It started in 1988, at the age of 21. He threw his first major league pitch and managed to…um grind his way through four starts that year. He totaled 14.2 innings and only put in more than four complete once.
The stat line for his September call up reads as follows in four starts: 0-3, 9.82 era—10 walks, four strikeouts, and a WHIP of 2.182.
But as they say, it isn’t how you start but how you finish. Well, there weren’t any no no’s on the resume, but yesterday, he finished, with “Zero Regrets.”
Curtis Montague Schilling managed to live the Major League dream for 20 years. When it was all said and done, his 216 – 146 record was certainly more impressive than his ominous start—but even that doesn’t tell the story; nor does the 3116 in 3261 innings.
Schilling is defined by what he managed to do against the best of the best. In his career, whether it was against the 1993 Blue Jays—a team which had three guys that are either in the Hall of Fame or certainly belong, or the 2001 Yankees—a modern dynasty—Schilling was at his best.
On raw regular season numbers, there are places that Schilling is short of the magic stats. There are other places where he clearly measures up to the greatest the game has ever seen.
Just to make everyone happy, let’s talk about a few stats that people think are important and a few that are over looked and compare him to his contemporaries. Before I make the intangibles' arguments that make the sports writers and traditionalists turn green—although that shade is probably envy—I will lay out the stats.
His strikeout total 3116 is a major plus. That total put him 13th on the all time strike out list, 85 whiffs ahead of Pedro Martinez and one behind "The Immortal" Bob Gibson. There are only 15 members of the 3000 K Club. Of all the retired members, only Bert Blyleven is not in the Hall of Fame.
People point to the fact that he has no triple crowns, he has zero no hitters, and he didn’t manage to collect a Cy Young.
He has 216 wins which puts him a solid but not staggering 80th all time.
That to most people would be a minus, but when compared to his contemporaries, he’s only bested by other future Hall of Famers. Wins to me are more of a team stat anyway—measuring a team and not individual effort, but the sports writers do love to bring them up.
But I would argue that you have to compare people within their era. If you take those three letters and look at Earned Run Average, you have a guy that was a full run better than the league average for his career.
Schilling has a career number of 3.46 vs. a league average of 4.41. That being said, Randy Johnson has a 3.26 for his career, in that same span.
"The Professor" Greg Maddux—a contemporary they’ll most certainly open the doors to on the first ballot—put up a 3.16. Talk about a staggering stat in the middle of the Steroid Era.
There is another set of stats during Schilling’s career which struck me when I started to sort through all the accolades. I knew the wins number would be what is held against him. But what about the WHIP? You know—the one that stat geeks everywhere run to as the measure of a man or a pitcher in this case.
"The Professor’s" control was legendary, better than everyone else of his time. It had to be, right? He couldn’t break a pane of glass but managed to post a 3.16 ERA and the 10th best strikeout total of all time (3371). Maddux for all his control has a career WHIP of 1.143 and a strikeout to walks ration of 3.37.
What if we look at a couple of Future Hall of Fame pitchers and a hurler that I feel to be the best of the best over the last six to eight years?
Greg Maddux 1.143 3.37
Randy Johnson 1.167 3.27
Pedro Martinez 1.051 4.15
Roy Halladay 1.208 3.06
Curt Schilling 1.137 4.38
Only Pedro has a better walk and hits/innings pitched, and no one on that list has had better strikeouts to walks ratio.
By the way, he's not just the best on that list, but the best of all time amongs pitchers with more than 200 wins.
But the reason that Schilling will enter Cooperstown isn’t because of the regular season, though I know it sounds amazing to say that about a guy that won 15 or more games eight times in his career amd won more than 20 or more four times.
The truth of the matter is the playoffs. When it matters the most, Schilling took his game up another level. I can hear the collective groans of the sports writing establishment, especially after Schilling managed to drop this major announcement on the public via his blog 38pitches.com.
But the playoff facts are what they are. He took three different cities to the World Series—that is every single team he put on a uniform for—at least once. When he was asked to take the ball in his first National League Championship Series, all that Schilling did was go 0 – 0 in two starts, which is a shame considering his 1.69 ERA and 19 strikeouts over 16 innings.
You want to know why wins are a bad statistic to measure a pitcher? Look at that line. He allowed 11 hits and five walks over 16 innings.
He managed a WHIP of 1.00 against an Atlanta team that had Terry Pendleton, Fred McGriff, David Justice, Ron Gant, Otis Nixon, and a short stop in Jeff Blauser that batted over .300 and knocked out 15 homeruns.
When the Phillies played the best teams in baseball, Schilling surrendered three runs in two starts, with a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.8.
He followed that up with a World Series effort in an elimination game that still stands as an all-time great performance. Let's set the stage.
In a 2 -1 series, the Blue Jays hung a six spot on the Phil’s in the 8th inning to come back from five down and take a 3 – 1 series lead. Then in game five, against a lineup of now and future Hall of Fame guys like Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, and Roberto Alomar.
Never mind a supporting cast that included John Olerud, a 24 year old first basemen that batted .363 that year, Devon White, one of the league premier leadoff hitters, and Joe Carter, who would later create one of sports' most memorable moments.
Schilling walked to the mound in game five, and with his team’s hopes riding on his right arm, posted a remarkable five-hit shutout to give the Phillies another day to play in the fall of 1993.
He followed that up in 2001—at the age of 34, when most players are winding down a career—and started six of 17 playoff games (three of seven in the fall classic) and managed 48 innings or eight per start and an era of 1.13.
Give that a minute to sink in. He pitched three complete games, averaged more than seven or more complete in his other three starts, and posted a sub 1.15 era. Oh yeah, and struck out 56 in 48 innings just for good measure.
Now dare I measure the ability to “Shut up 55,000 people from New York” in 2004? In what was another elimination game for the Red Sox, we saw a guy march out to the top of the mound with his bloody Sox and pull the down trodden Fenway Faithful to the top of the mountain, not once, but twice.
He went and stepped up in Philly, where they had more losses than any other team in Major League history and changed the culture. He went to Arizona and with Randy Johnson grew success in the desert. He went to Boston, where as the sheriff, he managed to wrestle “The Curse of the Bambino” out of town.
In 11 postseasons, the Big Unit is 7 – 9 with an ERA of 3.50, "The Professor" Maddux is 11-14 with an ERA of 3.27, and "The Rocket" is 12 – 8 with a 3.75.
Schilling, when it matters most, is 11 - 2 with a 2.23. He managed 120 strikeouts vs. 25 walks.
He’s managed three World Series rings in only five postseason trips.
When it matters the most, Schilling was not just at his best; you could argue the best of all time. Cooperstown isn’t a Hall of Most or a Hall of Stats. It’s a Hall of Fame, and the spot light has shown brightest. You knew Curt could not only rise to the challenge but dominate the moment. That’s why he’s Famous!