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Chester County Press

Editorial: A pitcher faces 'Character' and 'Integrity'

02/02/2021 02:33PM ● By Richard Gaw

On the hot and humid afternoon of Sept. 1, 1997, Curt Schilling, a former resident of Kennett Square, struck out 16 New York Yankees en route to a 5-1 victory for the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium.

Schilling’s performance against the World Champions that day was not just superb, it was purely dominant. Schilling’s pitches consistently clocked in the high 90s, testing the patience and buckling the knees of Yankee batters who simply had no chance against him, and by the time he departed after the eighth inning, the 50,869 witnesses on that Labor Day knew they had just seen the brushstroke creation of a once-in-a-lifetime canvas by a master of his craft.

For 20 Major League seasons, time and again, Curt Schilling was the artist blessed with a gift that very few who toil in the profession of pitching a baseball have ever – or will ever – achieve. He won 216 games with the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Red Sox and Orioles, was a six-time All-Star, won three World Series titles, and his 11-2 win record ranks him as one of the greatest postseason pitchers in the sport’s history.

If the accountability of human actions were deemed entirely irrelevant, Schilling’s lifetime statistics would have already earned him a permanent place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, likely on his first attempt in 2012, five years after his retirement in 2007. For the past nine years, however, he has failed to reach the 75 percent vote threshold needed for enshrinement, and at a vote held Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) last week to determine the 2021 inductees, Schilling came close but fell just short, gaining 71.1 percent of the vote, the closest of anyone on the ballot.

As a result, the membership of the Hall of Fame this year will, for the first time since 1960, induct no one.

Unfortunately for Schilling, two of the qualifications necessary for election into the Hall of Fame have nothing to do with statistics. As stated in the BBWAA rules, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Throughout his two decades on the pitching mound, Curt Schilling merged the blessing of his right arm with the courage of his moxie to become one of the most successful pitchers in the last 50 years of Major League Baseball.

In the years since his retirement, however, Schilling has spent his life in battle against the twin foes of Integrity and Character, attempting to turn them into fools through the sheer force of his message.

Integrity and Character have not been made fools of by Schilling. Instead, they have crowded the plate and pulverized him, turning the brilliance of his career numbers into a tangled mush of inconsequence.

Given the bully pulpit of social media to express his political views, Schilling – as remains his Constitutional right – has gone all out, as a commentator for the right-wing news source Breitbart and as a prolific user of Twitter. With these two forums, the First Amendment and the power of his celebrity in his corner, he had the choice to responsibly engage in discourse that supported his Conservative views.

Instead, in posts and commentary that have since clung to him the way a barnacle does to a whale, Schilling went completely rogue:

  • He promoted a post that suggested that journalists be lynched, next to his comment: “OK. So much awesome here.”
  • He retweeted a tweet post that suggested that one of the survivors of the Parkland High School shooting in 2018 was a “paid crisis actor.”
  • He shared a photograph of a transgendered man beside an incendiary comment, in his support for the North Carolina anti-LGBT “bathroom bill.”
  • He shared a Hitler meme on Twitter that attempted to draw a connection between Muslims and Nazis. “It’s said only 5-10 percent of Muslims are extremists,” the graphic said. “In 1940, only 7 percent of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?”

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In many baseball writers’ circles, the word going around as recently as the turn of the new year was that the BBWAA was finally going to give Schilling the 75 percent he needed for induction. Then Jan. 6 happened, when thousands of far-right wing insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol Building intent on causing havoc and violence on the day President-elect Joe Biden was to be officially affirmed as the nation’s 46th President.

Soon after, Schilling posted a tweet supporting the seditious acts that led to the death of five people.

“Sit back, [shut up] and watch folks start a confrontation for [expletive] that matters like rights, democracy and the end of [government] corruption,” Schilling wrote.

The writers reached out to the Hall of Fame, and amended their ballots.

It has been said that the Baseball Hall of Fame is not a membership of choir boys, and for every Cal Ripken, there are likely three or four times as many adulterers, drug abusers, racists, raging alcoholics, wife beaters and criminals who got to the hallowed shrine in Cooperstown on the basis of their careers alone, while selection committees have, in years’ past, turned blind eyes to the integrity and character of the player.

It would be reasonably fair to categorize Curt Schilling’s continuing Hall of Fame omission as a victimization of the times, but this is a time when the twin virtues of Integrity and Character are on trial in America, not only for professional athletes but for elected officials, rioters and looters, law enforcement, American presidents and everyday citizens who are now held accountable for actions that may have once been accepted.

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For the past several years, an Arizona Diamondbacks uniform that once belonged to Curt Schilling hangs prominently on a wall at the front of Burton’s Barbershop on State Street in Kennett Square, on which Schilling himself wrote: “To all you trash talkers at Burton’s…God Bless and All the Best.”

Throughout the years that Schilling and his wife Shonda raised their family here, local residents welcomed them to the quiet shade beneath the giant spotlight of celebrity, and ask any Phillies fan whether he or she will make the five-hour trek up to Cooperstown to see a former resident – one of our own -- receive his enshrinement to the Hall of Fame, and the answer will be an overwhelming “Absolutely.”

Ask them what first needs to be done in order for that day to happen and they will say that Curt Schilling must bury his own sword in the ground.

This newspaper will always support an individual’s right to express his or her political beliefs, in any forum they choose, and this page is a weekly reminder of that right. And yet, when those opinions are divisive and malicious in their intent they are no longer just a kind of trash talking, but cut deep into the fabric of what Character and Integrity stand for.

For 20 professional seasons, we watched Curt Schilling control the temperament of nearly every game he pitched. In the years that follow, we hope that he can also control the temperament of his voice.