(Photo from Boston.com)
Curt Schilling and I have not always gotten along. Given the opportunity I’m sure we’d get into a knock down, drag out fight about politics and the role of religion in society. (During which, I’m sure, he’d cue up footage of his 2004 press conference which, admittedly, made me a little teary, as he bloviates on the healing power of faith). And that is all well and good. Given the celebrity and the platform, I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t shoot my mouth off whenever I felt like it and educate the masses on what I was certain was the best way to run the country or how those of you using pre-chopped garlic are wrong (I feel very strongly about this). But that said, Curt Schilling and me did usually agree on the baseball.
Our common ground, as it were, was found in the fact that when he played for my team (which he did for the past four years though we’re not counting last year’s aborted attempt at a season), I wanted very badly for him to be successful. He seemed to want that too. We were in agreement.
Oftentimes Schilling takes heat for his pomposity and the way in which he paints his heroics to elevate himself above the team. Perhaps fairly and perhaps not. Baseball is a game that lends itself to heroes and goats and the poetic, bucolic nature of the game has long inspired meandering and epic prose on the men who play this little boy’s game for a living. Historically, baseball has been a repository for all our better angels and hidden demons. And that, at least, is something I’ve long felt that Curt Schilling has understood.
Say what you want about the man – and many have and will – but he was and continues to be a student of the game. He knows the history inside and out (and sure, is well aware of his place in it), but he can certainly never be accused of not caring.
In the same way I’m concerned that when my father eventually retires, he’ll have more time to drive the stock boys at Home Depot crazy looking for the exact right kind of pressure-treated decking (I mean, more crazy than he already has), I worry that Schilling will find himself with plenty of free time with which to skewer certain other players and herald those he deems above reproach. But, like I said, the man has been given a platform and he intends to use it. I’d love it if he wouldn’t do so speaking on behalf of the Republican party but we don’t get to choose these things.
All of that said, mouth and loud opinions aside, Curt Schilling deserves our respect as a ballplayer. In the way that many of us have watched our childhood heroes fall, so has he. (He will be glad to tell you, I am certain, what he thinks about Roger Clemens now). He has had good days and bad days. There was that closer experiment that we find ourselves not wanting to talk about. And yes, there was the bloody sock.
If we try to separate the very Curt Schilling-ness from his playing, the brash, confident and at times arrogant swagger that often chafes, we’re not left with much in the way of a ballplayer. In the same way all politicians – even the ones we consider humble and noble – must have a healthy dose of hubris to believe they can and should run for office, ballplayers need some ferocity and some “screw you-ness” as well. Josh Beckett has it. And we love him for it. Curt Schilling has it too. That is part of what made him so successful as a pitcher.
He’s built like – as Sam once famously put it – “an egg on stilts.” He doesn’t have the mean glint that Pedro used to get or the preternatural calm that Mariano Rivera brings. But he often seemed as though he had a will. And that would be all he’d need. He’s had his own humbling moments (We do NOT shake off Tek), and has become something of a mentor and cheerleader to the younger members of the staff. And perhaps we have him to thank for that as well. There is no better teacher than experience and surely he has imparted much of that on Beckett, Lester and their ilk.
So while we may not miss Schilling the orator (and that Schilling is surely not going anywhere), I will miss Curt Schilling the big game pitcher. That was truly something special to see. Provided he doesn’t pull a Favre or a Clemens on us and this retirement is the real one, Major League Baseball is one big game power pitcher lighter. And we should all miss that.