fame, morality & a little bit of baseball, too

Let’s begin with a lesson from baseball. It’s less than a month until pitchers and catchers report. Granted, this post really isn’t about baseball. Stay tuned…

This past week was the annual announcement of the those to be honored with membership in Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Established in 1939 by Stephen Carlton Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, the HOF honors those who have excelled in playing, managing, and serving the sport; their motto is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.”

For decades they have elected an elite total of only 333 members. Among them, for example, are Roberto Alomar, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Tim Raines.

This week, however, gained news arguably most for whom they did not select — and what notably, impacted his rejection. 

The controversy centered around Curt Schilling, one of baseball’s best pitchers during his tenure on the mound. His career stats — 216 wins, 3116 strikeouts, 6 All-Star appearances, and 3 World Series championships — are consistent with pitchers previously elected.

But Schilling has a tweeting tendency that perhaps is most diplomatically described as inflammatory and antagonistic. Most recently, for example, after the insurrection at the Capitol, Schilling tweeted: “You cowards sat on your hands, did nothing while liberal trash looted rioted and burned for air Jordan’s and big screens, sit back, [expletive] and watch folks start a confrontation for [expletive] that matters like rights, democracy and the end of govt corruption.”

Let me not support Schilling’s social media presence in any way. Let me also affirm that antagonism is inconsistent with our advocacy for respect. I will add, no less, that while inflammatory and antagonistic, Schilling’s communication is not illegal.

Nonetheless, with such rhetoric a pattern in Schilling’s recent past, many Hall of Fame voters acknowledged rejecting the pitcher’s inclusion in the HOF because of his social media behavior and alignment with our most recent, former President.

As always, feel free to have an opinion. Feel free to have an opinion different than those in the room with you. I have mixed emotions on this one. But here’s what perhaps perplexes me most — fitting into the larger, non-baseball concern. Note the following:

He spat in the face of an umpire. Wife #1 claimed to be the victim of his physical aggression.

He assaulted a disabled heckler, climbing into the stands and attacking the fan, screaming he could care less if the man had no legs. He fought an umpire after one game, and also assaulted a hotel elevator operator.

He was physically abusive towards his wife. He once punched actor Billy Crystal in the stomach for not introducing him as the “Greatest Living Ballplayer.”

His alcoholism was public knowledge; there were incidents of drunk driving. There were many incidents of marital infidelity — which the press kept quiet about.

He admitted keeping a gram of cocaine in his uniform pocket, snorting during games, and said that he only slid into bases headfirst so as not to break the drug vial.

“Who were these people?” one asks.

Roberto Alomar, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Tim Raines.

While likely few of us are electors for an actual, national hall of fame, many of us feel emboldened to judge the character of another. We judge by what we see. We judge others by their actions, while reserving the right to judge self and those we love by our intent. We give grace to what we understand — condemnation to what we do not. Some sins outrage us more; some we are numb to.

The challenge, therefore — both for us and the Cooperstown faithful — is that we are so obviously inconsistent. We are measuring morality by fluctuating standards. 

In a modern world which often prides itself on being advanced, woke and aware, that’s a pretty slippery slope. For whenever we embrace relative measurements of morality, we should be aware that it can negatively impact persons we know, love, and admire next.