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The Awe and Disgust of Curt Schilling

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The arc of Schilling's career can boggle the mind, at times. Splintered due to injuries, team changes, and constant battles with the media: Schilling lacks the true peak we can experience from his peers. Randy Johnson peaked in his first four seasons with Arizona (in which he won a Cy Young Award every year), Greg Maddux from his last year in Cubs' blue to his first several seasons in Atlanta, Pedro from '97-05, and Glavine stretched through the '90s.

Schilling lacks this simplicity.

Schilling struggled in Baltimore, and then at age 25 was amazing for Philadelphia, before cratering back to earth again for a few seasons. He then returned to greatness in the Arizona deserts, before getting hurt again. The D-Backs traded him to Boston, where he posted one last legendary season, before age caught up with him. It's all confusing. But in one arena, Schilling remained consistent: the postseason. Schilling thrived under the spotlight, and it is here Schilling did his best work to earn induction into the Hall of Fame.

The 1993 Postseason

1993 was not a kind year for Schilling, the prior season he led the league in WHIP and H/9 (with a sparkling 2.35 ERA) before falling back to earth. However, the Phillies were good in '93, and granted Schilling his first taste of October magic. In Game 1 Curt Schilling started his first postseason game against the National League juggernauts: the Atlanta Braves. The Braves were heavily favored against the Phillies, boasting three future Hall of Fame starters: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, along with a capable offense which included John Kruk, David Justice and Fred McGriff.

Schilling was not afraid. Schilling struck out the first five batters he faced, and twirled a terrific start against the Braves. Atlanta touched him twice (a double by Otis Nixon in the 3rd and a Sac Fly by David Justice in the 4th), but Schilling remained steadfast. Facing a threat in the 5th inning, with two men on base, Schilling struck out Jeff Blauser and Ron Grant to end the threat. Schilling handed the ball to Mitch Williams in the 9th, the score Phillies 3: Braves 2. The game went into extras, but the Phillies took Game 1 behind a superb start by Curt Schilling.

Maddux & Glavine held the Phillies to just two runs apiece in their starts, giving the Braves the lead in the series. Danny Jackson twirled a great game facing John Smoltz in Game 4, which tied the series giving Schilling a second chance. Schilling again pitched masterfully, pitching into the 9th and handed Mitch Williams another lead (this time a three run lead, although with two runners on), and Williams proceeded to blow the lead a second time. Again, Philadelphia prevailed in extra innings.

Overall, in 16 innings in the NLCS Schilling gave up three earned runs in 16 innings, striking out 19 batters to five walks, good for NLCS MVP honors.

Schilling's first start in the World Series was less than stellar. After two superb outings in the NLCS: Schilling struggled against Toronto in Game 1, surrendering six runs on two homers, and striking out only three batters (he took the loss). Schilling got his redemption four games later.

In Game 5 Philadelphia's season was on the line: down 3-1 against Toronto they again handed the ball to Schilling, and Schilling uncorked his best start of the postseason. Schilling kept the Blue Jays in check, with a batter only reaching scoring position once until the 8th inning. In the 8th Schilling gave up back to back singles, resulting in runners at the corners with nobody out. Schilling then induced a ground ball from Rickey Henderson, and got the out and home; he then struck out Devon White and induced another ground ball from Roberto Alomar. A clean 9th finished Schilling's complete game shutout, and the win.

The Phillies lost Game 6, and thus the World Series, but Schilling largely dragged the Phillies to the World Series that year, and kept the Phillies in the game when it mattered most. It would not be Schilling's last excellent World Series.

The 2001 Postseason

After spending some years in the wilderness, Schilling came into his own in Arizona. In 2001, Schilling and Randy Johnson combined to pitch one of the best postseasons for a pair of starting pitchers in postseason history.

In Game 1 of the NLDS, against the Cardinals, Schilling tossed his second straight postseason shutout. Schilling only twice faced threats: once in the 3rd: the pitcher bunted over a runner to 2nd, Schilling got Fernando Via to groundout to the first baseman to end the inning. In the 5th Edgar Renteria doubled, Schilling got Mike Matheny to ground out then struck out Matt Morris. Jim Edmonds doubled in the 7th, and then Schilling induced a groundout from Mark McGwire (no easy feat), and struck out Renteria. All told Schilling struck out nine, and only gave up three hits on the game.

The series went a full five games, and Schilling pitched a rubber match against Matt Morris, and again won a close duel. Schilling tossed another complete game, again striking out nine and only surrendered a single run (a homer to J.D. Drew).

Schilling would have won the MVP for the NLDS if they handed out that award.

Schilling only pitched once in the NLCS, in Game 3 against the Braves. All he did was pitch another complete game striking out 12 batters.

Then came the 2001 World Series, arguably the greatest World Series this decade, facing the New York Yankees. The Yankees, as I am sure you know, had won the previous three World Series, and were honoring their city after the 9/11 attacks. Despite immense pressure: Schilling shined.

In Game 1 Schilling faced Hall of Famer Mike Mussina. Schilling was less sharp than usual that postseason, he only pitched seven innings giving up a run, but he didn't have to be: the Diamondbacks scored nine runs. In Game 4, with the Diamondbacks up 2-1 in the Series, Schilling repeated his Game 1 performance. Schilling started the game strong retiring the first six batters he faced before surrendering a solo shot to Shane Spencer in the 3rd. He settled down, facing the minimum number of batters until the 6th when Broscious doubled off Schilling (he retired the next three batters). Schilling handed the ball to Byung-Hun Kim in the 8th with a 3-1 lead, his job complete. Unfortunately for Curt, Jeter became Mr. November that evening to further tighten the series.

In Game 7, Schilling faced off against Roger Clemens. Schilling roughly matched his previous performances in an intense duel between the two clubs. From the 1st through the 6th Schilling faced the minimum, striking out eight. In the 7th Schilling faltered: Derek Jeter and Paul O'Neil singled, and then Tino Martinez sent Jeter home to tie the game. Schilling managed to get out of it, but the damage was done. In the 8th, Schilling tried to hang on but surrendered a homer to Alfonso Soriano, to give the Yankees the lead. He struck out Scott Broscious and surrendered the ball to Miguel Bautista. Randy Johnson wound up finishing the game, and Luis Gonzalez blooped the single over Jeter's head against Mariano Rivera to win the game.

Schilling & Johnson shared MVP honors for the World Series.

The "Bloody Sock" Game

Schilling started Game 1 for Boston against the Yankees and was ineffective after suffering a torn sheath in his ankle. Schilling allowed doctors to suture his Achilles Tendon together, and went out to pitch Game 6. The Red Sox were still down in the series 2 games, and Schilling did what his team needed him to do: Schilling held the Yankees to a single run in four innings. Unlike his previous gems, Schilling only struck out four batters, but remained impressive in spite of suffering through a torn Achilles Tendon. His toughest inning was the 4th when A-Rod and Gary Sheffield hit back to back singles; Schilling managed to get Hideki Matsui to pop out, and then got two ground outs from Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. Schilling largely kept the Yankees in check the rest of the game, picking up steam a bit outside of the lone run he surrendered, a homer by Bernie Williams.

Perhaps the bloody sock was theatrics (to the best of my knowledge there is no evidence to prove it was): but regardless pitching an excellent game on a broken Achilles Tendon remains impressive. Try pitching seven innings on this ankle.

Postseason Brilliance

I spend most of my time in Hall of Fame analysis focusing on the regular season and for good reason: most players don't get a ton of chances in the postseason, and winning a World Series is no guarantee. Even if a player gets many chances, success is no guarantee. Mike Mussina pitched in the postseason twice with Baltimore and five times with New York and never won a ring, despite generally pitching well in October. It's not Mussina's fault that he arrived a year after New York's World Series in 2000, and a year before their championship in 2009.

That being said, Schilling's postseason resume is among the most impressive in Major League history. I would take Schilling's record over any other pitcher in the Wild Card Era (yes, that includes Madison Bumgarner). Schilling pitched 133.1 innings in the postseason, struck out 120 batters against only 25 walks, with a 2.21 ERA. That makes his SO/BB better than his career's (which is the best for any pitcher with a complete career), along with four complete games and two shutouts. In his postseason career he only pitched three below average games: Game 1 of the 1993 World Series, Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS, and Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS.

Compared to his contemporaries: Schilling's ERA in the postseason is lower than Maddux, Glavine, Clemens, Martinez, Johnson, Pettitte, Smoltz and Mussina. Granted, Schilling pitched fewer innings than most of them, but he also pitched more complete games and shutouts than his contemporaries. Overall, I don't feel any of his contemporaries really have an edge against Schilling in terms of postseason performance.

Other near contemporaries were close. Josh Beckett almost single handedly dragged the Marlins to a title in 2003, and manhandled the Indians in the 2007 ALCS (winning MVP honors in both series). His overall record is slightly more mixed: 3.07 ERA in 93.2 innings. Cliff Lee's 2009 for Philadelphia is about as good a postseason performance as any pitcher's in recent memory (although Cliff Lee never won a World Series ring). The best comparison is Madison Bumgarner. I wrote about the Bumgarner-Schilling comparison in other threads, and in aggregate they're similar:

Bumgarner:
2.11 ERA, 87 SO (7.7/9), 18 BB (1.6/9), 4.8 SO/BB, 3 CG, 3 SHO, 1 GF, 102.1 IP

Schilling:
2.23 ERA, 120 SO (8.1/9), 25 BB (1.7/9), 4.8 SO/BB, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 133.1 IP

Overall, both pitchers were exceedingly dominant in the postseason, with Bumgarner's dominance largely coming in the World Series, and Schilling's being a tad more spread out. However, I'd give the edge to Schilling, granted it's close. Schilling pitched his games under more pressure than Bumgarner: his '93 masterpiece was do-or-die, the 2001 World Series is among the closest in baseball history, and his Bloody Sock game was also do-or-die. In contrast, neither the 2010 nor the 2012 World Series were particularly close. The 2014 World Series does compare much better to Schilling's best performances, and they both pitched 21 innings in their best World Series.

The point for me is: maybe Schilling is not the best postseason pitcher in the Wild Card Era, I think he is, but if he's not he's a close second.

Outlook

Schilling deserves the Hall of Fame because of the postseason, but in the regular season Schilling was no slouch. He struck out over 3,000 batters (one of only 18 men to do so), and ranks 15th all time. His ERA+ of 127 in 3,000 innings is clearly Hall of Fame worthy and better than similar inductees: John Smoltz (125), Mike Mussina (123) and Tom Glavine (118). His JAWS is above the standard for a starting pitcher, and ranks 28th all time. Overall, the only deficiency for Schilling compared to other Hall of Fame starters is his win total, which is 'only' 216 (forgetting, of course, that Schilling's win total is higher than Roy Halladay and John Smoltz, and only three behind Pedro Martinez). Schilling also holds the record for the best SO/BB ratio in baseball history (minimum of 2,000 IP, and no: Tommy Bond doesn't count he pitched when a walk took eight balls). For arguments solely concerning baseball: Curt Schilling is not only a Hall of Famer, he's a resounding one.

A Final Word on Character

I do not intend to spend significant time on performance enhancing drug use, or 'character', in my articles. I have written on numerous occasions on my disdain for the use of the "character clause" against players in the Hall of Fame. However, Curt Schilling represents a miserable opportunity to truly invoke the character clause. Look, Schilling is garbage, and I do not say that lightly. However, since retiring Curt Schilling has managed to:

-Spew out numerous transphobic posts on social media
-Call for the murder of journalists
-Claimed the victims of mass murder were paid to pretend it happened
-Shown support for the Confederate Flag

If you'd like a fuller account of the general awfulness of Curt Schilling I would direct you to Craig Calcaterra's piece on his substack, where he describes the case in full.

Needless to say, I do not disagree with much of anything Craig says, and at the end of the day: I firmly believe Schilling is a pitiful, bigoted, human being who went off the deep end soon after social media became regularly available to the public. If you choose to not vote, or support, Schilling due to his casual bigotry: you will get little complaints from me.

However, as disgusting as I find Schilling (and his views are disgusting), I still support him (and others) earning induction into the Hall of Fame, and the reasoning is simple: character does not, and has never, mattered for induction into the Hall. To start, if you look at the plaques of every player who's ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame you will find only eleven instances where character is referenced, and they are:

Harold Baines:
"Respected and clutch left handed hitter who's humble demeanor made him one of the most consistent and reliable players of the 1980s"

Gary Carter:
"His tireless work ethic and durability led to the all-time record for total chances as a catcher"

Andre Dawson:
"A powerful run producer and leader by example whose poise, work ethic, and unsurpassed determination made him a complete player"

Ken Griffey Jr:
"Easy going nature and love of game helped define a new era of baseball"

Bill Mazeroski:
"A defensive wizard whose hard-nosed hustle and quiet work ethic helped lead the Pirates to three division titles"

Jack Morris:
"Intense competitor with a spirited drive and determination who propelled his teams as staff ace."

Jim Palmer:
"Intensity was trademark of 3-time Cy Young winner"

Pee Wee Reese:
"Intangible qualities of subtle leadership on and off field, and competitive fire and professional pride complimented dependable glove, reliable baserunning and clutch hitting"

Enos Slaughter:
"Hard nosed, hustling, performer who played the game with intensity and determination"

Deacon White:

"Renowned for integrity and character"

Jud Wilson:
"A hard nosed and fiery competitor"

As we can see, the Hall of Fame clearly did not define character as an off-field quality to be judged and credited towards players. Where is the praise for Bob Feller's sacrifice (or, for that matter, of Ted Williams, Bob Lemon, and numerous others)? Why isn't the determination and drive of Jackie Robinson (and Larry Doby) breaking the color barrier mentioned? How is it that Roberto Clemente's charitable work fails to get a call out? Why aren't Jim Thome, and Stan Musial, two of the nicest players in MLB history not praised for this on their plaques? Answer: because the Hall of Fame really does not care about character. Not in it's voting, and not in its museum. All of the character traits honored in the plaques (and again, note how few of them there are) all directly relate to how the player performed as a player, while he played.

And on this front: Curt Schilling shined. Schilling is one of two players to win both the Roberto Clemente Award and the Heart and Hustle Award. As shown above: Schilling was an intense and fiery competitor who thrived in the limelight, and his teammates loved him while he was on the mound. So, based on the character clause the Hall seems to actually emphasize on their plaques: Schilling qualifies.

Furthermore, to the extent character off the field has mattered it shows putrid judgment on the part of Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame has worked to ensure steroid users do not gain entrance into the museum. Meanwhile they've said nothing on Schilling's bigotry, the arguable statutory rape by Roger Clemens, and stood silent when racists entered the Hall. I am far more offended by the idea of giving Curt Schilling the opportunity to speak at an induction ceremony than Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, or Barry Bonds. In short, if I were to consider character in voting: I would not be following any moral compass recommended by the Hall of Fame.

Conclusion

Setting aside the character issue: Schilling's case for Cooperstown is quite substantial. The combination of his significant regular season accomplishments, and his superb postseason record, lead to a pitcher well endowed for Cooperstown. There is no good, baseball related, reason for Schilling to not have been inducted years ago.

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