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Curses and suffering sure are trendy now that the Red Sox have blown off the Bambino. Everywhere I turned in the past week, one media outlet or another had rolled out a list of the most hexed and vexed teams and fans. Perhaps the most interesting new curse was suggested by a reader of the New York Daily News, who claimed that the Yankees have been hoo-doo'ed by the return of Don Mattingly, who retired before the pinstripers' current run of postseason success began in 1996 and returned as batting coach in time for this year's ALCS disaster. And speaking of curses and suffering ...
A guy walks into a bar, plunks down a pile of simoleons, and knocks back a stiff one. Sticking a thumb in each armpit, waggling his fingers, and puffing out his chest, he announces, "By golly, that Curt Schilling deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. People will be talking about him for years and years after what he did for Boston in the ALCS and World Series. And the fellow has pretty decent career numbers, if I do say so myself." The place goes deathly silent. A cocktail frank hitting the floor sounds like a depth charge.
"The Hall inducts players based on record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which they played," says Guy Nicholson from Toronto with a flinty evenness that evokes Clint Eastwood. "That's a long list of criteria, and 'outstanding postseason' isn't on it. If we put him in there on the strength of a memorable playoff performance, why not add Joe Carter, Don Larsen, and Bill Wambsganss while we're at it?"
Nods all around. "Schilling a Hall of Famer, are you kidding me?" booms John Gaustad of Friendswood, Texas. "You may as well vote for Mickey Lolich, too." "Mickey 'Donut King' Lolich is not chopped liver, my friend," the guy at the bar cheerfully replies. "The portly portsider had a career mark of 217-191 with a 3.44 ERA, and tossed three complete game wins for Detroit in the 1968 Series. He could even run a little Krispy Kreme concession next to his plaque ...hah hah." "Well, then I certainly hope a BBWA membership hasn't been wasted on you," snorts Mark Hanson, of Belmont, Mass.
A wave of grunts, sniggers, and guffaws washes across the room. "Not to worry, sir! I am not a BBWA member. I just meant that I will vividly recall Schilling years from now more than I will other recent inductees such as Paul Molitor and Don Sutton who had bigger numbers ..." "Molitor will be remembered for his outstanding Series in 1982 against the Cardinals!" cries Todd Moore of Winfield, Kansas. "Just because you have a poor memory doesn't mean the rest of us do!" A chorus of "Yeah! Yeah!" goes up. When it dies down, Michael McLaughlin of Chicago steps out of the crowd, which has gathered around with fists clenched. "Jack Morris can't sniff the Hall of Fame. David Cone and Orel Hershiser won't, either. And yet Schilling deserves it for these postseason performances via a knee-jerk reaction a week later? Please. Seriously, how can you say this? If only you could be held accountable for it a few years down the road ..."
Glass breaks. Several patrons cry, "We'll hold the wretch accountable now!" They are pointing the business end of broken beer bottles at the sap at the bar. "He's an idiot!" "Are you out of your freaking mind?!" Juan from the Bronx hisses at the trembling man. "Just because Schilling had an injury and pitched well enough to get a decision in two playoff games does not elevate him to hero and Hall of Fame status. The real heroes are the doctors who were able to develop a procedure to allow Schilling to pitch closer to his abilities -- those of an almost-Hall-of-Famer." "No, no," protests the poor schlub. "You chaps don't understand. Schilling's career statistics are on a par with those of Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski. And Schilling was the 2001 World Series co-MVP and the 1993 NLCS MVP and he pitched a shutout in the Series that year and ..."
"Not sure I have heard a more ridiculous argument in a long time," growls Marco from Chicago. "To suggest he is a first-ballot guy is absurd. Do you like Schilling or has he been on your TV a little too much lately?"
"Personally, I like Schilling," stammers the cornered man. "I've interviewed him twice and he was extremely engaging and thoughtful. As a Yankees fan, I hated getting beat by him in 2001 and I sure as hell didn't like getting beat by him this year, but I have to give him his due."
"SUCKS BEING A YANKEE FAN THIS YEAR DOESN'T IT?" bellows Randy Wakefield from Portland, Maine. "NOW SHUT UP AND GO CRY IN YOUR BEER SOMEPLACE WARM WEANIE BOY."
Have a question or opinion for John? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
When I came to in the gutter, I thought I heard the voice of Lou from New York saying, "Schilling capitalized on a small injury to make himself a hero. I heard from the grapevine that the so called blood stain was made up with ketchup for theatric drama." Two passers-by were standing over me. "John, you hit it right on the head!" said Fran Charron from Hatfield, Mass. "I think it's the other way around," I groaned. "I can't remember any athlete from this current generation that I might tell my grandchild about until the memory of Curt Schilling makes its way to my old brain," Fran continued. "In this day and age of, 'I think I need to sit this one out, 'cause I need to think of next year and my contract extension,' we have this guy who literally gives up his ankle to help his team achieve it's goals. Hats off to Curt Schilling and you for bringing it into the national spotlight!"
"Thanks, Fran. Can you pour me an ambulance?"
On the way to the meat house, William Munsey of Weyers Cave, Virginia, applies a balm. "I agree with you about Schilling. His performance this year has been remarkable. As for his career numbers, he compares favorably with Lefty Gomez, another pitcher noted for his postseason performances. And while we're talking about postseason performers, take a look at Allie Reynolds -- who isn't in the Hall but probably should be."
It's painfully obvious that you miners out there are passionate about who deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown and who doesn't. Just for the record, I wasn't arguing against the induction of anyone, particularly the oft-cited Morris (254-186 3.90), who was baseball's winningest pitcher from 1979-92 and a member of three World Series champions. And even I haven't forgotten his 10-inning 1-0 shutout of Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1991 Series. All I was saying last week is that worthy players can have a devil of a time getting into the Hall when they don't have the gaudy regular-season stats.
Rafael Palmeiro is a lock for admission with his 500 home runs, but has he ever provided the kind of thrills in such significant events (the first 0-3 comeback in postseason history, the first World Series championship in 86 years for the Red Sox) that Schilling has? Or Morris?
Schilling squandered his talent early in his career, and that's why I've read and heard so much about why he'll never get into the Hall. Even he has admitted that his numbers will fall short. He'll make a stronger case for himself with a couple more dominant seasons, but factors such as postseason heroics should count for more than they do, especially in the case of a player whose career stats come close to the pin.
OK, calling him a first-ballot selection was too strong -- I've since sworn off the firewater. But I do think relying mainly on cold, hard regular-season numbers can result in selections that seem less than inspiring as time goes by as well as some galling omissions. Just my offhand barroom opinion.