On Tuesday former Major League pitcher Curt Schilling revealed that he had been diagnosed with cancer, he did not disclose which type, only saying that he was being presented with another challenge that he vowed to beat.
In the wake of the news many headlines and articles around the media circles have labeled Schilling as a “Baseball Tonight Analyst for ESPN.” While this is of course true, having recently signed a multi-year extension to stay on with ESPN, Schilling should not be looked at for his analytic baseball merits alone.
Those who followed the career of the former five-time All-Star know that Schilling used to keep a notebook on all of the hitters he faced during his career, making his post-career choice to be a baseball analyst come as a surprise to nobody. He’s quite good at it, too, often very critical of what he sees and never afraid to pull punches when calling out players.
However, only praising Schilling as an analyst would be doing him a major injustice as a player in the game.
While Schilling’s overall career record of 216-146 may not be the most impressive, a 3.46 ERA during a time where many of baseball’s hitters have been linked to anabolic steroid use is certainly no small feat. Schilling has been labeled by many pundits as a “borderline Hall-of-Fame” player, and rightfully so.
The 47-year old from Anchorage, Alaska pitched for the Baltimore Orioles and Houston Astros before catching on with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1992 at the age of 25. While still unpolished, Schilling showed signs of dominance that season by leading the league with a 0.99 WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched), and having a league best 6.6 hits allowed per 9 innings. He also posted 10 complete games, and four shutouts during that season.
The following season saw Schilling post a 16-7 mark in 34 starts, but injuries would derail parts of his next three seasons. He only made 56 starts from 1994-1996, managing just a 18-23 record during that span. However, he managed to post eight complete games and two shutouts during the ’96 campaign, leading many to believe that he was on his way back to the potential he showed during his breakout 1992 year.
At age 30 in 1997, Schilling finally came to realize all of the potential scouts raved about over ten years earlier when he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 2nd round of the amateur draft. Schilling led the league with 35 starts, making his first All-Star team, and had an incredible 319 strikeouts to lead the league. He amassed those strikeouts over 254 1/3 innings pitched, giving him a career best 11.3 strikeouts-per-9 innings rate. He also finished fourth in the National League Cy-Young Award voting that season for the Phillies.
He was even better in 1998, once again making 35 starts. While his earned run average was marginally higher than the year before (2.97 to 3.25), he led the league with an incredible 15 complete game efforts. He once again made the All-Star team, and hit the 300 strikeout plateau once again with an even 300. His 268 1/3 innings pitched led the league, and were the most innings he ever pitched in a single season.
Despite posting a 15-6 record and making his third consecutive All-Star team, injuries derailed Schilling in the later stages of the 1999 season. His strikeout rate dipped from 10.0 the year earlier to 7.6, and rumors began swirling that he wanted out of Philadelphia. The following season he got his wish, making 16 starts for the Phillies before being shipped west to the Arizona Diamondbacks. At 33, many people around the game began to question if Schilling had reached his ceiling and was beginning to trend downward.
However, the burly right hander was determined to prove that he still had plenty of gas left in the tank.
2001 saw Schilling post a career best 22-6 record, the 22 wins being the most in all of baseball. He made his 3rd All-Star team and led the league with 256 2/3 innings pitched. He finished 2nd in Cy-Young Award voting to teammate Randy Johnson, amassing 293 strikeouts that season. It pushed his K rate back to the 10 per-9 mark for the first time in four seasons. The 2.98 ERA he posted that season was the fourth lowest of his big league career as a starter.
That postseason, Schilling celebrated his first World Series Championship victory with the Diamondbacks, earning World Series Co-MVP honors with Johnson. Schilling started the ’01 postseason with three complete games, one of which was a shutout. Then in the World Series against the New York Yankees, winners of four World Series the previous five seasons and three straight, Schilling made three starts. In Games 1, 4 and 7, Schilling hurled 21 1/3 innings allowing only four earned runs. He struck out 26 batters while allowing just 12 hits during the dramatic World Series victory for Arizona.
The following season was of similar success for Schilling during the season: 23-7 record, 3.23 ERA, 35 starts, five complete games, 259 1/3 innings pitched and 316 strikeouts. He posted a career best 0.97 WHIP, 1.1 walks-per-9 innings, and an incredible 9.58 strikeouts-per-walk. All three of those marks also led in terms of qualified MLB pitchers. Big No. 38 once again made the All-Star team, and once again finished second in National League Cy-Young Award voting. Unfortunately for Big Schill, Arizona was bounced in the first round of the playoffs that year. At age 36 in 2003, Schilling went 8-9 during an injury riddled season for Arizona in which he only made 24 starts. He still had very good counting stats: 2.95 ERA, three complete games and two shutouts, 194 K’s in 168 1/3 innings, and a league-best 6.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Once again, though, the critics questioned whether Schilling had finally run out of gas.
A reunion with the team who once drafted him would prove that the three time 20-game winner was far from done.
Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein flew to Schilling’s home on Thanksgiving night of 2003 to show the team’s commitment to signing their draft pick of 17 years earlier. On November 30, 2003, Schilling accepted a trade to Boston with the promise of an agreement to a contract extension. Eventually, Schilling would sign a three-year, $37.5 million deal with a $13 million option for the 2007 season.
According to quotes from an ESPN.com on that day, Epstein had plenty of praise for Schilling, “Curt wasn’t out for every last dollar. Very far from it. He wanted to structure his deal so the Red Sox would be competitive for every year of his contract,” Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. “He deserves a lot of credit, because that’s a rare request coming from a player.”
Schilling vowed, “I want to be a part of bringing the first World Series in modern history to Boston, and hopefully more than one over the next four years.”
There is absolutely no chance the Red Sox would have ever captured the titles he wanted to be a part of without his doing.
At 37, Schilling rebounded to form pitching in the American League for the first time since 1990. He posted a 21-6 record (a winning percentage that led baseball among starters), a 3.26 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and a league-best 5.80 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He made his fifth All-Star team, finishing second to Johan Santana in the American League Cy-Young Award voting.
His most memorable contribution to that 2004 Red Sox squad, however, came during the postseason. After injuring his right ankle in starting Game 1 of the American League Championship series versus the New York Yankees, Schilling appeared to be finished, but he promised he would do everything in his power to get back on the mound to help the team beat the hated rival Yankees. They lost Game 1 10 to 7, and eventually fell behind in the series three games to none. After winning Games 4 and 5 in dramatic fashion, Schilling took the mound for Game 6 in his most famous start of all time.
He consulted with the Red Sox team doctor, undergoing a numbing and suture procedure which numbed his ankle enough to pitch through the pain in a win-or-go-home game. In the “bloody sock” performance, Schilling gutted out 7 innings, allowing only four hits and one earned run. He threw 99 pitches, 67 for strikes. The Red Sox won 2-1 in the unbelievable performance, and Schilling cemented his legacy in the team’s storied history. The team thrashed the Yankees in Game 7, then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series for the team’s first championship in 86 years. Schilling threw 6 innings in Game 2 of the Series, allowing only one unearned run.
The ankle injury compromised his 2005 season, as he struggled to come back from the injury that eventually required surgery. He posted a career worst 5.69 ERA in 32 appearances (11 starts, 21 relief appearances) in a season where Boston eventually tried him out as their closer. He did post nine saves, but his repertoire as a power pitcher had been sapped with the coming of age (now 38), and the very serious injury to his plant ankle.
He would return as a starter in 2006 and 2007, posting a 24-15 record over 55 starts during his final two seasons. He would once again back up his intentions as he helped lead the Red Sox to yet another championship in 2007. He went 3-0 during that postseason.
Overall in his postseason career he went a remarkable 11-2, posting a 2.23 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 133 1/3 innings pitched. His teams went 14-5 in his postseason starts, and he dealt four complete games with two shutouts.
The point? Curt Schilling is much, much more than an analyst for Baseball Tonight on ESPN. Hopefully we can all appreciate that as he goes through yet another difficult time in his life.