Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Char­ac­ter count: A tough Hall call

Con­cerns go be­yond PEDs in lat­est votes for Coop­er­stown

- By Noah Tris­ter Curt Schilling · Barry Bonds · Roger Clemens · United States of America · Little League · Facebook · Twitter · New York · Thibodaux · Little League World Series Great Lakes Region · Mindy McCready · Mindy McCready

Like many baseball writ­ers, C. Trent Rose­crans viewed the Hall of Fame vote as a la­bor of love. The bal­lot would ar­rive around the end of Novem­ber, and it would keep him oc­cu­pied for much of De­cem­ber. He’d write down his re­search on play­ers in a notebook and feel but­ter­flies when putting his bal­lot in the mail.

Then it was time for his most re­cent vote, and the whole process felt quite dif­fer­ent.

“That bal­lot sat out un­opened un­til af­ter Christ­mas, be­cause I knew what was in it,” Rose­crans said. “And it wasn’t some­thing I en­joyed.”

The re­sults of the 2021 vote will be an­nounced Tues­day, and Rose­crans wasn’t alone in find­ing the task par­tic­u­larly ag­o­niz­ing this time around. With Curt Schilling’s can­di­dacy now front and cen­ter — and Barry Bonds and Roger Cle­mens still on the bal­lot as well — vot­ers have had to con­sider how much a player’s off-field be­hav­ior should af­fect his Hall of Fame chances.

For years, sus­pi­cions of per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drug use have played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the vot­ing. Now, some writ­ers are re­assess­ing other con­cerns about some of the game’s big­gest stars — from Schilling’s in­cen­di­ary so­cial me­dia pres­ence to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence al­le­ga­tions against Bonds and oth­ers.

Ken Rosen­thal, Rose­crans’ col­league with The Ath­letic, be­gan a re­cent col­umn this way: “I hate my Hall of Fame bal­lot. It might be my last.”

The top re­turn­ing vote-get­ter on this year’s bal­lot is Schilling, who a year ago came within 20 votes of be­ing elected by the Baseball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica. His sup­port now seems to have stalled.

As of early Satur­day, Schilling had 75.3% ap­proval on bal­lots tal­lied at Ryan Thi­bo­daux’s tracker, but that pace prob­a­bly isn’t good enough. A player needs 75% for in­duc­tion — and in the past, Schilling has fared worse on pri­vate, un­re­leased bal­lots that aren’t part of Thi­bo­daux’s tracker.

Schilling has turned off vot­ers with his post-ca­reer be­hav­ior. ESPN sus­pended him from the Lit­tle League World Se­ries a few years ago over a tweet in which he com­pared Mus­lim ex­trem­ists to Nazi-era Ger­mans. He was later fired by the net­work for Face­book com­ments about trans­gen­der peo­ple. On Jan. 6, the day of the at­tack on the U.S. Capi­tol, he said the fol­low­ing in a mes­sage on his Twit­ter ac­count:

“You cow­ards sat on your hands, did noth­ing while lib­eral trash looted ri­oted and burned for air Jor­dan’s and big screens, sit back .... and watch folks start a con­fronta­tion for (ex­ple­tive) that mat­ters like rights, democ­racy and the end of govt cor­rup­tion.”

That tweet was a few days af­ter Hall of Fame bal­lots were due, but Rose­crans had al­ready de­cided not to sup­port Schilling — even though he’d voted for him in the past.

“It would have been much eas­ier for me to stick where I was and to check that box, like I have ev­ery other time I’ve voted, but I just don’t know if I would have been true to my­self,” said Rose­crans, the BBWAA’s pres­i­dent. “Had I done that, I may have felt bet­ter where I put it on that day. I don’t know if I would have felt bet­ter on Jan­uary 6th.”

Bonds and Cle­mens are polling just be­hind Schilling on Thi­bo­daux’s tracker, but their can­di­da­cies now face scru­tiny that goes be­yond long­stand­ing sus­pi­cion of PED use. Mul­ti­ple play­ers on this year’s bal­lot have been ac­cused of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and Bonds is one of them. In 1995, his ex-wife tes­ti­fied dur­ing di­vorce pro­ceed­ings that he beat and kicked her. In 2008, the New York Daily News re­ported that Cle­mens had a decade-long re­la­tion­ship with coun­try singer Mindy McCready that be­gan when she was 15. Cle­mens apol­o­gized for un­spec­i­fied mis­takes in his per­sonal life and de­nied hav­ing an af­fair with a 15-year-old. McCready told “In­side Edi­tion” she met Cle­mens when she was 16 and the re­la­tion­ship didn’t turn sex­ual un­til years later.

So it re­mains up to the vot­ers to de­cide how they’ll weigh off-field is­sues when eval­u­at­ing. The Hall in­structs vot­ers to take into ac­count “the player’s record, play­ing abil­ity, in­tegrity, sports­man­ship, char­ac­ter, and con­tri­bu­tions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Clearly, there’s room to con­sider a player’s off-field con­duct.

 ?? JEN­NIFER STE­WART/GETTY ?? Curt Schilling watches an MLB game in 2018 at Chase Field in Phoenix. Schilling is on the bal­lot for the ninth time for the Na­tional Baseball Hall of Fame.
JEN­NIFER STE­WART/GETTY Curt Schilling watches an MLB game in 2018 at Chase Field in Phoenix. Schilling is on the bal­lot for the ninth time for the Na­tional Baseball Hall of Fame.

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