Orioles v Red Sox

Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe interviewed Keith Foulke in a piece that ran today. I enjoy Grossfeld’s feature pieces — they’re enjoyable to read, and this one is no exception. It’s great to hear from Foulke, and I’ll always consider his 2004 postseason effort unmatched by any reliever.

Foulke lost his closer’s job in 2005 amid injuries. He stuck as a solid middle reliever for the Sox in 2006, then signed with the Cleveland Indians before retiring in spring training due to injuries. He could have stuck it out and collected his money, but chose not to. He then came back with the Athletics last year, again being a solid reliever. No calls occurred this winter, so he’s up in Newark, pitching for an independent team that has Carl Everett at DH.

Some choice excerpts:

He doesn’t blame anyone but himself for his free fall in 2005, when he lost his closer job in Boston. He says that Dr. Thomas Gill, medical director for the Red Sox, examined his knees the first day of spring training and recommended immediate surgery.

“I told him, ‘No, I’m not doing that,’ ” says Foulke. “To this day, it’s one of the worst decisions I ever made, to fight through it, because it basically took the next three years of my career.”

In the same piece, he would say that after the 2004 World Series, he was barely able to climb the stairs due to his knees being so bad. He then asked that information not be published, trying not to make excuses.

About walking away from the game and turning down $5 million…

Foulke says he doesn’t want to compare himself with Curt Schilling, who accepted $8 million from the Sox last year and never pitched an inning because of shoulder problems.

“He’s got to wake up and look himself in the mirror every day,” says Foulke.

You know, this brings up an interesting question. Should Schilling have retired and saved the Sox $8 million or was he right in trying to rehabilitate his injuries and see if he can return to the game?

It’s a sticky choice, and we all know what Schilling chose. I don’t think it has anything to do with integrity, to be honest. It doesn’t reflect badly on Schilling or any other ballplayer that makes that choice. Sure, it reflects well on Foulke, but I wouldn’t let it demean other players. They are giving their life and body to the game, and if it’s injured in the process… well, that’s part of the risk both sides take. It’s a two-way street.

To me, the bottom line is that Foulke made an incredible gesture in walking away from the money — a gesture he didn’t have to make. Both parties were aware of his injury problems. He could have decided to stick with the team, rehabilitate and see if he could return the latter part of the year. He didn’t.

Schilling chose to stick with the team, rehabilitate and see if he could make a comeback the following year. Putting it in that light makes Schilling out to be a bad guy, and maybe he should be made out that way, but I just don’t think it’s right to make him a bad guy.

Look what Schilling pitched through in the 2004 postseason for us. He was healthy and had full plans of pitching in 2008 before things changed. He didn’t retire from the game because he wasn’t ready to. Foulke was, and then unretired. The situations are both similar and different at the same time.

What do you think? Should Schilling (and other players) walk away from a contract and retire if injuries destroy their chance to help a team?