Curt Schilling's politics aren't really keeping him out of Cooperstown. But there's still time.
Well before becoming a Trumpy, Breitbarty, conspiracy-frothing object of derision, mockery and/or pity, the Big Schill faced a long slog to immortality.
In 2013, his first year on the ballot, he received 38.8 percent of the vote, a criminally low percentage for one of baseball's best big-game pitchers. Writers viewed his candidacy with skepticism for reasons that entirely missed the point of his greatness, and had nothing to do with politics. While it's true that he puked away a good chunk of his 20s, there's no doubt what he became.
And yet voters treated him like a Bert Blyleven-style long hauler. His totals dropped below 30 percent in 2014, and by the time he started doing his sad little JV Alex Jones impression before the 2016 election -- captioning a photo mocking the lynching of journalists with the cringeworthy phrase, "so much awesome," that should never be uttered by an adult, for example -- the handful of conscientious objectors who abandoned ship didn't really decimate his totals, dropping him from 52.3 percent in 2016 to 45 percent in 2017.
The three years since, however, have seen Schilling finally build the late-candidacy momentum that carried Blyleven, Jim Rice, and Tim Raines to belated Hall of Fame berths. He hit 70 percent last year and will never have a better shot at reaching the 75 percent enshrinement threshold than now.
The official ballot was released on Monday, and if Schilling doesn't get in, then no one will. After years of legendary first-time candidates like Pedro Martinez, Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter, this ballot is mediocre. The best of the first-timers is probably former Gold Glove outfielder Torii Hunter or maybe steady White Sox left-hander Mark Buerhle, and neither of them is getting in.
The best of Schilling's fellow holdovers include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose names remain tainted by their association with performance-enhancing drugs. Both topped 60 percent for the first time last year, so who knows, maybe resistance is softening. But a group of hardcore voters will never consider them.
So that leaves Schilling. The only way he screws this up is if he decides to wade back into the culture wars in some ham-handedly stupid way, which would be entirely on brand, though it helps that he has descended into social irrelevance.
His Twitter timeline still contains all-caps phrases like, "OUTRAGE!" and "FALSE" and "FRAUD" amidst predictable fever swamp rantings about the Georgia recount and Dominion Software and child sex offenders and Venezuelan something or other and... oh my god, scrolling that bilge for two minutes made me dumber.
But outside of sharing his keen insight into the Bubba Wallace NASCAR noose controversy -- "It was all a lie," just like that actor Jussie Smollett, if you must know -- Schilling's rantings have received precious little mainstream media coverage, because we've had enough crazy in our lives for the last four years, thank you very much.
He needs to keep it that way, because he's operating on razor-thin margins, and he can't afford to alienate even a handful of voters.
But if we limit our criteria to Schilling's playing career, the case becomes straightforward. A legitimate argument can be made that Schilling is the greatest postseason pitcher ever. He went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts, earning MVP honors in the 1993 NLCS and 2001 World Series. He helped the Diamondbacks shock the Yankees in 2001 and the Red Sox end the Curse three years later on a bloody sock. In the final appearance of his career, he earned a 2-1 win over the Rockies in Game 2 of the 2007 World Series.
If the Hall of Fame is about honoring baseball's best, then there should probably be room for the guy who was virtually unbeatable on the biggest stage, especially when he also retired with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio ever, back before strikeouts lost all meaning. The rest of Schilling's stats -- 216 wins, 3.46 ERA in the heart of the Steroid Era, 3,116 strikeouts -- are good enough to complete his journey.
The question is if he can leave the Q-Anonning to others for the next six weeks. With President Trump refusing to concede the election and new conspiracies lurking around every corner, that may be a gargantuan ask, but if ever there was a time to muzzle up, it's now.
He's got my vote, by the way. I find him more sad caricature than dangerous demagogue. Do I wish he would've just remained a McCain Republican instead of someone damaged enough to suggest that crisis actors infiltrated the ranks of the Parkland survivors? Hell yes, I say from my seat aboard the Straight Talk Express.
But it's not like we're finding a spot for Aubrey Huff. Schilling has earned enshrinement on the merits of his career, and if we've got to kill the mic or pray for a tornado during his acceptance speech, so be it.