That’s always one of the first things you ask yourself when a great player retires: Is he a Hall of Famer?
In Schilling’s case, it’s already a matter of hot debate. ESPN’s Peter Gammons and Buster Olney, both of whom are exceptional baseball writers, said he is because of his unmatched postseason record. Olney also said he doubted enough baseball writers will agree with him to ensure Schilling’s election.
On the latter point, I think he’s right. We remember people for what they do when the pressure is most suffocating, and in four World Series, Schilling was 11-2 — the best record ever for anyone with at least 10 decisions — with a 2.23 ERA. He helped the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in an epic seven-game series in 2001. Then he helped the Red Sox beat the pinstripes in 2004, the year of the bloody sock. In 2007, he was there for the Red Sox again as they swept Colorado in the World Series.
But to make the Hall of Fame, it’s not enough to be great in the post-season or to provide one of the game’s greatest memories with that legendary sock. You have to have the career stats to back it up. Schilling had the talent to be one of the immortals, but he was injured too often during his 20-year career to build up the body of work necessary for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Schilling spent the first half of his career being almost great, but not quite. He turned things around in 2001, when, at the age of 34, he went 22-6 for the Diamondbacks and shared World Series MVP honors with Randy Johnson. He followed that with a 23-7 season, fell to 8-9 in 2003, then rebounded to go 21-6 in 2004, his first year with the Red Sox. Those three seasons remain the best of his career and among the best anyone can hope to put up.
But others have had equally great seasons without getting into the Hall. Don Mattingly is the foremost example, and Mattingly was an MVP unlike Schilling, who never won either an MVP or a Cy Young. And if Don Mattingly isn’t a Hall of Famer, neither is Schilling.
At the end of the day and the career, Schilling’s record is 216-146 — a .597 winning percentage. His career ERA is 3.47, which is excellent, but not all-time excellent. And if you want to argue his career credentials, go right ahead. But before you do, check out David Wells’ career and postseason stats, which are in some ways better than Schilling's.
Wells won 20 games only once, but finished with a 239-157 record for a .604 winning percentage. Both of those numbers are better than Schilling's. Wells’ ERA was 4.13, considerably higher than Schilling’s, but at least half of the difference can be attributed to Wells playing most of his career in the American League, where ERAs are higher because of the DH, and Schilling spent most of his in the National League.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
No one’s going to suggest David Wells is a Hall of Famer. And that’s the point. If he’s not, neither is Schilling.
None of this is meant to denigrate Schilling. He could be an annoying and sanctimonious loudmouth, but he was also one of the few players in these politically correct times who could be counted on to give you his honest opinion. Whether you agreed with him or not, he sure was refreshing.
He also tried to do the right thing, stood up for what he felt was right, and did more than his share for charity. These are all admirable qualities in anyone and especially so in ballplayers and hedge fund managers.
Schilling’s retirement statement, posted on his blog, 38pitches.com, was gracious. He spoke of his love of the game and his gratitude to the fans who make it all possible. If you love the game, you should read it. It’s worth a couple minute’s of anyone’s time.
If he wants, he can probably go straight to ESPN. The thought of him sharing an anchor desk with John Kruk makes me hope he does. The exchanges should be priceless.
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