Schilling began this season with just 184 lifetime victories. Today, that is difficult to wrap your mind around because Schilling has been so dominant over the past few years. He has been the equal of Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens every step of the way, but only since about 2001, the first year that he finally cracked the 20-win plateau.
We have longer memories of him in Philadelphia because we saw him everyday, beginning back in 1992 when we "stole" him from the Houston Astros in exchange for Jason Grimsley. Back then, Schilling had pretty much been an underachiever since Boston spent a second-round draft choice on him in 1986. Houston was his third team, after breaking in to the majors with Baltimore, and the Astros tried (and failed) to make a closer out of him. The Phillies, and Johnny Podres, resurrected Schilling's career when they put him back in the starting rotation. It was one year later when Schilling first made the national stage by taking the Phillies on his back, earning the NL Championship series MVP award, and then shutting out the Blue Jays in a clutch Game 5 performance of the 1993 World Series. The following three seasons, though, saw Schilling struggle through injuries and mediocrity, as he never cracked 200 innings pitched, nor 10 victories.
Then came 1997, and a suddenly rejuvenated and healthy Curt Schilling leapt back to the national stage by becoming the first National League pitcher since Mike Scott in 1986 to reach 300 strikeouts in a season. When he followed that up with another 300 strikeout performance in 1998, Curt Schilling became the most coveted right-handed pitcher on the market.
He packed up his act and took it to the Arizona desert in 2000, where he and Randy Johnson famously combined to bring the Diamondbacks their first World Championship in a memorable post 9/11 victory over the suddenly world-favored New York Yankees. Schilling would twice finish second to Johnson in the National League Cy Young voting. Last season, Schilling seemed headed back to Philadelphia until the Boston Red Sox, and manager Terry Francona, courted him to bring history to Beantown. Schilling, a well-known baseball history buff, couldn't resist the opportunity to do the impossible.
That is exactly how the script played out, and that's exactly how I think Schilling gets into the Hall. Not by continuing to pitch and attempting to bring his statistics up to "Hall-worthy" standards, but by riding off into the sunset, the injured warrior who brought an impossible dream to life.
Baseball-Reference.com rates Curt Schilling's career numbers on par with Jimmy Key, David Cone, and John Candelaria - nice pitchers, but not Hall-of-Famers. Key, who retired in 1998 with 186 victories, received exactly 3 votes from the Baseball Writers Association in 2004, not enough to get him back on the ballot in 2005.
Now, I know that Curt Schilling is a cut above Jimmy Key, but what about Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, and Jack Morris? Blyleven won 287 games and possessed the most knee-buckling curveball of his era; Tommy John won 288 games, pitching into his mid-forties, and has reconstructive elbow surgery named after him. Neither pitcher is in the Hall, and judging from recent votes, neither is likely to get there. Schilling will never match their win totals.
Morris won only 254 games, a total that Schilling would only reach if he pitched well into his forties. More importantly, however, is the fact that Morris was a lights-out postseason performer, definitely in Schilling's category. Morris' 10-inning, Game 7, shutout performance to win the 1991 World Series for the Minnesota Twins has to rank as one of the all-time pitching performances. Morris will not make the Hall-of-Fame.
Sandy Koufax, on the other hand, won just 165 games in his major league career, but was a near unanimous choice to enter the Hall-of-Fame in 1972. Koufax had two things going for him; one, he was the most dominant pitcher in the game over the last four seasons of his career, and two, he was forced out of the game in his prime due to a degenerative arthritic condition.
Schilling has been similarly dominant over the past four seasons as Koufax was in his last four seasons, winning over 20 games three times, and finishing second in the Cy Young balloting in 2001, 2002, and 2004. Schilling added mysticism to heroics as he underwent radical ankle surgery to be able to lead the Red Sox to their first World Championship since 1918 and reverse the long-held Curse of the Bambino. The fact that his ankle continues to cause him problems, and could ultimately lead to the early end of his career, I believe is Curt Schilling's second "Koufax criteria" and free pass into Baseball's Hall-of-Fame.
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