All-Aughts Team of the Decade SP2: Curt Schilling

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Thanksgiving six years ago saw Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and a cadre of Red Sox officials fly out to Arizona and be guests of Curt and Shonda Schilling for Thanksgiving dinner.

The crew was there in the hopes of convincing Schilling that he should waive his no-trade clause and head to Boston to try to win a World Series ring. Well, with the 2004 ring backed by Schilling on the mound as well as an important contribution in 2007, one can say the Red Sox certainly spoke the truth at that dinner.

Schilling had previously been a member of the Red Sox organization, traded in 1988 as a minor leaguer along with Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker. Schilling spent a full year as a reliever in B-more before heading to Houston in 1991 at age 24 and later Philadelphia in 1992 where he would become a starter. He helped lead Philadelphia to the World Series in 1993, being named NLCS MVP. Despite flashes of success, it took until 1996 at age 29 to establish himself as a quality right-handed pitcher.

In 2000, at age 33, Schilling would head to Arizona and land on the map as co-MVPs of the 2001 World Series with Randy Johnson, vanquishing the Yankees. Entering the 2004 season, Schilling was coming off eight consecutive years of being one of the best pitchers in the game. His family was settled, he was 36 with a World Series ring and everything looked like he would play out his career in Arizona.

Then Boston came calling when ‘Zona wanted to cut payroll and rebuild. As we all know, Schilling decided to return to his roots and won 21 games for the Sox, pitching 226.2 innings of a 3.26 ERA. Not since Dennis Eckersley in 1978 had a pitcher come in and won 20 games in his first year with Beantown. It was truly inspired baseball, and it was the first time since Roger Clemens that a burly right-hander put the team on his back. Schilling’s arrival coincided with Pedro Martinez’s poorest season as a Red Sox. Friction would exist between the two with Schilling feeling Martinez took advantage of his stature while Martinez felt he was pushed aside quickly for the new hot thing.

Schilling also turned heads for his ability to make news. While people derided — and continue to deride — Schilling for his openness to the media, I never had a problem with it. Schilling had things to say, and the media was all too willing to listen. He also made waves by joining Sons of Sam Horn under the handle ‘gehrig38′ and discussing his own arrival to Boston.

Friction aside, the two aces combined to provide a devastating one-two combo that knifed through the American League. Unfortunately (actually, I should say fortunately), it required a major Nomar Garciaparra trade to get the team from playing uninspired, .500 baseball  to wild card victors.

Schilling hurt his ankle in the ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels, and when he was battered around in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees… well, the season seemed lost a short two games later. After Boston improbably won the next two games, Schilling took the mound in New York in a very hostile environment, saddled with a surgically repaired ankle that was experimental in treatment. (Much like Tommy John surgery, Schilling would also be immortalized due to this procedure — the Schilling Tendon Procedure.) No one had a clue what was going to happen.

One Bloody Red Sock game later, and Schilling is now forever immortalized.

After finishing second in the Cy Young voting, things hit a bump in 2005. (Fire Brand archive: Rushing Schilling for Opening Day? Why? 3/10/05.) Schilling’s effectiveness dropped in a tank, and all the ankle injuries caught up to him. In July, Schilling began his season in the bullpen, notching nine saves before moving to the rotation. He bounced back strong in 2006, reaching 204 innings and posting a 3.97 ERA after starting the season 4-0. (Fire Brand archive: Second half hero: Curtis Montague Schilling, 7/13/06; Schilling: 2004 vs. 2006, 4/20/06.) While Schilling wasn’t the great pitcher of yesteryear anymore, he was more than capable.

That ERA would drop 10 points in 2007 to 3.87 albeit with a shortened, 24-start season. In this season, Schilling would break his own 53-inning record of most consecutive innings without an unearned run. The streak reached 69 innings before a Yankees home run on May 23 snapped it.

While Schilling had joined the 200-win and 3,000-strikeout club by this point, Schilling’s most notable performance since the 2004 World Series occurred on July 7, 2007. It was a game against the Oakland Athletics, where Schilling was one strike away from a perfect game. Shaking off Jason Varitek and instead choosing to throw a high, outside fastball, Shannon Stewart would rope a single to dash Schilling’s dreams. Quite obviously, he’s regretted his decision since.

It didn’t matter, as long as Schill was around for October. And he was. One of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time made four starts in October to ensure a second World Series ring was won. All told, Schilling finished his career with an 11-2 postseason record and 2.23 ERA. Stellar.

While Schilling would sign a contract to play the 2008 season (Fire Brand archive: Extend Schilling for 2008, 2/05/07) , injuries changed the picture completely as major arm issues were discovered post-contract. (Fire Brand archive: The Future of Curt Schilling, 11/06/07; Father Schilling, 11/07/07) Some feel that Schilling deliberately held the injury back (such as Keith Foulke) simply to make money while others feel that the Red Sox would have caught it on their medical evaluations. Both Schilling and Boston disagreed on how to best proceed with the injury. Boston wanted him to rehabilitate, while Schilling wanted to have a bit of a controversial surgical procedure. Boston’s decision won out, although it would not bear any fruition and Schilling would have surgery in June. He has maintained that had he had surgery immediately, he could have returned for the second half of the year. Whatever the case, the magical season of 2007 would cap his career.

Schilling would go on to continue making headlines in the media. He has his own blog, 38 Pitches, and makes near-regular appearances on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan show. When Manny Ramirez was traded, Schilling wrote a long article lambasting Ramirez that was later pulled, but preserved forever right here. (Another Fire Brand post for you: Manny’s disrespect ‘unfathomable,’ says Schilling, 9/18/08.)

Schilling has a voracious love for MMO video games, most notably World of Warcraft. He would often play this game during his free time as a baseball player, as well as be a dedicated crusader against ALS. Post-retirement, Schilling created 38 Studios, and is developing a video game.

Except for his truly transcendent years, Schilling was always rather unlucky when it came to a win-loss record, thereby assuring he would finish with a 216-146 record, pedestrian given his talent. It will certainly cost him in Hall of Fame balloting, but his nine straight years of excellence backed up by additional years of contribution, the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of all time (with those 3,000+ whiffs to boot), three World Series rings, his postseason pedigree and the Bloody Sock game should all combine to grant him admission to the Hall several years after his first ballot. Baseball-Reference.com would agree, with the four litmus tests to determine Hall candidacy coming out in his favor. (Fire Brand archive: Curt Schilling, the Hall of Fame pitcher, 3/25/09; Schilling’s legacy, 6/24/08; Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer? 4/27/07.)

Perhaps if Boston gave up players that morphed into stars, this trade would be looked at differently. But when you factor in what Schilling did during 2004 and his contributions thereafter, the trade that sent Brandon Lyon and flotsam (Casey Fossum, Michael Goss and Jorge de la Rosa — although the latter has become a fine starter in Colorado) has to be considered an outright steal.

Schilling spent four seasons as a member of the Red Sox — one of them essentially a lost season. Despite what could be called a short tenure, what Schilling accomplished in his short time makes him extremely deserving of being named the No. 2 starter on the Team of the Decade. The Bloody Sock will define Red Sox legacy for years to come.

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