By: Gerard Lombardo via SoxSphere
There’s no shortage of bulletin board material when it comes to Curt Schilling. He’s been a polarizing figure both on and off the mound, ranging from his heated radio show debates, to a plethora of insensitive tweets and blog posts. Curt’s political stance can irk more than a few, and his post baseball video game career, 38 Studios, is as disastrous as any political aspirations he may have.
But holy cow, could he pitch. Most of us see Schilling as an uber prepared creature of notes and statistical analysis. What you may not know, is that his development was heavily influenced by 7x Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. A young Curt Schilling was defiant, brash, and ill-prepared for his starts; leading to a shift to middle relief at the start of his career. After meeting with The Rocket, something clicked with Curt.
“I looked at the game with a whole new approach, outlook, respect. I just realized that I couldn’t continue to do things the way I had done them and put my head on the pillow at night and say I’d done everything I could,” Schilling remarked.
That conversation was 27 years ago. Now, as a finalist to be enshrined in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame for the 6th time, the 51 year old Alaskan is garnering less and less consideration. Personally, I don’t think it’s even worthy of a discussion. To be candid, I aspire to one day have a Hall of Fame vote; and if I had one in 2018, Schilling would 100% get mine.
And for good reason.
Curt’s storied career dates back to good old 1986, when the Red Sox drafted him in the second round out of Phoenix’s Yavapai College. Two years before Boston sent future Hall of Fame first baseman Jeff Bagwell to Houston, the Sox told Curt to pack his bags, and he was shipped off to Baltimore in exchange for Mike Boddicker. Schill never found his stride with the O’s, pitched strictly out of their bullpen, and was just 24 years old when he was again traded, this time to the Astros. He spent a year there, posting eight saves and never making a start. Just five days prior to Opening Day in April of ’92, the young hard throwing youngster was traded again, this time landing with Philadelphia, where he was given the opportunity to start. It was finally then, that the words Clemens had for him finally began to resonate with the burly soon-to-be-ace.
After one trip to the World Series, three All-Star games, nine years in their uniform, and 101 victories posted, Curt gave up on the Terry Francona-led fightin’ Phils amidst a 97 loss season. He was 33 years old, and requested a trade away from the non contenders. Philly obliged, as they were entering rebuild mode with a young Randy Wolf heading the staff, as well as fellow future All-Stars Mike Lieberthal, Scott Rolen, and Bobby Abreu, all under the age of 27.
But that trade is ultimately what spurred eminence within Curt. The overpowering right hander would go on to be a 1/1A duo with not just the daunting Randy Johnson in Arizona, but also a transcending Pedro Martinez in Boston. A few of his Hall of Fame worthy statistics are listed below:
Led the league in:
•wins in ’01 & ’04 (21, 22)
•starts in ’97, ’98, ’01 (35)
•complete games in ’97, ’98, ’00, ’01 (8, 15, 8, 6)
•innings in ’98, ’01 (268.2, 256.2)
•WHIP in ’92, ’02 (0.990, 0.968)
•BB/9 in ’02, ’06 (1.1, 1.2)
•strikeouts in ’97, ’98 (319, 300)
Schill also topped all major leaguers for four consecutive seasons in K:BB ratio, on top of bringing home some serious bling: three World Series rings, to go with six All-Star awards and a World Series MVP. Don’t be disenchanted by his inability to win a Cy Young award. Some of the most prolific and dominating pitchers of the last 50 years failed to win said award, including Nolan Ryan, Burt Blyleven, Mariano Rivera, Kevin Brown, and Juan Marichal. Altogether, the 6’5″ right hander retired with career numbers that I think outdo the likes of Hall of Fame inductees Don Drysdale and John Smoltz.
Career: 216-146 / 3.46 ERA / 436 starts / 83 CG / 3,261 IP / 3,116 K’s / 8.6:2.0 K:BB ratio
Postseason: 11-2 / 2.23 ERA / 19 starts
The outspoken fireballer accomplished more after the age of 30 than most hurlers aspire to do in a lifetime, posting 164 victories and allowing just over one homer and one walk per start. To portray Schilling’s pinpoint accuracy and dominance of batters, you need only know he’s one of just four pitchers with at least 3,000 career strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks, while boasting the best K:BB ratio of the modern era (not including active pitchers).
Circling back to the Phillies-Diamondbacks transaction; three and a half of his most commanding years came with Arizona, most notably headlined by a 2001 World Series showdown that you couldn’t recreate in your own backyard: a game 7, bottom of the 9th, come from behind series winning base knock delivered by Luis Gonzalez off the great Mo Rivera. Following the epic victory, Curt and Randy were named Sportsmen of the year, with the former also earning Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the year honors. That postseason, Schilling set a single season playoff record with 56 strikeouts.
Arizona’s glory would be short lived, however, as the 2002 club was swept out of the divisional series by St. Louis. Johnson was smoked in his only outing, Schilling got no run support in his, and game three starter Miguel Batista couldn’t get out of the 4th inning. The following season, neither Schilling nor Johnson reached the 25 start plateau, resulting in an 84-78 record, and a third place finish in the N.L. West. Arizona dealt a 36 year old Schilling back to where it all began, as the Red Sox sent a package headlined by Casey Fossum to the desert in exchange for Curt. This would be the fifth and final time the forthright righty would be traded.
Despite now being 37, the long time National Leaguer blew away American League bats. He led the Junior Circuit in wins, and was slightly better than the 32 year old Pedro; Curt finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting to Johan Santana. Schilling endeared himself to Red Sox Nation when he took the mound against the Cardinals for a critical game two of the World Series. In an act of desperation to ensure he could pitch, team doctor Bill Morgan sutured Schilling’s loose ankle tendon back into the skin. And here I am, a veteran of Afghanistan, flinching at the sight of my blood being drawn.
Yes, Curt can be a distraction, to put it kindly. He had no shortage of feuds within his own locker room during his playing days. Some examples stem from incidents where he buried his face in a towel during a Mitch Williams save opportunity in the ’93 World Series, and another when the pitcher blasted slugger Manny Ramirez via his blog for Manny’s conduct and lackadaisical attitude before Ramirez was traded to Los Angeles from Boston. Reporters and columnists weren’t safe from the wrath of Schil either; just ask Pedro Gomez or Dan Shaughnessy.
Fast forward to 2017, where Schilling received 45% of the writer’s votes (compared to Mike Mussina, at 51%). The former All-Star will once again be on the ballot in 2018, needing 75% of the votes like every other player up for consideration. Unfortunately, Curt is trending downwards. A year prior, he garnered 51% of the baseball writers votes. Why the drop? Well, that’s the result of being viewed in a negative light by so many writers, which is a direct result of the pitcher referring to them as scumbags, and alluding to a social media post calling for the lynching of journalists as “awesome.” While he most certainly shot himself in the foot with that one, there are players with shady pasts, poor character, and known steroid use that are either already enshrined, or on their way to be.
At the end of the day, the Baseball Hall of Fame houses players with character flaws for the ages, from the violent Ty Cobb to Reggie Jackson’s tumultuous self. However, where Schilling sets himself apart from baseball bad guys is his propensity and willingness to advocate and raise money for the painful and crippling ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His charity work earned him 2001’s Roberto Clemente Award, adding yet another trophy to his prolific career.
Webster’s dictionary defines a schilling as such: “Schil•ling. Noun. The basic monetary unit of Austria (until replaced by the euro), equal to 100 groschen.” Fitting, as that’s one word that could unequivocally be used to describe Curt’s playing career: money.