Fitzpatrick: Schilling's Hall of Fame miss partly his own fault

04302000 Curt Schilling after McGwire HR JerryLond staff 12x8
Curt Schilling is not a happy camper in the sixth inning of a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 30, 2000, his first appearance of that season after shoulder surgery. Schilling gave up a two-run home run to the Cardinals Mark McGwire in the sixth inning that turned out to be the winning runs in a 4-3 loss.

Maybe Curt Schilling was right. Maybe his outspoken and shrill support of Donald Trump did cost him election to baseball's Hall of Fame.

If that's what happened, the former Phillies pitcher has himself to blame for failing to absorb one of the 2016 presidential campaign's primary lessons:

Demean the voters at your own peril.

The Baseball Writers Association of America revealed its Hall election results Wednesday night. Schilling was named on 45 percent of the writers' ballots, well short of the 75 percent threshold.

Poll

Does Curt Schilling deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

It was hardly surprising. For months he'd been hurling knockdown pitches at those charged with judging his worthiness for Cooperstown.

To Schilling, the writers were worse than deplorable. He called them "scumbags" and "some of the worst human beings I've ever known." He proudly tweeted a photo of a T-shirt that suggested journalists should be lynched.

I'm not a Hall of Fame voter. But if I were, I'd have a tough time overlooking that kind of personal animus, especially with a borderline candidate such as Schilling.

The venom directed at writers and liberals - one and the same to Schilling - continues to intensify. And as it does, I can't help but wonder if maybe I played some small part in its origins.

When Schilling arrived here in an April 2, 1992, trade for Jason Grimsley, I was the Phillies beat writer for the Inquirer.

The new pitcher seemed eager to talk, a rare quality on what was a less-than-loquacious roster. A few days into his Philadelphia tenure, he filled up my notebook discussing his interest in military history.

He was a star by 1994, when a long labor dispute halted the season. Asked to do a story on how a Phillies player was coping with this unusual summer layoff, I called Schilling. He invited me to his home in a luxury development near the Kennett Square Golf Club.

We talked and I took notes as he guided me through the house, showing off the playthings that filled it - three Rottweilers, a Lamborghini, a Corvette, two 52-inch TVs, a Jacuzzi, Ping-Pong and pool tables, and all kinds of exercise equipment.

What struck me was that despite all the expensive distractions he'd accumulated, Schilling was bored witless without baseball.

So that's what I wrote: Here was a guy with all the toys a man could want and yet, prevented from playing the game he loved, he was lost.

The good news was that my Aug. 19 story was stripped across the top of Page 1. The bad news was that it appeared just above a lengthy article on Appalachia's intractable poverty.

That unintentional juxtaposition of sumptuousness and scarcity infuriated readers. In the avalanche of letters that followed, Schilling was lambasted as a spoiled millionaire whose boredom was an affront to those with real problems.

Several angry letters appeared in an editorial-page box, beneath a headline that read "Readers ridicule Schilling's 'dilemma.' "

"If Curt Schilling is so bored, why doesn't he spend his days visiting any children's or veterans hospital?" one read.

Stung, the publicity-sensitive pitcher fired back, at me and the readers, in a letter prominently displayed in the same space a few days later.

Though there had been no preconditions to our interview, Schilling now claimed the tour of his house had been "off the record." He also insisted his comments about boredom were taken out of context. He was bored, he said, because there was no baseball, not because he had nothing to do, a distinction I still think the story clearly made.

"We had intended for the article to let you, the fans, know just what we were doing without baseball," Schilling wrote. "Instead, the writer decided to spice it up with his own creative ideas."

There's where I went wrong, I guess. I forgot to ask Schilling what his intentions were for the story before we began.

Anyway, when the players returned in the spring of 1995, our relationship had chilled.

A day after I wrote something he perceived as critical of rookie pitcher Michael Mimbs, Schilling was waiting at his locker with a sports section. When I entered, he walked to the center of the clubhouse and, shouting loudly at me as he waved the offending story, proceeded to make a scene. Most of his teammates ignored it.

He later had his battles with writers in Boston, some of whom taunted him with a nickname that his eagerness to do interviews had earned him, "Red Light." Their feud wasn't helped when, in that bastion of the left, Schilling tacked ever harder to the right.

Recently, his public comments often have been so nasty that it's hard to recall Schilling the nutsy tweeter was once Schilling the gutsy pitcher.

It was, apparently, a distinction that a lot of Hall of Fame voters couldn't make.

ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

@philafitz