Berra, Cobb, and … Schilling?

1971 “will be the year Yogi Berra, the Montclair Millionaire, makes the Hall of Fame.” ~ The New York Daily News, January 1, 1971

It was not.

On January 21, 1971, the Baseball Writers Association of America chose to elect no one to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


Not even Yogi Berra.

On January 26, 2021, the Baseball Writers Association of America – for the ninth time in history – elected no one to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

(I’ll get back to 1971 and Yogi, I promise.)

In a pandemic year when nothing is normal, the Hall of Fame’s non-election election this year seemed, well, pretty normal.

I could write about Curt Schilling – controversial, cranky, insolent, nogoodnik – who was among those not elected in 2021.

There are so many Curt’ish things we could discuss …

… the hurtful, hateful things he says that color his character and his worthiness to join the greats of Cooperstown … or

… his worthy statistics that stand up fine against other pitchers in the Hall. 11-2 in the post-season, alone. 11-2! … or

… how you weren’t surprised – because you weren’t, were you? – when Schilling, almost immediately after the Hall of Fame’s no-election announcement, released an obsequious, but quite polite, letter to the Hall requesting he be removed from consideration in 2022.

We could spend the rest of today coming up with ways to describe Curt Schilling … and we could call him a sore-loser lunkhead idiot, but, better, let’s call him a hoddydoddy or a jobbernowl because I spent a lot of time digging up those words and I don’t want them to go to waste.

Schilling wouldn’t be the first jerk in the Hall of Fame.

The Hall has its share of drunkards and carousers, racists, bullies, and homophobes, Klansmen and crooks, adulterers, cheaters, and scoundrels. A drug smuggler and, possibly, even a murderer.

Let’s just say, if every member of the Baseball Hall of Fame were still alive and they all came to your house for dinner, you’d do well to count the silverware when they left.

I was all ready to say in one all-bold declarative sentence …

Curt Schilling is an enormous jerk, and if the Hall of Fame really believes that character and integrity are standards for induction, then leave him out.

I was all ready to say that. Now, I’m not so sure.

1915, Public Domain

And, it was all because of Ty Cobb.

One of the greatest ballplayers ever, Cobb was, among other things, a prodigious basestealer. His 54 career steals of home is still an MLB record. (The story goes that a manager once asked his catcher what he would do if Ty Cobb broke for second. “I’d throw to third,” the catcher responded.)

Cobb was also a notorious, violent, foul-tempered hothead who once attacked a crippled fan during a game, and once slashed a Black hotel worker with a knife over a misunderstanding that occurred during a Detroit road trip. (Cobb was later fined $100 for the slashing.)

And, those were just two footnotes in a life that included a slew of documented fights, incidents of rage, and violent assaults, many with obvious racist overtones.

And, yet, there he is – enshrined in the Hall of Fame along with Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Satchel Paige.

Do we take Cobb out?

Or, do we leave him in … a testament to how baseball reflects more than just what’s written in a box score, showing who we are as a people at a given moment in history, and, in Cobb’s case, is a reflection of our nation’s racist and violent past?

(I’m going to put this in parenthesis, but I think it’s important to note that late in his life, Cobb became an outspoken proponent for baseball’s integration at a time when most in baseball found it easier to just keep silent.)

So, what to do about jerks like Curt Schilling or PED cheaters like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds?

Do we keep them all out because … ewwww? Do we distinguish jerks from cheaters? Where’s the line? What about the Hall’s “character clause,” adopted in 1945, that requires sportsmanship, integrity, and character be considered along with playing ability?

Or, do we put them in, not only for their accomplishments but also for what their character and intregity – or lack thereof – tell future generations about baseball’s rich, but also often ugly, history?

You’re going to yell at me, perhaps, about why Clemens and Bonds – proven PED cheaters – have no place in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

And, I am going to say this in reply: Bud Selig, the MLB commissioner during baseball’s PED era who knew – knew – that players were doping and cheating, but did nothing because he also knew that baseball was making a fortune off of the thick-muscled cheaters and their mind-blowing home runs was, despite all this, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017.

I guess, like an umpire calling balls and strikes, one’s worthiness to be in the Hall of Fame is subjective.

I don’t know the right answer. Or, if there even is a right answer.

I still don’t like Curt Schilling, though. Or, Ty Cobb. Jerks.

Anyway, back to Yogi Berra.

Embed from Getty Images

1971 was one of those years, like this year, when the baseball writers elected no one to the Hall of Fame. (The Veteran’s Committee, on the other hand, inducted four that summer, including Satchel Paige.)

Berra was one of that year’s non-inductees.

18-time All-Star. 10-time World Series Champion. 3-time American League MVP. He was a great defensive catcher and a clutch hitter who rarely struck out. (Rarely, rarely. In five seasons, he had more home runs than strike outs. Seriously.)

But, he wasn’t good enough in 1971, falling 28 votes shy of the 75 percent required for induction.

What did Yogi have to say when reporters caught up with him at a New Jersey golf club after the announcement?

“Yeah, it’s been a tough day all around,” he told reporters. “I don’t get into the Hall of Fame this morning. This afternoon, I’m over here losing at gin rummy.”

Leave it to Yogi to put things in perspective.

Embed from Getty Images

Yogi Berra and Satchel Paige at an Old Timer’s Game in 1971.

(Yogi Berra was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.)


28 thoughts on “Berra, Cobb, and … Schilling?

  1. Ty Cobb has been unfairly maligned from the start for things he did not do; in all fairness i urge you to read this bio that sets the record straight: Ty Cobb, A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen

    • You are correct that there are many things in Ty Cobb’s past that weren’t true … but the two that I note ARE true and I went to the original sources to verify both of them, including newspaper articles of the time and the actual court records of the time he slashed the Black hotel worker in 1909.

  2. It seems that doing loutish things as a person may be bad, but don’t actually keep a player out of Cooperstown. Doing something that touches the “integrity” of the game and you can suck wind. Don’t know if that’s right or not, but it’s how it is and if you want justice, you’ll have to wait for the plains of Heaven ( a place a lot of these guys are never going to see).

  3. Interesting. I wonder if today’s baseball writers would vote to keep Babe Ruth (notorious whorehouse-visitor) out. Or the greats in the 70s, prior to coke and PEDs, who amped up on amphetamines? Seems like the choice is flavored by the times. But I still think Curt Schilling is a jerk.

    • I think the baseball writers would have looked the other way at Babe’s adulterous behavior. I think they do a fair amount of looking the other way when it comes to the misadventures of ballplayers. That’s probably why, year by year, Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling have inched ever closer to induction. It will be interesting to see what the voters do when A-Rod and David Ortiz come up on the ballot next year.

      The choice is flavored by the times, indeed!

  4. Or we could call Curt Schilling someone who is unafraid, despite the cancel culture, to speak his mind, knowing full well the reaction he will get. Let’s face it: For most people in our culture today, it’s not his inflammatory rhetoric, it’s that he’s inflaming the “wrong side.” If the price of admission to an MLB event is having to listen to a political sermon, then I consider myself jilted, and save my passion for the local nines.

    • I’m not sure why “cancel culture” seems to be considered something new all of a sudden. Cancel culture exists — and has always existed — on both sides of the political aisle. And, cancelling out an entire group of ballplayers because of the color of their skin, which baseball did for generations, seems to me the epitome of “cancel culture.”

      Marge Schott paid a price for her beliefs … but, so did the Dixie Chicks. Tommy Smith and John Carlos paid a price in 1968 and Colin Kaepernick is paying a price today. Having to pay a price for your beliefs is nothing new. Screenwriters, actors, and others in Hollywood were blacklisted and had their careers destroyed for their alleged political beliefs in the 1950s. Civil rights protesters gave up their lives to speak their minds and protest for their beliefs.

      Cancel culture — on both sides — has been around for a long, long time … people have just coined a new term for it.

      You could, I guess, argue that Curt Schilling is a victim of “cancel culture.” Although for a player who received 285 Hall of Fame votes and fell just 16 short of election to the Hall of Fame last month, I’d hardly argue that he’s been cancelled.

      • This is an excellent argument for admitting Curt Schilling or anyone else to the HOF based on his performance and not whether someone–or everyone–thinks he’s a jerk. As you say, yesterday’s outspoken and controversial person is tomorrow’s hero. He never broke any of baseball’s rules as did Pete Rose or even skirt them as did the PED crew. He has never been arrested for any crimes or sold any state secrets to China. Joe DiMaggio is probably one of the nastiest, if not the nastiest person enshrined in the HOF (see Richard Cramer’s excellent biography) but he could still play center field for me.

        • Two quick things: First, I never discussed anyone’s merit in my comment and I didn’t suggest that outspoken people are simply misunderstood in their time and will become “tomorrow’s hero.” Second, Schilling’s behavior does come up against the Hall’s “Character Clause” that says: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” The question that I think some voters have come up against with Schilling, as Steve points out in a nearby comment, is whether the integrity and character standard applies only to the time of a player’s baseball career or if it extends beyond. Like an umpire’s strike zone, the character clause is a written standard, but there’s room for interpretation.

  5. Two things, Jackie: First, times and standards change, and behaviors that would get a person disqualified now were overlooked (or admired) in, say, the 1930s- so, “whatabouting” just doesn’t work- in baseball or any place else, for that matter.
    Second, the reason Bonds will never be elected is that he was both a cheater and a jerk. During his playing years, for reasons that seemed good to him he went out of his way to offend people- especially the people who are nominating and voting, now, for the HOF. We can argue for weeks about his numbers, and what they were and might have been, and on and on, but the fact is that, too often, rather than expending a little effort to be civil, he just pissed people off, and he’ll live with the consequences for the rest of his life. It may not even be “fair”, but that’s what it is.

    • I just don’t get Barry Bonds. When his godfather, Willie Mays, talks about him, it’s with such great love, affection, and admiration, that it’s hard to square that person with the Barry Bonds that the rest of the world knows. And, I’ve read the books about Balco and the doping scandal and I just don’t get it. I just will never, ever be able to figure Barry Bonds out.

      But, I’m not so sure he’ll be locked out of the Hall forever. Despite all this he went from 37% of the vote in 2015 to nearly 62% of the vote this season.

      And, maybe jerkiness doesn’t keep you out. After all, on more than one occasion Curt Schilling has publicly called on journalists to be “lynched” and has called the baseball writers “morally bankrupt.” Still, 71% of baseball writers were willing to overlook that.

      And, you are so right about “whatabout’ism.” The Hall represents players who were of their time and place … which is why I always think that baseball is more than just box scores, it’s a reflection of who we were as a people at that time.

  6. I frequently have to remind myself that it’s an imperfect world and expecting perfection, especially in people, only leads to disappointment and frustration. It would be interesting to ask those HOF voters what goes through their heads when they consider which way to vote.

    • Jackie, I’m currently reading “Gloves off”, by former SF Chronicle sportswriter Lowell Cohn, and one of the things he makes painfully clear is the parasitic relationship between sports writers and professional sports players. The relationship is not even symbiotic, because most of the athletes want nothing from the writers except to be left alone, before, during and after a game. The sports writers, on the other hand, are desperate for a lead, a quote, an angle on which they can hang a column, and they’re hoping the player (who is contractually required to talk with them) will give them something they can use, accidentally or on purpose. This results in a lot of hostility (and contempt) on the part of the players, and anger on the part of the writers, when the players refuse to talk with them, or play favorites, allowing access to some while freezing out others.
      I bring this up because it is these same writers- many of them- who do the voting, in or out, of the HOF, and I can’t help but wonder how many old slights and grudges are acted upon, year after year, at voting time. Kinda makes me understand the “Bonds” question a little better. As I understand it, he, generally, refused to pretend to be friendly with people he didn’t respect, and these people have long memories. Worth thinking about.

    • Hi Gloria! Many of the voters release their ballots along with long discussions about why they voted for some players and not for others. After all, they’re baseball writers and, in the dead of winter, their Hall of Fame vote gives them something to write about. :) Many explained their yea or nay for Schilling. It really is like umpiring — there’s a basic standard and then everyone just makes their own decisions.

  7. Hi Jackie. I was having a Shilling conversation with a baseball friend and he quoted from the Hall of Fame election rules….the same one you mention….”Rule # 5 reads: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played. ”

    My friend suggested that the rule does not seem to be referring to what occurs after a player is no longer part of Baseball.

    • Hi Steve! The more I think about it, the more I realize that the Hall of Fame standards are a lot like how an umpire sees the strike zone — there’s a standard and rules and then everyone voting just figures out what it means to them. I was sort of surprised by the voters who asked to rescind their Schilling votes after his comments on the January 6 Capitol uprising.

  8. Yogi, one of only 3 Yankees I would want on my baseball team. I have a friend I asked if Andy Pettite should be in the HOF. He said his numbers weren’t HOF-worthy…( and he’s not one of my Yankee favs.) Enshrinement? I just ask myself, “Would you like him/her on your baseball team?” That’s enough. I’m sure there are sportswriters – voting members- who were just as racist, drinkers, and have their own prejudices. My team will simply play baseball. Thanks for the blog.

  9. Pingback: 1940 American League All-Star Team – Year-by-Year All Star Teams

  10. Another great piece of writing, Jackie. “Count the silverware” is a great line. I do tend to agree with Jim Johnson (no relation, by the way) that we all bring viewpoints and prejudices and experiences to our decision making. Probably a really good thing that there’s no character clause to apply to the writers that do the voting; cast the first stone, y’know? We’d most likely only have Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and my mom voting.

    • Thanks, Art! I got to take a spin through Davenport Field on Sunday and saw a bunch of the Virginia players as they were finishing up practice. It’s so bittersweet … I’m so excited for baseball and so disappointed to be missing it in person. Maybe … maybe … maybe later in the season things will improve.

      If my mom had been voting, I can guarantee Mike Mussina wouldn’t have had to wait so long to get into the Hall … I would have seen to that! :)

  11. I love Tyrus Raymond Cobb and Curt Schilling. I think they should both be in the Hall, along with Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens. They were all amongst the greatest baseball players ever. It doesn’t matter what they did or said. It doesn’t matter if the writers liked them or not. Were they the best?

    Schilling didn’t get in yet because of politics and because he doesn’t like writers. Writers vote. Therefore, they are holding it against him. It’s as simple as that. I hate when writers write that he doesn’t deserve it for baseball alone. That’s a bald-faced lie. We all know he deserved it. He’s about 15th all time in strikeouts, dominated in postseason, etc.

    Whether we like Bonds or not doesn’t matter. He was easily one of the greatest baseball players ever. So he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

    To me, it’s not that hard. You’re either a Hall of Famer or you’re not. Political views, comments, likeability, cheating, possible cheating, friendliness to writers, and womanizing doesn’t matter.

    Thanks for a good column,
    Reid “Dutch Lion”

    • Thanks Reid for your thoughts. I’m very conflicted over this … as you can see by my post, but I don’t buy the argument that writers are purposely keeping Schilling out because of his politics. 71% of baseball writers voted to induct him this year … he fell just 16 votes short of induction. To say that the baseball writers — en masse — have voted to keep him out doesn’t fit the fact that 285 writers voted for him and he fell just 16 short.

      If anything that argues for the fact that 71% of baseball writers aren’t concerned about his politics or views. That’s a pretty powerful majority of baseball writers.

      I don’t know that I agree that he was one of the greatest pitchers ever … but he was definitely clutch and that counts for something.

      Mike Mussina had to bide his time before his induction, too, and I would argue that his statistics are generally more consistent than Schilling’s. Mussina just didn’t have as many post-season opportunities. So again, I give Schilling the post-season edge, but if I were building a starting rotation, I’d take Mussina over Schilling.

  12. Hey baseball bloggess,

    I think there’s no doubt that certain writers are keeping him out because they don’t like him. Some don’t like him because he’s abrasive. Others don’t like him because he has different political views than them. Either way, it’s a darn shame that no-doubters like Schilling have a hard time getting in. We could go over the entire scam right now but that would take too long. For example, no player until Mariano getting in on 100% of ballots, etc. That’s proof right there that the entire system is broken.

    Regarding the Schilling versus Mussina debate, we probably disagree. I think Schilling was better and more dominant overall. However, they are actually very close in some total numbers such as WAR: Schilling 80.5 WAR for pitchers (26th all time!) while Mussina had 82.8 WAR for pitchers (23rd all time!). All pitchers ahead of them on career WAR are in the HOF except for Roger Clemens, of course, because of the steroid issue. And as for already HOF pitchers who are below them on the WAR list, well, it’s too many to count. So why again has Schilling not made it yet through 9 years? We all know why. It’s because the writers are stubbornly holding his opinions against him, using their power to keep him out. It’s sad.

    Both pitchers were better in different areas: Mussina was 41st all time in winning % while Schilling was only 136th. Schilling was 15th all time in strikeouts while Mussina was 21st.

    Both of these pitchers are no-doubt HOFers. They should be closer to first ballot HOFers but instead Mussina had to wait until his 6th year and Schilling will have to wait until at least his 10th, and last, year. Nothing screams systematic problems more than this discussion. Forget the BBWAA writers and instead make the Hall of Fame determination a committee of former HOFers, broadcasters, former players and teammates, and of course statistical specialists that could clearly analyze the data and pick the new Hall of Famers rather than a bunch of old writers who get offended by politicization, lack of friendliness, and instead award HOF status to a player who gave a “good interview”.


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