Conservative Politics May Be Hurting Curt Schilling’s Hall of Fame Chances

Being a conservative got you down? Maybe people are looking at you weird? Not holding the elevator when they see you running up? Co-workers preventing you from being copied on all those invites to office parties? Voters trying to keep you from being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Well, the first couple things may or may not be happening to some of you. Though the last one is in all likelihood not. It is quite possibly happening to Curt Schilling. According to Bloomberg Politics, that is.

Bloomberg Politics interviewed a baseball fan named Ryan Thibodaux, who compiles voting percentages and likelihoods of players getting into the Hall. There are a lot of numbers here, but what Schilling joked about a year ago (getting snubbed by HOF voters because of his conservative politics) may indeed actually be happening:

According to Thibodaux’s projections, Ken Griffey Jr. is a shoo-in this year—he has been on every ballot Thibodaux has tracked so far—and Mike Piazza has an excellent chance to finally make it in (he’s on 87.4 percent of ballots so far, with a 75 percent threshold), with Jeff Bagwell having an outside chance as well. But it’s perhaps most fascinating to look at Curt Schilling’s vote totals. Because when you break it down, it is difficult to argue with Schilling’s initial claim, the “joke” in his interview: He is, most likely, losing votes for the Hall of Fame because of his politics.

To be clear: Schilling’s vote total is likely to rise, as it has in past years—just by smaller increments than one might expect. Here are is vote percentages in his first three years on the ballot:

2013: 38.8 percent

2014: 29.2 percent

2015: 39.2 percent

In Thibodaux’s compilations, Schilling has been listed on 60.8 percent of the 143 public ballots, but his actual percentage total will be far lower. (Voters who make their ballots public consistently vote for players at a much higher percentage than those who keep them private, though changes the Baseball Writers Association of America to the voting scrolls may alter that in future years.) Nonetheless, even accounting for a fall, that’s a substantial improvement.

The problem is that Schilling’s numbers are rising far, far more slowly than every other candidate. The pitcher Schilling is most often compared to in Hall of Fame voting is Mussina, a contemporary of Schilling’s who put up similar career numbers, minus Schilling’s postseason success. (The two players are right next to one another on Jay Jaffe’s JAWS ratings, which attempts to put a numerical value on a players’ Hall of Fame case, though it is widely considered that Schilling’s postseason dominance puts him ahead.) Mussina retired a year after Schilling; here are his vote percentages for his two years on the ballot:

2014: 20.3 percent

2015: 24.6 percent

This year, though, Mussina has soared, to 56.6 percent. Among returning voters—voters who Thibodaux has tracked the ballots of consecutive years—Mussina is up a whopping 23 votes. He and Edgar Martinez have gained the most votes from people who did not vote for them last year … likely people who have more spots on their ballot after the four electees in 2015.

But Schilling is barely up at all. He is up only seven votes among those same voters. Here’s Thibodaux’s tracking of who is up at what rates:

What reason could there be for Mussina to be up so dramatically—and Lee Smith, even—while Schilling is barely creeping up? Mussina has now almost completely closed the gap with Schilling. What has changed in the last year? Schilling hasn’t become a worse pitcher in the last 12 months. Why would Schilling’s numbers not be close to keeping pace with Mussina’s, or Piazza’s, or Bagwell’s, or even Barry Bonds’?

Thibodaux has little doubt as to the reason.

I asked Thibodaux if he thought Schilling’s controversies concerning his politics was affecting his vote totals. “There isn't a better explanation that I've heard,” Thibodaux said, and pointed out that, because of the increased available slots on the ballot, almost no candidates are losing votes from last year. Among tracked voters, here are the number of votes they have “lost”—the voter voted for them last year, and not this year—from 2015:

Jeff Bagwell: 0.

Tim Raines: 0.

Mike Piazza: 0.

Roger Clemens: 1.

Mike Mussina: 2.

Curt Schilling: 7.

“Essentially, nobody is losing any significant number of voters,” Thibodaux said. “Except for him.”

When the vote totals are released on Wednesday, Schilling’s numbers will be up, just like everyone else’s will. But this will not be a refutation of Schilling’s (probably not actually joking) claims. In all likelihood, it will be evidence of them.  Curt Schilling's vote pace has fallen behind his fellow ballot members dramatically in the last year, even though he hasn’t thrown a pitch, has not been involved in any sort of PED scandal and has had more ballot space available to him than ever. Either baseball writers have collectively re-evaluated Schilling’s entire career in the last 12 months, or they’ve found another reason to leave Schilling’s name off their ballot…”

“Maybe you agree with Curt Schilling’s politics, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you think he’s obnoxious and should be a little quieter about his off-field beliefs to stop distracting people from what he did off the field, or maybe you think he should scream his views from the nearest mountaintop. What appears undeniable, a year after his comments, is that he was exactly right: His right-wing views have cost him votes. The proof is right there in the numbers. Here’s betting whatever Mike Mussina’s politics are, he makes sure to keep them to himself.”

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