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OC Register: Hoornstra: Baseball Hall of Fame observes a profound moment of silence

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In December, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee to be removed from the U.S. Capitol building. Two days later, a statue of former Supreme Court Justice Edward Douglass White Jr. was removed from its pedestal outside the Louisiana Supreme Court building in New Orleans. In July, the North Carolina Court of Appeals removed a public statue of Thomas Ruffin, a slave owner, who served as the state’s chief justice from 1833-52. The toppling of statues is a trend that some consider an overdue measure of justice. Others consider it an assault on history.

Either way, it’s a conspicuous effect of a long national conversation about race, and power, and how the two intersect in America. At its root are some profound questions. When we memorialize someone permanently, what does that say about our values as a society? How much can one statue do to inspire thoughts, and values, and behavior? Who gets to have a statue in 2021 and who doesn’t?

Members of the Baseball Hall of Fame don’t get statues, but their plaques in Cooperstown, New York carry the same veil of permanence. There were 401 votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in this year’s Hall of Fame election. On Tuesday, we learned that no player received the required 301 votes. At a glance, there is no news here. In the context of our times, I think the Hall’s moment of silence is rather profound.

Curt Schilling received more votes than anyone on the ballot. He fell 16 votes shy of induction. In his prime, Schilling was a dominant pitcher who struck out many and walked few. He was the Most Valuable Player of two postseason series, the 1993 National League Championship Series and the 2001 World Series. He helped the Red Sox to win two championships, in 2004 and 2007, at ages when most players are close to retirement. Schilling has languished on the ballot for nine years; next year is his final year of eligibility for election by the BBWAA.

Schilling was named on 71.1 percent of all ballots received, a larger share than any of the previous eight years. Yet a minority of voters have withheld their vote for Schilling because of his behavior since retiring.

Six years ago, ESPN removed Schilling from his Little League World Series assignment after he shared an inflammatory meme on Twitter comparing the percentage of Muslims considered “extremists” to the percentage of Germans who identified as Nazis in 1940.

In 2016, Schilling used Twitter to share a photo of a man wearing a T-shirt that read “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required” – an apparent reference to lynching. Schilling included his own comment with the photo: “OK, so much awesome here.”

More recently, Schilling’s alleged support of the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol further estranged voters, including some who had already included him on their 2021 ballot. In light of this, what would putting Curt Schilling in the Hall of Fame say about our values? What would his plaque in Cooperstown inspire us to do? What would he say in his Hall of Fame speech?

I’m not eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, but I’m curious if Schilling has thought about this too. Two weeks ago, I messaged him on Facebook to ask what he would say if he were inducted. He did not respond.

It’s easy to single out Schilling for his values. On Tuesday, he revealed that he has requested to be removed from next year’s ballot. “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer as I’ve often stated but if former players think I am then I’ll accept that with honor,” he wrote on his Facebook account. No player has been removed from a Hall of Fame ballot by his own request before, but Schilling is not alone in losing support for reasons of character.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two all-time greats who have been associated with performance-enhancing drug use, were named on less than 62 percent of this year’s ballots. Manny Ramirez hit 555 home runs and batted .312 in his career; he was caught violating baseball’s drug policy twice and has received only 28 percent of the vote the last two years. Sammy Sosa’s 609 career home runs rank ninth all-time, but thanks to PED allegations he has never been listed on more than 20 percent of ballots. Omar Vizquel, whose wife accused him of domestic violence before filing for divorce in August, saw his support wane by 3 percent in the last year.

Each of these men wears a different shade of scarlet letter. Unless you hold a ballot, it’s difficult to lump their transgressions – real and perceived – into one category. Civil War generals don’t have much in common with elite baseball players either, but there is this: if their faces are allowed to stand on permanent display long enough, it’s possible they will inspire different reactions from different people.

I doubt Curt Schilling would inspire a single insurrection if he’s elected to the Hall of Fame, but no voter wants it on his conscience if he did. That kind of soul-searching is typical of the contemporary American experience, an obvious reminder of baseball’s place as our national pastime.

The Hall of Fame will gain four new members in July. Derek Jeter and Larry Walker were elected by voters last year. Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons were chosen by the Veterans’ Committee. Cooperstown delayed its annual induction ceremony because of the COVID-19 pandemic, making the class of 2021 seem a bit less lonely.

The ceremony should include an actual moment of silence for the 10 Hall of Famers who have died in the past 10 months: Hank Aaron, Tommy Lasorda, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Joe Morgan, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Don Larsen and Al Kaline. The character clause might take center stage for a day, but their memories will bring fans back to Cooperstown for much longer.

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3 hours ago, jsnpritchett said:

"Hoornstra: Baseball Hall of Fame observes a profound moment of silence"

Pritchett: So do AngelsWin.com readers in response to your article. 

Hoornstra is awful. I stopped reading his articles a long time ago.

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