitcher ahead of Schilling in career WAR? Here are the rest. Maddux, Johnson, and Martinez were obvious guesses, but Mussina also sneaks ahead. Glavine and Smoltz are a little behind, but Glavine has the 300 wins, and Smoltz has the odd (and somewhat dubious) distinction of excelling as a top-flight closer for a couple of years. That, plus his long-time association with Maddux and Glavine, separates him from the herd.
Against that competition, Schilling doesn't stand out. He almost seems second-tier -- like Mussina, he's a pitcher without a Cy Young to help his argument. Of note: I'm prepared to recycle just about everything in this column next year for one on Mussina, because everything will still apply except the postseason heroics
Those are just the pitchers, too. There's more to the backlog than that. It's not like voters get five slots for pitchers and five for hitters. The Barry Bonds faction will still be vocal, as will the Craig Biggio voters. Frank Thomas comes on the ballot with Jeff Kent, and Junior Griffey follows shortly. Mike Piazza isn't going anywhere, and neither is Jeff Bagwell, and hopefully more and more voters will start to come around. There's a subset of voters who will never stop voting for guys like Trammell, Fred McGriff, and Lee Smith.
New guys will show up on the ballot. Chipper Jones and Omar Vizquel, who will join whomever up there didn't get the golden chalice, or whatever it is you need to make it to the final round of this stupid reality show. Jim Thome might retire this year. And on. And on.
So here's a prediction: Schilling is going to be someone we're still arguing about in 2020, a Bert Blyleven for a new generation. There will be arguments and counter-arguments, and the counter-arguments will make you twitch, but that's the point of Hall of Fame debates, I suppose. And, after a decade, give or take a couple of years, our long national slight annoyance will be over, and Schilling will get in.
I just don't get why it was Schilling who got caught up and forgotten in this backlog of superlative candidates. He has a great case from the stats side. He has a great case from the feels side. I can understand most of the names below 50 percent on the 2013 BBWAA ballot. But I can't understand Schilling's.