We’re almost at the finish line for the Hall of Fame balloting, which always helps baseball fans survive an endless offseason. But in the absence of a no-brainer candidacy – think: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera – a shutout is entirely possible this year. No matter. The balloting continues to serve as a referendum on PEDs (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) and free speech (Curt Schilling). It makes for a polarizing winter, especially in the case of a certain pitcher who was born to outrage.
We’re talking about Schilling, of course, whose remarks about the Capitol riot on January 6 compelled one baseball writer to have second thoughts about the Cooperstown ballot. We all know Schilling’s politics; you either love or hate the guy. The anonymous scribe, clearly choosing Door No. 2, asked Hall officials about rescinding his/her vote for Schilling.
No can do, was the verdict. A ballot mailed is a ballot cast.
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End of story? For now, yes. The election’s results will be announced Tuesday night, at which point we’ll know if Schilling, right-wing activist, is sabotaging Schilling, the elite right-hander with stellar October credentials. In the meantime, I’ll make two points about the attempted reversal of the ballot.
First: Schilling has the liberty to say whatever he wants, no matter how unpopular, even about the siege in D.C. His First Amendment rights shouldn’t be held against his candidacy. Yes, the balloting has a morals clause – writers are specifically instructed to consider matters of character. But Schilling’s opinions are just that: political conviction. He’s committed no crime other than to offend liberals and moderates alike.
Second: the organization to which I belong, the Baseball Writers Association of America, needs to address its own hypocrisy before passing judgment on anyone, let alone Schilling. In 2011 we bestowed the prestigious J.G. Spink award upon Bill Conlin, the long-time columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Since 1962, the award has been presented to one person annually for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing.”
That meant Conlin was going to the writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame, along with industry giants like Damon Runyon, Grantland Rice and Ring Lardner. More recent inductees include Peter Gammons, Bill Madden, Dan Shaughnessy and Jayson Stark.
Conlin was an old-fashioned, hard-hitting newspaperman – Philly’s version of Dick Young (who’s also in the Hall). Conlin wasn’t a particularly nice guy, but nevertheless one of Philly’s most enduring influencers in his prime.
The problem? In the same year of his induction, Conlin was accused of child molestation by four different people, including his niece, when they were between the ages of 7-12. The alleged incidents occurred in the 1970s, well past the statute of limitations for prosecution. Conlin was never charged, although, tellingly, he resigned from the Daily News almost immediately after the story broke.
The BBWAA was unaware of the allegations against Conlin when we voted him in. But that’s no longer an acceptable defense. We’ve had no response in 10 years, even after Conlin’s death in 2014. Secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell issued a “member in good standing” statement on December 20, 2011, which said, “the allegations have no bearing on [Conlin’s] winning the 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which was in recognition of his notable career as a baseball writer.”
This is a direct contradiction of the Hall’s morals stipulation. I’m told Conlin’s presence in Cooperstown will soon be addressed by the BBWAA. Terrific. But until then, he’s still being memorialized in Cooperstown. It begs the question: how has this been possible for so long? Make no mistake, I have great respect for our organization: I’m a former chairman of the New York chapter, the nation’s largest. But every day that Conlin’s plaque remains in the Hall undermines our credibility. Going after Schilling while looking the other way on an accused child molester is unforgivable.
To be fair the BBWAA has its heart in the right place. We recently removed the name of Kenesaw Mountain Landis from all future MVP plaques due to the documented racism during his tenure as Commissioner. And Spink’s name isn’t long for his own award, either. The original publisher of The Sporting News, Spink fought against integration in baseball well into the 1940s.
According to Daryl Russell Grisgby, author of “Celebrating Ourselves: African-Americans and the Promise of Baseball,” Spink was just a flat-out bad guy.
“In August 1942 he wrote an editorial saying that baseball did not have a color line, but that segregation was in the best interests of both blacks and whites because the mixing of races would create riots in the stands,” Grigsby told USA Today. “Spink’s defense of segregation was largely not based on fact but on fear and prejudice.’’
Yet, as right-minded as it is to address trespasses of the past, these measures are mostly performative. A majority of Americans don’t know who Spink was, and I can’t imagine baseball fans spend much time talking about the Landis era (1920-44). Removing their names from the awards accomplishes little except to assuage the writers’ collective conscience.
Ok, it is a start, but at a time when distrust of the media is so rampant we need to do the heavier lifting. Let’s start with our own double standard. Before any writer decides Schilling finally crossed the line, he or she needs to demand a reckoning of Conlin’s ugly history. It’s time to do the right thing.
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Bob Klapisch is a freelance columnist who covers the Yankees and Major League Baseball for NJ Advance Media.
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