Saturday, June 21, 2008

Curt Schilling: An Appreciation

Yesterday's announcement that Curt Schilling would have to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery was in many ways not a surprise. He had done his best to rehab it and avoid the knife, but he had a few setbacks along the way and it became clear that Schill had no choice but to opt for the surgery.

And with Curt turning 42 this November, Game 2 of the 2007 World Series (pictured) might very well have been the final game Curt Schilling pitches in the major leagues.

So now let the debate begin. Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer?

But before that, a look back at the man's career. One that will be remembered in Boston baseball lore forever.

Schilling was originally drafted by the Red Sox in 1986, in the second round. In 1988, he was traded to Baltimore with outfielder Brady Anderson for pitcher Mike Boddicker. He made his debut that September, in Baltimore against the Red Sox. He pitched seven innings that night, allowed just 3 runs in what was a 4-3 win Orioles win. (His first strikeout was Todd Benzinger and his first home run allowed was to Ellis Burks.) Schilling spent the next year in the minors for the most part, but in 1990 was used out of the pen by the Orioles in a setup role.

In 1991 he was traded to Houston as part of the Glenn Davis deal, and was used in a variety of bullpen roles, including closer (he had 8 saves). In 1992, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, and here was where Schilling's life took a complete change for the better. It was here that legend has it that Roger Clemens, who saw Schilling's untapped talent, had a talk with him about how he was wasting his talent and should be more focused as a baseball player. And even more important for Schill was who his new pitching coach was: Johnny Podres, the legendary Dodgers pitcher and well-respected coach. The Phillies put Schilling back into the rotation after he began the year in the pen, and he achieved immediate dividends. Schilling went 14-11 with a 2.35 ERA in 226 innings.

The next season is when Curt Schilling began to make a name for himself. He won 16 games in leading the Phillies to the NL championship and the World Series for the first time in 10 years. He pitched extremely well in the NLCS against Atlanta, and beat Toronto in Game 5 of the World Series, throwing a 2-0 shutout. But the Phillies would lose that series in six, on Joe Carter's Series-winning homer in the ninth.

The next three years were almost lost years for Schilling, as he was hit with injuries and won just 18 games over that stretch. But in 1997 he regained his 1992-93 form, winning 17 games and finishing fourth in the Cy Young Award balloting. And his new manager there was a guy named Terry Francona. In 1998 and 1999 Schilling would win 15 games each year and be named to the NL All-Star team both years.

By 2000, Schilling had become a lightning rod for controversy, as he always spoke his mind, no matter how much it pissed off teammates, coaches or fans. Phillies GM Ed Wade had once said that "Schilling was a horse every fifth day, and a horse's ass the other four." He hadn't pitched well in 2000, going just 6-6 with the Phillies after 16 starts. He was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for four players that July, and could be close to his home in that state. In 2001, he became a 20-game winner for the first time, going 22-6 and finishing second to teammate Randy Johnson for the Cy Young. But he and Johnson would share the World Series MVP trophy, as Schilling started Game 7 against the Yankees and former mentor Clemens. The D-Backs would win it in the ninth, scoring two runs off Mariano Rivera that included the memorable single by Luis Gonzalez.

Schilling was even more dominant in 2002, going 23-7, but once again fell short in the Cy Young balloting to Johnson. 2003 was a season to forget, as Schill had various injuries that caused him to miss a third of the season, including an appendectomy. But after the 2003 season, the D-Backs were in a cost-cutting mode, and made it clear that Schilling was available. So Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and a few of his assistants spent Thanksgiving Day with Curt and his family in an attempt to get him to agree to come to the Red Sox. The teams had worked out a deal and Schilling had the right to approve it or say no. After a few days, Schilling agreed to a new deal with the Red Sox and the trade was completed.

It would be one of the best trades in Red Sox history.

Schilling would win 21 games for the Sox and supplant Pedro Martinez as the club's ace. He was just what the Sox needed to get them over the hump they couldn't the year before in the ALCS loss to the Yankees. Late in 2004, Schilling had a problem with his right ankle but figured it would dealt with after the season. But during Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS against the Angels, Schilling hurt it worse, and was banged around badly in Game 1 of the ALCS against New York. It really appeared he (and the Sox as well) were done for the year. But the Red Sox team physician, Bill Morgan, did a procedure on the tendon in the ankle that made it possible for Schilling to continue pitching. In Game 6, he took the mound shortly after the procedure, and there was some blood dripping from the wound. This led to the legend of "The Bloody Sock." Schilling pitched seven gutty innings, allowed just one run on four hits, and got the win as the Sox went to win that game and the next night complete the greatest comeback in sports history against the hated rival Yankees.

Schilling went on to pitch Game 2 of the World Series, once again after another procedure to relieve the pain in the ankle. He pitched six solid innings as the Sox won that game, 4-2 and took the World Series in St. Louis three nights later and capture their first championship in 86 years.

Curt had a solid 2006 season, winning 15 games for the Red Sox. But the 2005 and 2007 were marred by injuries, including his recovery from ankle surgery after the World Series. He did close for the Sox in 2005, saving 10 games.

Schilling maybe a controversial figure to many, but he has shown his compassionate side on many occasions. He was worked tirelessly for the eradication of ALS, the neuromuscular disease better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. He has been so devoted to the cause he named one of his sons Gehrig in honor of the immortal Yankees first baseman. He founded "Curt's Pitch For ALS" to raise money for the cause. And with his wife, he founded SHADE, which works to better inform the public about melanomas and skin cancer, which his wife Shonda was struck with many years ago.

So this may very well be it for Curt Schilling. He's had a great career, and depending on how the surgery goes on Monday in Philadelphia, we may have seen him on a pitching mound for the last time. Is he a Hall of Famer? He's a borderline one at best, as he has 216 wins, a 3.46 ERA with 3118 strikeouts. But what he accomplished in the postseason will surely be his baseball legacy. In 19 postseason starts, he went 11-2 with 120 strikeouts and a 2.23 ERA, which is one of the best resumes of any pitcher in postseason history.

He pitched with a lot of heart and a lot of guts, especially when all the chips were on the table.

If this is it, thanks for the memories, Curt. Thanks for giving all of us Red Sox fans the 2004 postseason.

And thanks especially from me, for making my life in New York City so much more bearable.


s1c said...

Well Said!!

RE his post season -
93 NLCS -
10/6/93 - left with a 3-2 lead after pitching 8 innings. BS by Williams in 9th, Phillies win in 10innings.

10/11/93 - left with a 3-0 lead after pitching 8+ innings with two men on base. BS by Williams in the 9th, Phillies win in 10 innings.

Schilling wins MVP of series with 0 wins.

2001 WS -
10/31/2001 - left with a 3-1 lead after going 7 innings of 3 hit ball. BS by Kim Diamondbacks lose in 10.

11/4/2001 - left trailing 2-1 after 7 1/3 innings only 6 hits. D-backs win series bottom of 9th.

2002 - NLDS
10/3/2002 - Left trailing 1-0 (home run by J.D. Drew). D-backs tie it in bottom 8th, lose in the ninth.

So in 19 starts in the Post season he left with the lead 3 times only to see it blown, left trailing twice only to have the team tie it up. The only other no decision was last year vs Cleveland, the game that Gagme lost.

Borderline HOFer, but the Post season will help him get over the hump in the 4th or 5th year of elgibility.

The Omnipotent Q said...

Thanks for all that info about all the blown saves in Curt's postseason history. The numbers would be even more eye-popping if he had a good closer on those clubs.