PHILADELPHIA — All right, let's get this right up high: We believe Curt Schilling will one day be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He'll get this vote. He has the numbers, and sure as heck delivered enough iconic moments, particularly one involving a surgically repaired ankle, a bloody sock, and a courageous win in the 2004 playoffs, to keep his legend alive long after he is gone.
Most of all, Schilling will get a vote here because, from 1992 to 2007, except in the seasons when he battled injuries that have ended many a career, he displayed a quality that is difficult to define but easy to recognize in those who have it.
Whether you liked him or not, whether you thought he was a self-absorbed glory hound or an outspoken jerk, it is difficult to deny that Curt Schilling was a great pitcher and one hell of a competitor.
Schilling, 41, announced Friday that he will have shoulder surgery on Monday. Though he has left open the possibility of a comeback, he has acknowledged that his career could be over. That would seem likely. Schilling has already beaten the odds, coming back from two major shoulder surgeries earlier in his career. He turns 42 in November and a comeback at that age, with that many miles on his shoulder, just might be too big a hurdle.
Schilling knows that. He has no regrets. He shouldn't have any.
He's had a great career, one filled with triumph and drama, both usually of his own doing.
A fantastic Phil
Here in Philadelphia, we saw the beginning of it all. For 8½ seasons, Schilling pitched for mostly bad Phillies teams, winning 101 games and providing a number of unforgettable moments, on the field and off.
It's impossible to forget his work in the 1993 National League Championship Series, when he was the MVP, when he was first fitted with the label "Big Game Pitcher."
There were other unforgettable moments, like his Game 5 shutout of the Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series and his two 300-strikeout seasons in a Phillies uniform.
One of those 300-K seasons came in 1997. The Phillies tied for the worst record in the NL that season. Schilling was always a guy who could find motivation anywhere. "He gets pumped up on Bobblehead Day," Terry Francona, his former manager in Philadelphia and current skipper in Boston, likes to say. On Labor Day 1997, Schilling found his motivation as the defending World Series champion New York Yankees arrived at Veterans Stadium.
The Phils had the worst attendance in the NL that season. But with the Yankees in town, the crowd swelled to 50,869, and Schilling, spotlight junkie that he was, loved it. In his personal World Series, he struck out 16. He threw 124 pitches, 30 of them 95 m.p.h. or better.
"Adrenaline can do some pretty cool things," he said after that game.
Often, Schilling made news off the field in Philadelphia, not in a film-at-11 kind of way, but in a way that often made him seem self-serving.
In the spring of 1997, he was desperate for a contract extension with a no-trade clause. He got it, then, after seeing how bad the Phillies were, offered to waive the no-trade clause in July.
He dropped that news on reporters in the clubhouse at Camden Yards the same day President Bill Clinton was visiting the team. No one upstaged Schill. Not even the President. And no one had a way with words like Schilling, who managed to comment on the Phillies' disappointing attendance as he reached through Secret Service personnel to shake Clinton's hand.
"You'll have to forgive me, Mr. President, if I seem a little nervous," Schilling said. "I'm not used to having my uniform on in front of this many people."
During those dark Phillies days, 1994 to 2000, Schilling was "Entertainment Tonight." Every night, you knew he was going to strike out a bunch of hitters, then say something provocative afterward.
One night he pitched a gem in Montreal and while reviewing it with reporters boldly called for ownership to sell the team. Another night he made fun of his soft middle, saying: "This isn't a body, it's a family curse." Another time, he called Deion Sanders, then with the Cincinnati Reds, "a glorified flag-football player who can run." Years later, after he had left Philadelphia, he downplayed the Yankees' great history and said "mystique and "aura" were just names of exotic dancers.
In Philadelphia, Schilling's outspokenness spawned one of the most colorful quotes in team history, from a man not known to be colorful.
"If he wasn't our horse, he'd be our horse's ass," former general manager Ed Wade said.
(That comment would have been seconded by members of the 1993 team. Many from that veteran-laden team did not like Schilling. But they sure liked him when he pitched.)
Though Schilling's mouth often irked management, you have to give him this: At a time when the Phils had low payrolls and losing records, he called out ownership and criticized its commitment to winning. And few were better at backing up their words.
Trade winds blow
By 2000, Schilling had enough of the losing and Phillies management had enough of his mouth. After angering team officials by shooting down a deal to Cleveland, Schilling was traded to Arizona in a one-sided deal that helped the Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series. Last year, Wade said he wished he'd never traded Schilling, who wouldn't have been a free agent until after 2001.
Arizona was thrilled to get Schilling. He made three starts against the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, was 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA, and was named co-MVP with Randy Johnson.
Two years later, as Arizona sought to rebuild, Schilling pushed for a trade. He wanted to return to Philadelphia, but the team's interest was lukewarm. He OK'd a trade to Boston and immediately announced, "I guess I hate the Yankees now."
Schilling was brought in to help the Red Sox end an 86-year World Series championship drought and he did that, with his arm and heart. Pitching on one leg after having a tendon sutured into place in his right ankle, he beat the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, helping the Red Sox pull off a historic comeback and win the series after being three games down. He then beat the Cardinals in Game 2 of the World Series, again with sutures holding his ankle in place.
Schilling battled shoulder problems last season, reinvented himself as a finesse pitcher, and won three postseason games as the Red Sox won their second World Series in four seasons. He re-signed with the club in the off-season, but the condition of his shoulder worsened, preventing him from pitching this season.
If this is the end for Schilling, he finishes a 20-year career with a 216-146 record with a 3.46 ERA. He ranks 14th all time with 3,116 strikeouts and 13th all time with 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio (4.38) is the best since 1900. He finished in the top 10 in the league in strikeouts nine times and the top 10 in ERA nine times. He finished second for the Cy Young award three times. He helped three teams win World Series and had a glistening postseason record of 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and four complete games in 19 starts.
We're talking Hall of Famer here.
If 75 percent of voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America agree, then Schilling will go to Cooperstown.
But which team will he represent? He played for five and had significant time in Philadelphia, Arizona and Boston. Though his longest stop was in Philadelphia, his defining moment came in Boston, in the 2004 postseason. He should go into the Hall as a Red Sox.
That's not to say Philadelphia wasn't a meaningful stop. This is where, as a young pitcher struggling to find himself, he met Johnny Podres, who told him to ditch the sinker and throw power fastballs. This is where he met athletic trainer Jeff Cooper, who pointed him to Wilmington surgeon Craig Morgan, who performed two successful surgeries on the pitcher's shoulder, and rehabilitation therapist Phil Donnelly, who helped on the road back.
Most of all, Philadelphia was a meaningful stop because it is where Schilling became a great pitcher.
A horse, you could say.