Curt Schilling picked up the phone Wednesday and, after my introduction, he jumped in immediately with this: “I understand I ruffled some feathers.” Indeed, he did. The former pitcher turned ESPN analyst gave a radio interview a week ago in which he said, “For every John Smoltz there’s a Kirby Puckett,” while talking about the character of players in the Hall of Fame. It picked at some old scabs about Puckett and struck a nerve with Twins fans. I sought out Schilling in hopes that he would expand on his larger point, which was that we tend to worship athletes without knowing enough about them. We chatted about that and more:
Q Puckett appears to be a name that popped into your head when you were making a larger point, but …
A Listen, the context with which the question was answered is we were talking about [Roger] Clemens and [Barry[ Bonds and steroids and the Hall of Fame. The question was, ‘Should the Hall of Fame make a wing for [guys with] bad character?’ And I said that’s a kind of Pandora’s box if you open that. … What people don’t know is that I idolized Kirby Puckett. I loved Kirby Puckett and still love Kirby Puckett. But I have three boys, and the thought that we create unapproachable, mythological figures out of athletes is a challenge for me. Because I see them. I am one of them. I know how many flaws I have. … When you start to talk about the character of people you don’t know, it’s dangerous. I played with guys who the public thought were the greatest human beings ever, and I knew they were scumbags. That’s like any sport.
Q It’s a fascinating time for the Hall of Fame, and you’re in the thick of it, the 40 percent range, needing to make a move but within striking distance if things swing your way. Overall, how do you look at the Hall of Fame?
A Honest to God, and I’m raising my right hand to God right now to answer this question: I don’t. I never have. I don’t think about it for one second until the first question of the year comes up when the voting is being done. … You just said, ‘You need to make a move,’ but I can do nothing. I can’t do anything. I’m not going to strike anyone out in the next calendar year. I’m not going to win a game. I did what I did. … If I make it, it would be awesome. It would be an honor. I’d be able to thank an amazing amount of people who made it possible.
Q You had some controversies and run-ins with the media. How much of that plays into voting, do you think?
A I don’t know, and I don’t care. … I’ve never tried to make people like me — and I’ve never tried to make people dislike me. I’ve just tried to be honest to myself. If you ask me a question about politics, I’m going to answer it. I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, I’m pro-life, I’m pro-Second Amendment, and I’m not afraid to talk about it. I think some people cringe at that. I think some general managers cringed at that. But I don’t think anybody I ever worked for or worked with ever questioned who I was.
Q Are you enjoying ESPN?
A I love it. I love the people I work with, and I love the fact that even though I try to talk about everything all the time, I get to talk about the one thing I really know.