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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.

By Dave Sheinin  |  March 24, 2009; 11:45 AM ET
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Absolutely agree that Schilling is a HOFer. Maybe not first ballot though. Also agree that Mussina is not Hall'd be a joke if that guys eventually finds his way to Cooperstown.

Posted by: 1buj | March 24, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Schilling isn't even a candidate for the HoF in my book. He was an average pitcher during the regular seasons and was lucky enough to pitch for good teams later in his career for teams that had no problem shipping him off somewhere else after he used up his usefulness in the playoffs. He had to resort to antics and throwing himself in the limelight through media-hype to market himself. Mussina does his job year after year and is far more worthy of the HoF than Schilling should ever be. Mussina and Maddux are equals -ahead of Martinez - and if Clemens is voted in then so should McGwire, Bonds, and Palmeiro. I honestly can't believe anyone would consider putting Schilling in over Mussina. Not even close.

Posted by: AsstGM | March 24, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Schilling was a great pitcher, but he basically had 3 dominant seasons and ate innings. The post season numbers don't sway me. I'll look at the hundreds of regular season games, not the dozen or so post season ones. I wonder, if he makes it, then do Jamie Moyer, Kenny Rogers and Andy Pettite go too? Schilling does not scream HOF to me, maybe he gets there. But, if Blyleven is not in, then Schilling should not be.

Posted by: dfh123 | March 24, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Schilling is not borderline, he's a mortal lock and should be a first ballot HoFer. He's got 3100+ strikeouts (15th all time), the 13th best K/9IP ratio in history, the 2nd best K/BB ratio in history, and a 127 ERA+ (the same as Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson). His postseason success is more than just an 11-2 record, his postseason success is the stuff of legend. Think about the greatest pitchers of this era, Clemens, Maddux, Pedro, Smoltz, Glavine - none of them have the postseason resume of Schilling. He belongs in the Hall, and the only reason he might not get in on the 1st ballot is his abrasive personality, not his play on the field.

Posted by: MarkDaniel | March 24, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I watched Schilling pitch for the Diamondbacks in 2001 - I was a season ticket holder, so I was there for almost every game - and he absolutely dominated. He and Randy Johnson (who everyone admits will be a first ballot hall of famer) carried that team to an unlikely World Series win against the previously dominant Yankees. By the way, the Yankees haven't won a World Series since... their next closest opportunity came in Schilling's first year with Boston. Boston, with Schilling's gutsy 'bloody sock' performance' playing a major role - came back from 3 games down in the ALCS. But back to 2001: that year Johnson won the Cy Young, but Schilling and RJ both dominated all comers, and there is simply no way that Arizona team - for all their heart - would have won without them. I also don't believe Boston would have won either series without Schilling; certainly not in 2004 and likely not in 2007 (Schilling only allowed 4 hits in Game 2.) When one pitcher has that great an impact on multiple teams, truly he belongs in the HOF.

Posted by: m561 | March 24, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Even if you throw out Schilling's first 2 seasons, he averaged 12 wins per season. Twelve. (If you include those first 2 seasons, that average shrinks to less than 11 wins - but in fairness, they shouldn't be included.)

In addition, his ERA is 3.46 - there are only 7 pitchers currently in the HOF with a higher ERA. The only one in the modern era is Eckersley - and Eck's 390 saves make him a lock.

Of the modern pitchers who will someday be in the HOF, only Glavine has a slightly higher ERA (3.54) - but he has 300 wins and 2 Cy Young Awards.

Plus, Schilling has ZERO Cy Young Awards - there is not one season that he was the best pitcher in the game, or even in his league.

So, to recap - he averaged 12 wins per year, no Cy Young Awards, and would have the second-highest ERA (once Glaving gets in) of any starting pitcher in the modern era in the HOF. His reputation has always outpaced his actual performance - but having a gift for self-promotion and a blog shouldn't qualify someone for the HOF. Why are we even talking about this?

(Having said that - this discussion reminds me of the old saying, "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses a lamppost - for support rather than illumination.")

Posted by: dcd1 | March 24, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

A couple of things.

1) dcd1: Schilling averaged 14 wins a year if you only count his years starting. You're counting his first few years as a reliever. Also, Schilling spent the majority of his career on a terrible Phillies team. He went 95-72 in his 8 years with them. The Phillies, on the other hand, went 577-654 in that span. Don't blame him for not winning.

2) Lack of Cy Youngs: he placed 4th, 2nd, 2nd, and 2nd. Four years of pretty good showings. Granted not every year, but come on. If he'd won 1 he'd be a near lock.

3) He's had 10 seasons where he's at least 30% better than the average pitcher, not shabby.

4) He has a 1.13 WHIP. Only 8 pitchers had a WHIP better than that in the MLB last year. Maddux has a 1.14, Pedro 1.05, Big Unit 1.16, Smoltz 1.17. Granted WHIP isn't the perfect stat, but he kept men off base. Schilling had an issue keeping the ball in the park though, so his ERA is higher.

Now, I'm personally not 100% sold on his HOF worthiness, but he's got a good chance.

Posted by: adampschroeder | March 24, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

While Schilling had an outstanding career the consensus is that his career totals don't merit election into baseball's Hall of Fame.Schilling pitched 20 major league seasons from 1988-2007, going 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA and 3,116 strikeouts.

The argument that Schilling's post season accomplishments (11-2 in post season play with 3 World Series wins) should be a big enough factor to make him a Hall of Famer needs to be put into perspective.

It should be remembered that until 1969 there were no playoffs, just the World Series. The league championship series began in 1969 and divisional play offs in 1994.So when we hear about "modern" day pitchers and post season victory totals this needs to be taken into account.

Because of the increase in playoff games only one pitcher who played his career before 1969 is even in the top 10 in post season wins. That is Whitey Ford who has 10 World Series wins.

Schillings statistics are similar in many ways to Mickey Lolich who was never elected to the HOF. Lolich won 217 games in 16 years, Schilling 216 games in 20 years. Lolich's ERA WAS 3.44 and Schillings 3.46. Shilling had 3,116 strikeouts to Lolich's 2,832. Lolich also had over twice as many complete games (195-83) and shutouts (41-20) as Schilling

Lolich like Schilling has also won 3 World Series games. Lolich had 3 complete game victories including a win in the decisive game 7 and was named MVP of the 1968 World Series

At the time of his retirement, no left-handed pitcher in baseball history had more strikeouts than Mickey Lolich.He has since been surpassed in that category by Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson.

Lolich felt that the fact he never won a Cy Young Award hurt his chances for the HOF and the same might eventually be said about Curt Schilling.

Posted by: TheGreatAardvark | March 24, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

One thing to keep in mind is that Mussina pitched his entire career in the AL East.

ERA while pitching for AL EAST team:

Mussina 3.68
Schilling 4.04

Posted by: doctke | March 25, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

His K/BB ratio (4.38) is nothing short of amazing. Tommy Bond, the only pitcher with a better K/BB, was out of baseball by '85 - 1885. Modern era (post-1900), only Pedro (4.14) among the elite pitchers is close. Of the 3000K club, there is Pedro, and only 4 other guys over 3:1 - Maddux (3.37), R. Johnson (3.27), Jenkins (3.20), and Smoltz (3.04). Schilling led his league 5 out of 6 years in K/BB from '01 to '06. In '05 I don't think he had enough innings. Basically, a strike throwing machine.

There is something of a bias in HOF selection against later career excellence. Ask either Darrell or Dwight Evans. Schilling did not become a full time starter until the middle of 1992, when he was 25. Wasting prime years during the strike seasons probably did not help, either. Other than 1992, and a deceptively good W-L record in 1993, he really did not excel before he was 30 (1997).

From 1997 on, his ERA+ did not dip below 120 (except in 2005, an injury year). His 7 best strikeout season came from 1997 on. For a 4 year stretch, 2001 - 2004, he was consistently dominant - ERA+ of 157, 142, 159, and 150. In 2002, his K/BB ratio approached 10:1. The fact that he did not win a Cy Young in 2001 or 2002 had something to do with his team mate, Randy Johnson, being at his peak then, too.

The above is simply a regular season case, and does not even address his being baseball's Bill Russell (well, excluding the Bill Russell who played baseball).

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 25, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Screw ERA considerations...

World Series Rings:
Schilling 3.0
Mussina 0.0

No soup for you Mike!

Posted by: PussinaH8r | March 26, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Wow... great discussion. Both sides present really thoughtful and informed ideas. Prior to reading everyone's thoughts my sense was the same as Sheinin's: it's a toss-up. Schilling was outstanding and one of the best big-game pitchers ever. Just not sure that does the trick. After all, it's not called the Hall of Very Good. In the end Schilling's election, for me, will be like a bang-bang call at first... you may not agree with the final decision but it's just too close to argue about such a tough call.

Posted by: outsider6 | March 27, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

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