Schilling's Hall of Fame Candidacy
As we sit here today, I'm inclined to give a lukewarm thumbs-up to newly retired Curt Schilling as a Hall-of-Famer. But I reserve the right to change my mind in the next five years, perhaps multiple times.
Schilling's is a unique career and, thus, a unique Cooperstown case -- the vast majority of his wins came during his 30s, and his legacy was constructed largely on the 11 wins (against two losses) that he amassed during the five postseasons in which he participated). Baseball isn't like the NFL, where a quarterback's legacy is predicated upon the number of rings he won. Postseason success, if anything, is merely a tiebreaker when we talk about great ballplayers. This guy isn't going to be denied entry because he was under-.500 for his career in the playoffs, and this guy isn't going to get in simply because he was 9-3 in October.
But when it comes to a borderline candidate such as Schilling, perhaps the postseason record breaks the tie in his favor. I'm on record as giving the thumbs-down to Mike Mussina's candidacy. In doing so, I pointed out Mussina ranked behind three other right-handed starters of his era (Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux) and arguably behind Schilling and John Smoltz as well. Although Schilling has 54 fewer wins than Mussina, he also has a better ERA+ (127 versus 123), plus more strikeouts in fewer innings.
Ultimately, though, it is Schilling's October legacy that sets him apart. The three brilliant starts in the 2001 World Series, the "Bloody Sock" game in 2004, and even the gutsy 5 1/3 innings he gave in Game 2 of the 2007 World Series -- which turned out to be his final game.
Schilling could be a blowhard, a jerk and an outright fraud at times. He lost a great deal of respect in my eyes when he backed off his tough stance against steroids when confronted about it by a Congressional committee in 2005. Schilling is also the type who, if elected to Cooperstown, would probably lobby to go in with a Red Sox cap, despite having spent only one-fifth of his career in Boston, because there's more glory attached to the Red Sox than, say, the Phillies.
But he was great theater any time he took the mound, and for a stretch of nearly a decade (roughly 1997-2006), he was one of the top half-dozen pitchers in the game. Take all that, and add the October heroics, and Schilling starts to look pretty Hall-worthy.
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