Yesterday, Curt Schilling announced via a press release that he has been diagnosed with cancer. It is not clear what kind he has or how far along it is.
The news is a shock and nobody is sure how this will effect his work for ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. But one thing we do know is that he is still alive now.
This is not an obituary nor a post about sorrow. Schilling and his unique, controversial and thrilling career should be celebrated and he should be appreciated while we still have him.
You can’t break down Schilling just by the numbers, but he was terrific statistically. He gave his team 200+ innings nine times, four times leading the league in complete games. He won a lot, he struck out a lot of batters. In fact his 3,116 punch outs rank 15th all time.
He never won the Cy Young Award but maybe that was because his teammate Randy Johnson kept taking it during his peak seasons.
According to Baseball Reference, the pitchers he is most similar to are Kevin Brown, Bob Welch and Orel Hershiser. And that makes sense because all three of those pitchers, like Schilling, had long careers with very high peaks.
But the player I think he resembles most is Reggie Jackson.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Like Curt, Reggie played for several different teams and yet always seemed to find his way into the post season. There were players with better numbers than Curt and Reggie, but few with their flair of the dramatic.
Reggie was a World Series MVP with two different franchises, the 1973 A’s and the 1977 Yankees.
Curt was the 1993 NLCS MVP with Philadelphia and the 2001 Co-MVP (with Johnson) of the World Series with the Diamondbacks. (Not to mention his heroics with the Red Sox.)
Like Reggie, he talked a big game and was brash. Whether it was referring to Yankee Stadium mystique and aura as stripper names or getting 50,000 New Yorkers to shut up, he didn’t care if he gave the other team bulletin board material.
If he was on your team, you loved him as a brash bad ass. If he was on the other team, you hated him and wanted him to lose. It is playing the villain and he relished that role, just as Reggie did a generation before.
The few times both failed on the big stage, the opposing fans relished it. Whether it was Bob Welch striking out Reggie in the 1978 World Series or the Yankees bombing Schilling in Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS, there was added venom in the stands when they cheered.
But guess what? When Reggie faced Welch again in the 1978 World Series, he homered. When Schilling got on the mound again in Yankees Stadium for Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, he dominated them.
Opposing fans might not have liked his style, but there was undeniable substance. Yankee fans who think that Schilling faked the blood on the sock in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS are missing the point. There can be footage of Schilling squeezing Heinz onto his ankle and that does not change the fact that he threw 7 innings, letting up a single run in an elimination game on the road.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
He pitched a complete game shutout in the 1993 World Series when the Phillies were on the verge of elimination (and coming off of a 15-14 loss the previous night.)
He began the 2001 post season with three complete game victories in the playoffs and started 3 World Series games, striking out 26 in 21 1/3 innings, walking just 2 and pitching to a 1.69 ERA.
His final game in the big leagues was winning Game 2 of the 2007 World Series against the Rockies.
Of course he was loud, opinionated and no doubt obnoxious to the opposition. I admit that I got tired of hearing about his political stances. Sure there were people who experienced schadenfreude when his video game company went under.
But there is no denying that he, like Reggie, made the game more exciting. It would be no fun to root for or against him if he was not good. And because he could back up his bravado, he gave three distinct pennant winning teams an undeniable sense of character.
Plus he knew and understood not only his role on the team but where he fit into the team’s history. When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, he made the point of hugging Johnny Pesky and reminding him of all the great things he did for the franchise.
Did he know a camera was on him when he said that? Of course he did. Reggie knew when the cameras were on as well. It was a show. They both knew it.
Get well Curt. You made baseball more fun. It was a thrill rooting for you and being in the stands for Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. The fans there could not wait to see you fail. You did not. They hated you for that and we loved you for it.