Boston Red Sox's Curt Schilling Ends Legendary Career

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Boston Red Sox's Curt Schilling Ends Legendary Career
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

There are certain iconic phrases and images whose mere mention will produce galvanized memories among most. 

The line "I'll be back" makes us all think of Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator."  The phrase "Do you believe in miracles?" is forever screamed in Al Michael's excited register and in reference to the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. 

Unless you have lived in a cave since the late 1990s, the image of a bloody sock makes you think of Curt Schilling.

Today, Schilling announced his retirement. 

After 23 years in professional baseball, 21 in the major leagues, he has chosen to bow out rather than pitch part of a season for a franchise, as Roger Clemens had done with the Yankees. 

Assuming that Schilling does not pull a "Brett Favre" and stays retired, he will have left with 216 wins, 3116 strike outs, and a 3.46 ERA.

Schilling made his major league debut on Sept. 7, 1988 with the Baltimore Orioles. Ironically, that debut was against the Boston Red Sox, the team he would end his career with two decades later. 

After three seasons on Baltimore and one in Houston, Schilling landed with the Phillies.  He contributed to the 1993 team that made it to the World Series, only to be beaten by the Toronto Blue Jays. Schilling did win in game five of that series for the Phillies.

In 2000, the Phillies traded Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he would remain for several years. He and Randy Johnson were the co-MVP's of the 2001 World Series, as Arizona defeated the New York Yankees.

After the 2003 season, Schilling became a free agent. As teams clamored to gain his services, the league’s youngest ever general manager, Theo Epstein, came from Boston and ate Thanksgiving dinner with the Schillings. 

In the end, Epstein wanted to convey to Schilling the historical significance of being a key element to ending Boston's 86-year championship drought would be. Epstein did such a good job, Schilling signed with the Red Sox. He told the media he was coming to bring the World Series trophy to Fenway.

Even the most romantic of Red Sox fans could not have envisioned just how historic it would all be.

In 2003, the Red Sox had their latest in a lifetime of heartbreaks.

After giving up a lead in game seven of the ALCS by leaving Pedro Martinez in too long. Grady Little eventually put knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield on the mound, who then gave up a series winning home run to New York Yankee, Aaron Boone.

One year later, the Red Sox found themselves again in the ALCS, again playing their AL East rival Yankees, and again on the verge of elimination.

Schilling, who was 21-6 that season, had pitched poorly in game two of the series. As it turned out, the sheath that held a tendon in place on his right ankle was torn. The muscle was slipping around the ankle bone, causing pain and affecting Schilling's mechanics. 

Physicians knew the surgery required for a fix would finish his season. Instead, they opted for a procedure so new that they first practiced it in a cadaver. They sutured the tendon in place temporarily to keep it from moving around. It would help restore his mechanics.

But the question remained, with this team down 3-0 in the ALCS, whether he would get to pitch again that year.

Game four itself was the stuff of legends. A heart stopping ninth inning rally to tie the game, the Red Sox won game four in extra innings. Game five went 14 innings until the Red Sox pulled out a one run victory. Game six was to be Schilling's finest.

Schilling's line on game six would be impressive enough without extra drama.

He pitched seven innings allowing one run on four hits. The Yankees had scored 40 runs in the first five games of the series. There was more drama to be had, though. 

During the game, it became clear that the stitches on Schilling's ankle were seeping blood. The blood, clearly visible on his sock, has become the stuff of legend. Some suggest it was all a ruse to throw off the Yankees. 

In the end, the sock went to the Hall of Fame, a symbol of the most storied comeback in baseball history. 

The Red Sox won that game six, and went on to win game seven, the first team to ever comeback from such a deficit in a seven game series. Schilling was not done in 2004 or in the World Series.

He would win game two against the St. Louis Cardinals, as part of the sweep that Boston performed in that series. He had brought the title to Boston, as promised. Though he had a lack luster 2007 season, one hampered by time on the DL. In the end, he pitched in another post season and did not lose.

Today, Schilling retires with a post season record of 10-2. 

He has spent his career being as outspoken as he was efficient on the mound. Schilling has taken much heat from fans and other athletes for his no hold barred approach to candor in interviews. 

Perhaps his most famous topic is that of Barry Bonds' alleged steroid use. Schilling later apologized for this quote saying, "He admitted he used steroids. There's no gray area. He admitted cheating on his wife, cheating on taxes and cheating on the game."
 
While many, if not most, people out there who think Curt Schilling is a blowhard jerk, he was still a player who took his craft seriously and played the game of baseball the way it should be played. He was a rarity in professional sports in terms of caliber of play, desire to win, and honesty at the expense of popularity. 

We will see what the powers that be have to say about the Hall of Fame. Whether he is enshrined in Cooperstown, he will be missed by fans of the game, starting today.

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