Curt Schilling: An Iconic Pitcher Hangs Up His Cleats

richard thalerContributor IMay 16, 2009

BOSTON - OCTOBER 25:  Curt Schilling #38 of the Boston Red Sox tips his hat to the crowd as he comes out of the game in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies during Game Two of the 2007 Major League Baseball World Series at Fenway Park on October 25, 2007 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Lieutenant Island Views: Commentary About Finance, Politics and Baseball

An Iconic Pitcher Hangs Up His Cleats

Curt Schilling recently announced his retirement from baseball. Baseball will be poorer for his absence.

While many, the author included, disagreed with his political positions, these are the reflection of an American with a point of view. They don’t make him a bad guy, they add to his story.

He was a special player in so many on and off the field ways that you can only shake your head and say: WOW! As a pitcher, he was the biggest of the Big game pitchers we have seen since Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. If you don’t believe it, look at the records or ask members of the ’01 or ‘04 Yankees!

His detractors will tell you that he definitely had a “big mouth”. It is absolutely true and even he would admit it. Unlike many pros, however, when he made outlandish predictions or comments, he usually delivered.

On Arriving in Boston in ’04, he said he was “coming to overturn the Curse.” He Delivered. What red blooded Red Sox or Yankee fan can forget his famous comment prior to the ’04 ALCS about his expected effort: “I can’t think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up.” He Delivered. In that respect, he more than Karl Malone, was the true Mailman!

And then there was the famous “Bloody Sock.” Unlike so many high paid players who will avoid anything that would jeopardize their ability to keep playing and being paid, Schilling took a huge career risk and submitted to an unconventional surgical technique to pitch in Game Six of the ALCS.

Pain and pressure be damned. Bloody Sock and all, Schilling pitched seven innings of one run ball against the mighty Yankees in their home park. He scattered a meager four hits over the seven frames; something very difficult for any pitcher regardless of his physical condition.

Was he insane, a total unselfish team player, an ego maniac or one of the most courageous players in the history of the game? He was probably all of the above. The performance now ranks in baseball history with Babe Ruth’s called shot and Bobby Thompson’s home run off Ralph Branca as the three most memorable acts in baseball history.

Off the field, Schilling was as intense and driven as when in uniform. We have already mentioned his political activism. Though he has a different political perspective, he rightly should be compared to film icons Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, who are both exceptional actors who bring out their best in the most difficult roles.

Without making judgments about anyone’s specific political views, the important thing is that he thinks about issues and is committed to using his celebrity in a positive manner to support such ideas. Can one think of many other ballplayers who have thought about US foreign or economic policies (other than their own tax rate)?

In charitable endeavors, Schilling was a tireless advocate for fighting ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He has raised millions and been a strong advocate for increasing American awareness of this terrible disease. Less well known are his activities to fight skin cancer. As with his politics and on field bravado, he follows up his outspoken comments with action, energy and commitment.

While all of the above make put Schilling in a small cadre of professional athletes, perhaps most unusual is the fact that he has no agent, choosing to represent himself in contract negotiations. Some might say his choice is “penny wise and pound foolish” yet he has been among the highest paid pitchers in baseball for more than the last 10 years.

He has kept the 10-15 percent that would otherwise go to an agent (read that as tens of millions of dollars) without hurting his relative position in the compensation firmament. It is also worth noting that, compared to a number of Scott Boras clients, including Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Derreck Lowe, one cannot find Schilling’s name on a roster of investors swindled by Stanford Capital.

Whether or not he makes it to the Hall of Fame is for the sports writers to decide. Regardless what happens, he will be missed!

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