A Curt Look at a Hall of Fame Career
"I'd like to think I did well. I'd like to think that, if I had a must-win game, the guys I played with would want me to have the ball. But no, I don't think I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame." – Curt Schilling, January 29 on WEEI AM 850's "The Big Show"
Last week, the always present and oft self-promoting Curt Schilling showed some rare humility over the Boston radio waves and downplayed his chances at one day ending up in baseball's Hall of Fame. Now some will believe that Schilling only understated his case in order for talking heads (and typing hands) to do what I'm doing right now: make a pitch on Schilling's behalf. Even so, because of his polarizing personality among teammates, fans and the baseball writers, Schilling — unfairly or not — may need all the help he can get.
Given the fact that he's fallen short of all those "important" Hall of Fame benchmarks (300 wins, a trophy case full of Cy Young Awards, a Baseball-Reference page listing dozens upon dozens of All-Star appearances, a Wikipedia page featuring quotes on how feared Schilling was on the mound, etc.), the forty-two year old righty looks like a marginal candidate to earn a bronze bust in Cooperstown. All that said, I'm going to state a strong case for Schilling's enshrinement. I mean, "hey man, even though I'm part of the 'younger people on the Internet,' I saw Schilling play his entire career and I always thought he was a Hall of Famer."
The easiest place to start is to look at Schilling's career performance compared to his peers:
The names listed above are arguably the top ten pitchers during Schilling's career, spanning from 1988 to 2007. There's no question the top five pitchers are no-brainer Hall of Famers (say what you will about the ongoing Roger Clemens saga, but The Rocket is as much an "inner-circle" Hall of Famer as he is a jerk.) After the first five Schilling contemporaries, the numbers start getting blurred but one thing that is clear is that Schilling was one of the best among the next group anyway you slice it. However, before we are so quick to label him "sixth or seventh or eighth best" during his career, let's look a little closer at Schilling's numbers versus the top tier.
Schilling became a full-time starter in 1992 after arriving in Philadelphia – how'd Jason Grimsley work out for ya, Houston? – and was a mainstay in the big league rotations until injuries hit in 2005, forcing him to make 20 appearances out of Boston's bullpen. Even so, he still started 66 games his last three seasons (2005-2007). If we take the top-tier hurlers from the chart above and look strictly at their numbers from 1992 to 2007, Schilling's case for the Hall becomes that much stronger:
During that stretch, Schilling was second in complete games, first in K:BB and third in K/9. Schilling betters the group's average in complete games, strikeouts, walks allowed, K:BB, K/9 and WHIP. By the way, if you didn't know, Schilling's K:BB ratio (4.38) ranks first all-time since 1900. Sure, it's just one stat off the back of a baseball card, but c'mon people…Schilling was a great pitcher, one of the very best in all of baseball for sixteen years — a period which includes at least five Hall of Famers.
One could also look at some Bill Jamesian Hall of Fame metrics, like the Black Ink test, the Gray Ink test, Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor and Schilling once again stacks up favorably.
The lack of shiny hardware will be an easy thing for many to knock Schilling on, but he did have three second-place finishes in Cy Young Award voting — 2001 and 2002 in the NL and 2004 in the AL. Below are Schilling's three runner-up seasons…seasons good enough to win almost any other year:
I mean, really, is it fair to hold it against Schilling that Randy Johnson (2002) and Johan Santana (2004) were unanimous winners those years? And if awards are your bag, then don't overlook his NLCS MVP from 1993, his World Series co-MVP from 2001 and his back-to-back Pitcher of the Year awards by The Sporting News in 2001 and 2002. If feel-good stories are also your kind of thing, throw in his 1995 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (best exemplifies character and integrity both on and off the field), his 2001 Roberto Clemente Award (selected for character and charitable contributions to his community) and his 2001 Hutch Award (best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire to win.) Fluff? Yes, but all part of the package, baby.
Finally, it'd be foolish not to touch on Schilling's postseason record. Everyone remembers Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, fewer people can recall how dominant he was in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and unfortunately not enough people recall how important Schilling's Game 5 start in the 1993 World Series was to the Phillies. But three amazing postseason starts does a Hall of Fame career not make. To truly appreciate Schilling's big game dominance, you have to look at his entire playoff career totals:
Need I say more?
Hmm…let's review. Lots of strikeouts to go along with very solid numbers across the board, unfairly not enough All-Star appearances or Cy Young Awards to please the over-the-hill (or is it under-the-bridge?) Baseball Writers Association of America, an outstanding postseason record, possibly abrasive personality…Geez, does that at all sound familiar? (Oh, give me a break…I'm a Lederer for cryin' out loud!)
The case is pretty clear and the statistics don't lie. So Curt, the next time you want to go on record about your unworthy-for-the-Hall career, put a sock in it, bloody or otherwise.
Joe Lederer is the Assistant General Manager of Riverwalk Golf Club in San Diego. Besides working on his PGA Class A membership, Joe spends way too much time cooking and reading Nietzsche and not enough time working on his short game. Joe gets his baseball writing chops from his mother.