LONGSHOTS: Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
by Dave Long
When Curt Schilling went down for the count in 2008 a few weeks ago it started a lot of chatter about him and the Hall of Fame. The question was, if this was a career-ending injury, had he done enough to warrant entry to baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown?
To some he’s a no-brainer. To others, with “just” 216 career wins, it was an “are you kidding me?” resounding NO. Personally, I’m on the fence. On one hand, those 216 are paltry by Hall standards. Only a handful of starting pitchers are in with fewer wins. But he has a sensational post-season résumé that just jumps out at you when you look at his stats.
But to some extent, the latter clouds the issue too. With three playoff rounds now the expanded format gives today’s pitchers a big edge in that category. Luis Tiant has 13 more wins than Schilling and a similar big-game pitcher reputation, but isn’t in. Why? Partly because he couldn’t augment his credentials as Schilling has, because even the two-round format didn’t start until halfway through his career.
Then there are on-the-cusp players never getting any playoff action at all because they were never on teams good enough to get there. Which, given the Yankees’ dominance from 1947 to 1964, meant almost every pitcher in the American League during that time. That was the case for Jim Bunning, who had 224 wins and 184 losses playing mainly with Detroit and Philadelphia in the 1950s and ’60s. He did eventually get in, but after a 25-year wait and only after the Kentucky senator had become a political star. An argument for another day, of course, is why Bunning is in and Tiant not in, when Luis has more wins, four 20-win seasons to Bunning’s one, a better winning percentage and virtually the same ERA and number of appearances.
The short answer is the ambiguous nature of the voting process, which brings us back to Schilling. And I’ll add another familiar name to this conversation as well: Pedro Martinez. He has said he might retire at the end of the year. So I’ll ask: are his 212 wins Hall-worthy? At first glance, in a win neighborhood with Kevin Brown (211), Vida Blue (209), Andy Petitte (211) and Rick Reuschel (214), I’d say no.
But there’s more to it and here are five ways to look at it before deciding:
Piling up the Numbers: I’m not as big on this one as many people. It says 300 wins, 500 homers or 3,000 hits and you’re in, no questions asked. And it seems like a pretty good standard because those are impressive milestones to be sure, although the home run benchmark will be tested by the steroid era issue. This one, however, can be more about consistency and durability than sheer greatness, like with Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Tommie John, who got 324, 318 and 288 wins respectively by lasting forever. The first two are in and were very good pitchers but never considered great at any time in their careers. Sutton won 20 just once on mostly good teams and didn’t get over .500 until his ninth season. Niekro won 20 three times, lost 20 twice and pitched until 46. John is an annual contender for the Hall who was nine games under .500 after 40 while hanging on until 46. I’d take both Schilling and Pedro over these guys in a heartbeat.
If He’s Not In, How Can This New Guy Be In? I use this standard for any third baseman who comes up from now on. Is he better than Ron Santo, a very good player for the Cubs in the 1960s who was a good fielder with better offensive numbers than Brooks Robinson, who sailed in? I’ll do the same with the old Yankee Graig Nettles, who while hitting only .248 has more home runs than any third baseman not in. He was also a great fielder, whose 1978 World Series was as good as Robinson’s in 1970. In this category are Jim Kaat, Bert (Be home) Blylevin and John, who all have more than 280 wins. And it will soon include Mike Mussina, who now has 261 and counting.
If He’s In How Can He Not Be? I use this when considering Jim Rice. As while he had fewer homers than Nettles (bet you didn’t know that!) I compare him to Kirby Puckett. The latter was a much better fielder and hit 20 points higher, but how in the name of Rogers Hornsby does a Hall of Fame middle-of-the-order hitter have fewer homers (207) than Nashua’s Rico Petrocelli? Plus he had five fewer 100-RBI seasons than Rice and no MVP. Not saying he doesn’t belong, just, if he does, Rice does too. Here we’ve got Hal Newhouser — 207-150 with a 3.07 ERA and seven All-Star games in the ’40s — and Don Drysdale — 209-166, 2.95 ERA, nine All-Star games, one Cy Young. I think Schilling and Pedro are both better than these guys who are real borderliners to me.
GreatestaAt Peak: This is the measure I mostly use and why I’d vote for Sandy Koufax every time, despite his having just 166 wins, because he had the greatest five-year period of pitching I’ve seen. Pedro fits here because his years in Boston were the most similar to that since I’ve been watching. Some would say he was better. To me it’s about wins, innings and runs allowed, and Koufax demolishes Pedro in two of those categories. It’s also why Rice should get in. He was the most-feared American League hitter for 10 years and I vote on greatness more than overall numbers before crashing quickly.
Intangibles: Whitey Ford won “just” 236 games on great Yankees teams but he has 10 World Series wins. John Smoltz is on the bubble with just 210 while going to the playoffs 14 straight years. But he did lose four seasons (and as many as 70 wins) while a closer, so he’s close. Schilling’s 216 wins normally wouldn’t be enough, but in being 10-2 (Ford was 10-6) in post-season when it counts most, to go along with memories of the bloody sock in the year they finally won it, he has a decent shot.
When I add it up — despite the win total, Pedro is more of a no-brainer. He absolutely was the best on the planet for seven years or so, while Big Curt was among the best. So I’ll probably be on the fence with him for a while longer. Or at least until Tiant gets in — because if Catfish Hunter and Bunning are in, there’s no way Luis shouldn’t be.
But that’s an argument for another day, as is my final answer on the clutch Mr. Schilling.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.