Do Hall voters hold Schilling's politics against him?
So Curt Schilling was on the radio in Boston, and the hosts were smart enough to ask him why he’s not yet been elected to the Hall of Fame. He cited a few reasons, but his favorite seems to be that voters don’t like him because he’s a Republican.
The fact that [the Braves] won 14 straight pennants. I think his "Swiss Army knife versatility," which is what somebody said yesterday. I think he got a lot of accolades for that. I think he got a lot of recognition for that. He's a Hall of Famer. The other big thing is, I think he's a Democrat. I know that as a Republican that there's some people that really don't like that.
Schilling actually started off pretty well there!
I’ve little doubt that Smoltz did benefit from a halo effect after spending so many seasons with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and did benefit from his seasons as an ace relief pitcher. I suspect he also benefited from his reputation as a tremendous postseason pitcher. Also, he was just a damn good pitcher, generally.
Anyway, so far so good. But the notion that Smoltz got extra credit for being a Democrat is just knuckleheaded for a couple of reasons.
One, I sincerely doubt if any Hall of Fame candidate in history has received any sort of meaningful support, at all, because he was a Democrat. There’s just no reason to believe that, largely because so few candidates have openly been or supported the Democratic Party. I’m not saying that hasn’t happened. I’m saying it just doesn’t become well-known to the point where voters would have any idea.
And two, most of the available evidence suggests that John Smoltz is not a Democrat.
According to this page, a few years ago he did appear (or was scheduled to appear) at a fundraiser in Michigan for Andrea Cascarilla, then running as a Democrat for State Representative in Michigan (she lost in the primary by 23 votes).
That’s one data point. Here are a few others:
- In 2006, Smoltz stumped for Ralph Reed, best known for his involvement with the Christian Coalition.
- In 2010, there was speculation that Smoltz might run for Congress as a Republican.
- We have public records of six (or five; one might be a duplicate) financial contributions that Smoltz has made to political candidates, all of whom were running for office as Republicans.
Those are some pretty serious data points!
Now, it’s an intellectual fallacy to assume that because Schilling seems so wrong about this, he must necessarily be wrong about everything else. But his credibility right now isn’t looking so hot!
Of course he kept going. Asked if this bias against Republicans actually cost him 100 votes, Schilling responded:
Absolutely. When human beings do something, anything, there's bias and prejudice. Listen, nine percent of the voters did not vote for Pedro. There's something wrong with the process and some of the people in the process when that happens. I don't think that it kept me out or anything like that but I do know there are guys who probably will never vote for me because of the things I said or did. That's the way it works.
Here, I think Schilling’s right and wrong.
Or rather, he’s wrong and then right.
Are there guys who probably will never vote for Schilling because of things he said or did? Of course! Randy Johnson was often beastly to the writers who covered him. In a perhaps-related note, 15 Hall of Fame voters didn’t vote for Randy Johnson. Ken Griffey Jr. was often beastly to the writers who covered him. In a perhaps-related note, even Junior Griffey won’t get votes next year from 100 percent of the voters. Of course there’s bias and prejudice.
But there’s just no reason to think that Griffey won’t sail into the Hall of Fame, or that Curt Schilling lost anything like 100 votes because he’s outspoken, or cost Rhode Island a few million dollars, or whatever. There’s just nothing in the history of Hall of Fame voting that would support anything close to that number.
Yes, we’re all biased and prejudiced. Some more than others, and in all sorts of different ways. But when Hall of Fame voters – yes, most of them probably did vote for Barack Obama – sit down to fill out their ballots, they’re biased less against blowhards who deny evolution than against starting pitchers who won “only” 216 games, never garnered a Cy Young Award, and was a big-time star for only a few years. Now, you know and I know that Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame, purely on the merits of his performance. We also know that most of the voters simply don’t agree, just as many of the voters for many years didn’t agree that Bert Blyleven didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.
I’m pulling for Schilling, and will continue to pull for him. Mostly because he was a great pitcher, but also because I’m personally familiar with an act of his personal kindness, just one (I suspect) among many.
It’s tempting to believe that the best thing Schilling can do at this point is shut up for a year or two, see if the voters come around.
Then again, you never know. After Tony Pérez didn’t get elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997, he accused voters of racism. At the time, I essentially dismissed his claim (maybe because I didn’t believe in his credentials; as it turns out, at least one study did support Pérez’s claim). Did his complaint help him eventually get elected? The next year, his support hardly improved at all, from 312 votes to 321. The next year, with Nolan Ryan, George Brett, and Robin Yount all joining the ballot, Pérez actually lost a few votes. And then the next year, with Ryan and Brett and Yount having been elected and nobody tremendously impressive joining the ballot, both Carlton Fisk and Pérez were elected. Meanwhile, Bert Blyleven came in 13th on the ballot, with only 87 votes.
Outside of the Ryans and Bretts and Jeters and the like, there aren’t any guarantees. Curt Schilling’s biased and prejudiced, too. I’ll guess that he’s biased toward himself, and maybe just a little prejudiced against all those baseball writers who voted for Obama last time. Because he’s human. He can also be pretty smart, too. I’d love him to explain to me why he got 215 votes, and Mussina got only 135. I mean, I know some voters who hate crossword-puzzle solvers. Those damn know-it-alls. But enough to account for 80 votes?
Update! In a Twitter exchange, Thursday afternoon, Schilling said he'd been joking about Smoltz, and about losing 100 votes. He also said he didn't believe he'd lost a single Hall of Fame vote because of politics. I don't have any reason to disbelieve him. So the joke's on me for not getting the joke. Apologies, and best of luck to Schilling in the next election.