I have no problem with Curt Schilling, who retired yesterday. Sure, he never met a camera he didn't want to stalk. Sure, he never missed an opportunity to share his opinion on anything. And yes, he even campaigned for George Bush the day after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004.
Still, I'm a fan. On Thanksgiving in 2003, the Sox visited Schilling and worked out a deal to get him to Boston with the express purpose of breaking the 86-year title draught. Schilling embraced the pressure and proceeded to have a Cy Young worthy season. His postseason exploits have been well chronicled.
Nibble at his flaws. He was the guy who promised to bring a title to Boston and made sure it happened. They don't win it without him. He was the best pitcher on that team from Opening Day until October 27th, 2004.
He was one of The 25. And for that, he has my eternal gratitude. It's that simple for me. Focus on the off-the-field stuff all you want, but on the field, he was a stud and he played a huge role in one of the greatest championship runs in American sports history.
Now on to the Hall of Fame debate. Curt Schilling was 216-146, good enough to be 80th on the all-time wins list. He's 15th on the all-time strikeouts list with 3,116. His career ERA is 3.46. But it's the postseason where he made his true mark -- 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA. That record is the best in the history of baseball with at least 10 decisions. You can make the case that he's the best postseason pitcher of all time.
The low win total will hurt him, because of course he should have stuck around an extra five years so he could scrape up 10 wins for the Rays or Mariners. That would please the Hall voters who will compare Schilling's career to pitchers who didn't have to face juiced up players, juiced up baseballs and small ball parks. He also made some enemies with the baseball media, the same media who will hold his Cooperstown fortunes in their hands.
This is the same group of voters who won't vote 100 percent for Ricky Henderson, Ted Williams, etc for the Hall of Fame. These voters, the "guardians of the game," are some of the dimmest, most self-important pricks you can find outside an RNC meeting. For me, deciding whether a player deserves enshrinement comes to one question.
Was he one of the best at his position during his era?
An unequivocal "yes."
And don't talk to me about wins, which a pitcher doesn't have all that much control over. He pitched for crappy Phillies teams for years, teams that blew his leads and didn't give him any runs. And don't talk to me about other pitchers with similar resumes who aren't in. Different players from different eras, and mistakes from the past shouldn't mean we have to keep making the same mistakes in the future.
And in an age when we decry boring athletes with nothing to say, Curt Schilling was at the very least interesting. There were plenty of times where I wished he'd shut up, but then again, do we want all athletes to talk like Tom Brady, Derek Jeter or Tiger Woods? Wouldn't that be boring?
If he doesn't make the Hall, I won't jump off a building. I'll still remember him as the guy who came to town with the weight of 86 years of incompetence and heart break, said he'd bring that to an end and followed through. I'll remember his first start in a Red Sox uniform, against the Orioles following a crap start from Pedro Martinez. He toyed with them that day. I'll remember, of course, the bloody sock game. I'll remember the moment when, in the locker room after winning the World Series, he gave a toast: "To the greatest Red Sox team ever assembled!" It always, without fail, gives me goosebumps when I see it. And I'll remember the second World Series he helped bring to Boston, just for kicks.
Mostly, I'll remember always feeling secure when he took the mound. You knew you'd get an anti-Matt Clement performance. He was fun to watch. He didn't walk guys. He was smart on the mound and gave you everything he had.
And -- just to remind you -- he was one of The 25.
A huge part of The 25.
End of discussion.