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January 22, 2020

Kevin Cooney: Curt Schilling trending into Baseball Hall of Fame next year

The Baseball Hall of Fame is — in its core — a museum. It’s an awesome museum with cool displays on the edge of a really neat lake in upstate New York. But it is still a museum.

However, it isn’t a religious institution. It isn’t a moral compass. It is meant to honor people who played the game at the highest level. And a lot of people that have been deified in that building have serious flaws that may cause their most adamant fans to become queasy.

Which leads us to Curt Schilling, the former Phillies/Diamondbacks/Red Sox pitcher who fell just short in his eighth year on the ballot of earning enshrinement with 70 percent of the vote. The Class of 2020 will feature only Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Rockies/Expos outfielder Larry Walker, each of whom earned the necessary 75 percent of the vote.

With an incoming 2021 class that would fit the term “underwhelming,” Schilling is likely 18 months away with his date on a Cooperstown dais. Schilling’s vote total jumped nine points this year. With an empty incoming ballot, that number’s not going down and it is likely that a Schilling-only ceremony will cause the sport’s powers-that-be some serious sleepless nights.

That’s because Schilling’s political Tweets — a stream of opinions that have compared Muslims to Nazis, spoke out against transgender rights and featured a picture of a t-shirt that states “Rope. Tree. Journalist. (Some Assembly Required)” — are so out of the norm that they cause people to recoil.

This is my sixth season as a Baseball Hall of Fame voter. I have put Schilling on the ballot all six times. The reason is simple: He is among the best big-game pitchers in the history of the game. The 11-2 record in the postseason with a 2.23 ERA. The fact that his team won every elimination game that he pitched in. The 216 wins may not jump out at you using the old “pitchers must get near 300 wins to get close” standard, but the strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.38) is the best in baseball since 1884. He and Pedro Martinez are the only pitchers to strike out over 3,000 hitters and issue fewer than 800 walks.

If that’s not a Hall of Famer, then what exactly is it?

I also vote in the positive because of the perspective that I’m not electing Curt Schilling to a political office. I know I’m not voting for Schilling as a Pope or a Saint. I’m putting him into a baseball museum as a figure of the game who had an impact which stood out above his contemporaries. That’s it — nothing more.

I can sit here and say that Schilling’s political views are an example of why the country has never seemed so divided, because we have lost all ideas of civil discussion.

However, that right goes both ways. I’ve had people who have screamed at me for not taking every player accused on steroids – Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, etc — because what they did on the field mattered most say that I shouldn’t vote for Schilling for moral reasons. That argument doesn’t click, either.

(As far as steroids, my policy has been to vote on a case-by-case basis. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens both have earned my vote because they have accomplishments that would have put them in Cooperstown before any alleged wrongdoing. Others like Sosa and Ramirez haven’t earned that because their accomplishments are strictly based off potential PED use. However, that’s debatable.)

If you started really enforcing character clauses on Cooperstown for views about the world outside the game, you would have a pretty empty building. And where exactly do we draw the line on this? Does everyone who doesn’t fit our political beliefs get disqualified? How about those who cheated on their spouses? In that sense, we’re heading down a slippery slope.

Those who don’t agree with Schilling in the Hall better accept that its going to happen in 2021. The numbers don’t lie. And it is clear that’s where this path is going.

RELATED: Paul Hagen: When will a true Phillies player make the Hall of Fame?

Other HOF Thoughts

• Scott Rolen’s candidacy was given a huge bump this cycle, going to 35.3% after being around 17% in 2019. While that doesn’t mean 2021 is the year for Rolen, his path is clearly defined upward.

• I’m stunned that Bonds and Clemens are still spinning their wheels at 60 percent with just two years left on the ballot. The final year will also tie in with Alex Rodriguez’s first year on the ballot, which will ignite a whole other PED debate that will likely be the Hall’s final determination. The theory has been analytic voters — younger and less tied into the character clause — would flip Bonds and Clemens upward. That hasn’t developed yet.

• There’s been a lot of people commenting on Walker’s rise from the teens to election as a serious turnaround. It is important, however, to note that Walker has benefitted from the ballot finally opening up after years of steroid-era logjams. There will be more in the next few years who go up like that.

• Finally — a lot is being made of the single lone no on Jeter’s election. It is why every vote should be recorded and released to the public. The fact that the Hall doesn’t allow that is just ridiculous.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinCooney

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