(Warning: Story contains coarse language)
Curt Schilling is, by all accounts, an odious man with repugnant beliefs. In 2015, he was suspended from his analyst gig at ESPN after tweeting an offensive meme that compared Muslims to Nazis. The following year, he posted a transphobic meme on Facebook that ultimately got him fired. Months later, he called a T-shirt that advocated lynching journalists "awesome." These days, he hosts a podcast for Breitbart, the right-wing media company widely denounced as misogynist, racist, and xenophobic.
He's also, unequivocally, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. And if the recent surge in support from the Baseball Writers' Association of America is any indication, he'll soon have a plaque at Cooperstown. This year, his seventh on the Hall of Fame ballot, Schilling - who intimated in 2017 that his politics were keeping him out of the Hall - has appeared on 71.6 percent of the anonymous and public ballots submitted thus far, according to Ryan Thibodaux's Hall of Fame tracker, falling just shy of the 75 percent threshold for induction. If Schilling doesn't get in this time around, he'll probably get in next year or the year after.
And while he deserves that honor, quantitatively, the decision to check the box next to Schilling's name must be increasingly agonizing, even for a voting body as lacking in diversity as the predominantly old-and-white BBWAA. It should be, at least.
To be sure, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum/shrine that celebrates and immortalizes the on-field triumphs of odious men who held repugnant beliefs and did reprehensible things, from cheaters and philanderers to wife-beaters and racists. Amid the ongoing - and tectonic - cultural shift toward empathy, however, a minimal level of not-being-an-unrepentant-asshole would seem to be a prerequisite to receiving the kind of prestige that comes from being a Hall of Famer. It's perfectly fine and good, now, to hold people (men, mostly) to account for saying and doing bad things. There's a line now, is the point, and while the walls at Cooperstown are plastered with the smiling faces of deplorables, I'd like to think that contemporary voters wouldn't elect a candidate who, for instance, belonged to a white supremacist terrorist organization. In 1937, conversely, Tris Speaker, a Ku Klux Klan member, appeared on 165 of the 201 Hall of Fame ballots cast by the writers.
In their official election rules, the BBWAA notes that "voting shall be based upon (a) player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." Historically, the "character clause," as it's known, has been primarily invoked to bar from election those players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 labor stoppage. (Hank Aaron, by the way, admitted to using amphetamines during his career.) Voters, in other words, have been disinclined to interpret the words "integrity" or "character" in a non-baseball context. A complete and utter lack of moral courage has seldom been a disqualifying character trait for Hall of Fame induction. But maybe, as the cultural climate changes so should the voting habits of the BBWAA.
After all, no matter what the Hall of Fame is, be it museum or shrine, electing a man like Schilling ultimately makes Cooperstown - and, by extension, baseball - a more hostile, less inclusive space. Putting him on that dais validates him - and, tacitly, his hateful, inflammatory rhetoric - and ultimately demonstrates that being a bad person, kids, won't preclude you from receiving one of the most prestigious honors in all of sports. (If Cooperstown, moreover, is a museum dedicated to chronicling the history of the game through its best players, it has failed by omitting the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest position player and pitcher, respectively, of all time; in its willingness to preserve the legacy of contemptible players, it has failed as a shrine, too.)
I don't have a Hall of Fame vote, and I'm thankful that I don't because I honestly don’t know how you vote for Schilling without compromising yourself morally while maintaining credibility intellectually. To not vote for Schilling would be to denounce historical precedent. Players as accomplished as him have always been welcome in Cooperstown, and players with equally - or more - contemptible views are already enshrined.
Precedents change, though. Attitudes and approaches change. Maybe character should actually matter now.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.