All but unremarked upon in the wake of the Boston Red Sox’s demolition of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the recent World Series was a move by Boston’s ownership that, even in this moment when everything is political, should prompt outrage on all sides: the exclusion of 2004 World Series hero Curt Schilling from the on-field celebration commemorating that landmark event, for the sin of being an outspoken conservative.
One need not be a baseball aficionado or even a casual fan to recall Schilling’s superhuman performance in that historic postseason, which culminated in the championship that ended the “Curse” that had plagued the team since 1918; how, with the Sox facing elimination in the sixth game of the League Championship Series against the hated New York Yankees, the big right-hander, defying career-threatening risk, had the skin around his severely dislocated tendon temporarily sutured in place, and somehow pitched seven superlative innings. Little wonder that the bloody sock the TV cameras relentlessly focused on that memorable evening is today an object of awe in Cooperstown.
Nonetheless, while management invited seven veterans of the 2004 Sox to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before this year’s Game Two, Schilling, though he lives nearby, was absent. “The band’s back together!” tweeted out some dummkopf in Major League Baseball’s PR department. Sure, like an Eagles reunion minus Don Henley.
“We did not reach out” to Schilling, a Red Sox executive confirmed to a local sportswriter, “but it is not out of spite.” That Red Sox owner John Henry is a formidable Democratic donor and adamant progressive was not cited as an alternative possibility.
Not that anyone was under any illusions, least of all the outspoken Schilling himself. Despite initially shrugging off the slight (“I get to keep my 3 rings and 3 trophies, so it’s all good”), and while clearly jazzed about the current team (“2018 Boston Red Sox are the World Champions,” he later enthused in a tweet, “Well done, well deserved and enjoy the off-season!”), he soon let fly in an extended Facebook post about his disappointment. “(N)ot being able to be on the field with the men who I will always share that 2004 bond with and not being able to once again thank the folks who paid for the tickets and whose lives changed with ours sucks.”
Nor was he in any doubt as to the reason for his exclusion, calling it “100% on purpose and completely expected.” Quite simply, no ex-athlete has been more vocal about his political beliefs than Schilling or, given the current political climate, as brazen; and certainly none has paid more dearly. In 2015, while covering the Little League World Series for ESPN, Schilling was suspended for retweeting an Internet meme that read, “Only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?” The following April, he was out at ESPN for good, after reposting a meme in support of North Carolina’s ban on transgender bathrooms, and adding: “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don’t care what they are, who they sleep with, men’s room was designed for the penis, women’s not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.” Today he hosts a show on Breitbart radio.
Schilling readily cops to being sometimes “loud and obnoxious,” and to having made enemies inside the game and out, but he fiercely resents the insinuation that his views render him morally beyond the pale. “Why not a single teammate ever, after 22+ years, ever came out and said I was a racist, bigot or any other bullshit tag liberals want to pin on me. No cab driver, clubhouse guy, hotel staffer or fan, has ever or ever will come out with that kind of story against me because it doesn’t exist.”
While it’s old news by now not just that ESPN leans left but is also unembarrassed by its obvious application of double standards—network commentator Jemele Hill was scarcely reprimanded, let alone fired, for tweeting that President Trump is a “white supremacist”—as a private entity, it has every right to run its business as it sees fit, which is to say, as many of us fervently hope, directly into the ground. By the same token, Red Sox management was under no obligation to recognize the team’s debt to Curt Schilling—other than the grounds of basic decency and the demands of history. Those should have been enough.
The Schilling story sparked passing attention in sports-mad Boston—social commentary seemed about split between “Just proves what a-holes Red Sox ownership really are” and “Good for them for getting rid of the racists”—but it’s telling how little notice the episode commanded elsewhere. On network news broadcasts and in the New York Times, on whose sports pages much is made of perceived slights to those of approved victim groups (headline the day after Red Sox won it all, under Puerto Rican manager Alex Cora: “Baseball’s Minority Manager Problem”), it went unreported. Part of the penalty paid by those who transgress in the ways Schilling has is that, cast out from the media’s good graces, they are increasingly regarded as beneath notice and so increasingly rendered nonpersons. More than a few of the sportswriters who decide entry to the Hall of Fame openly loathe Schilling, and with his excellent-but-not-a-lock regular-season career numbers to go with his historically great postseason stats, it’s an open question if he has a real shot of following his sock to Cooperstown. (In the can’t-make-this-up department: on Friday, October 25, the very day that the Schilling situation might have reasonably prompted a report on baseball’s complicated, ongoing relationship with the former ace, the Times’s lead baseball feature, entitled “A Pioneer Overlooked by the Hall of Fame,” was about an 88-year old Hispanic broadcaster.)
In the meantime, if nothing else, Schilling lives comfortably with himself, openly scornful of those who’ve done him dirt. “I will sleep soundly tonight because I know what I did in 2004,” he wrote in the wake of the snub, “the men on the field know what I did. Most importantly? The men who sit in that ivory tower and pass their judgment from on high know EXACTLY what I did and it shames them as men knowing they’ll never in their lives be able to do anything remotely close to that.”
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images