CD's Connect The Dots... Schilling & Shilling

Curt Schilling. The name still evokes shock and awe among many long time Philadelphia Phillie phans. Shock that he ever left the team and awe that he could soon return for one last curtain call. It is a return much anticipated and increasingly important. Though self promotion has often been his worst enemy the reality is that...Schilling needs no shilling.

Ironically enough, the word "shilling" carries two distinct and unique definitions, both of which apply to Curt Schilling and his current status as a free agent after contributing to yet another World Championship with the Boston Red Sox. This was the third championship in the past seven seasons for the soon to be 41 year old right-hander.

A shilling in noun form was a part of the monetary unit in America during the eighteen and nineteenth century and was also a former monetary unit of the United Kingdom, roughly the small part of the British pound, or 12 pence to the pound. A shilling in adjective form refers to the way a person falsely promotes himself or others with grandiose promises of production that can never be satisfied or delivered.

Needless to say, Curt Schilling, in deciding to pitch yet one more season needs neither the money or the self promotion in order to justify his desire for one last opportunity to further his goal of a future berth in the Hall of Fame. He has earned plenty of money over the years as a top of the rotation starting pitcher in Philadelphia, Arizona and Boston while his resume speaks volumes about his possible inclusion in baseball's hallowed ground of past greats of the game.

Snap shot images of Curt Schilling have been frequent and not always complimentary. There are the images of a tired and drained Schilling with a towel draped over his head during the 1993 Phillie post season whenever reliever Mitch Williams came in to replace him late in a tense, tight game. There are the images of his oft petty demands for greater commitment to winning from Phillie management during the final years of his first tenure with the club. These are the images that frequent the minds of all those opposed to his return.

Yet the more recent images of him speak to the very essence of his character in uniform and those are the images of a true warrior in battle. The image of Curt Schilling staring down the vaunted New York Yankees in 2001 while with the Diamondbacks and helping lead Arizona to victory over the favored American League champions.

The image of the bloody sock in 2004, once again against the New York Yankees, and this time while pitching for the Boston Red Sox. This occurred in game 6 of the ALCS and was perhaps the defining moment of the Red Sox season, a year in which they finally ended an 86 year old curse and won a World Series. That Schilling was a member of the triumphant club has become less of a coincidence now that his career can be studied with perspective and reflection.

And, finally, the image of Curt Schilling tipping his cap to an adoring Boston crowd for one last time as he departed in the sixth inning of Game Two in the recent World Series, when he was once again a winning pitcher at the center of baseball's most important and difficult stage.

Still, history would seem to demand one last image...the image of Curt Schilling returning to the city of his earliest fond memories and helping that team overcome their own curses with yet one more possible championship. Philadelphia. It is not where Curt Schilling started his career but it is where he first developed it and in many ways was the city where Curt's career was first defined.

Philadelphia Phillies and Curt Schilling. The names are not only familiar but in many ways synonymous. So familiar that they speak to the status of a first name basis. Mention the name "Curt" to any baseball phan in the City of Brotherly Love and everyone knows of whom the name refers. Ask the righty about Philadelphia and watch his eyes well up and his emotions boil to the surface, much like a volcano prepared to spit fire and ashes at any moment.

If ever the term "love-hate relationship" had visceral and definitive meaning it certainly applies in the case of Philadelphia and Curt Schilling. In many ways, he never wanted to leave, yet in leaving he achieved much of his lasting fame and forever stamped himself as one of the greatest clutch pitchers of all time.

Now he and the city and team find themselves in the unique and possibly synchronistic position of having to reunite for one last time in order to fulfill what has always seemed their final destinies. You see, the Philadelphia Phillies are a powerful yet flawed team in desperate need of a starting pitcher who can not only lead with skill but by example. They are a team on the edge, a club with many of its greatest players now at the very peak of their careers. The window of opportunity is wide open at present but may soon close.

On the other hand, Curt Schilling is the aging talent who would like one last chance to go out on his own terms, and perhaps with one last World Championship to hang on his impressive banner of past accomplishments. His Hall of Fame berth, though somewhat improved with his latest success in Boston, is not yet assured. One more title, with one more club would almost guarantee his inclusion, especially if he continued to work his post season magic with that team.

Recently, he listed the 13 teams that he would now consider signing with as a free agent and the list is impressive if somewhat skewed. He was noble enough to exclude the Yankees, the hated rivals of his Boston Red Sox, and a club he could never in good conscious pitch for. He was equally noble in stressing that his first choice would be to remain a Red Sox hurler, though that seems at present more a pipe dream than a potential reality.

Assuming that Boston moves forward with its current plan of installing youngsters Clay Buchholz and lefty Jon Lester into a rotation that already includes Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and even Julian Tavarez there would seem little room for the immensely proud Schilling. Still, perhaps more out of loyalty than actual desire, the Sox will undoubtedly offer the veteran righty some kind of contract, though the rumors emanating out of Boston indicate that the contract will be more incentive laden than iron clad.

Precisely the kind of contract designed for Schilling to refuse. Which will set in motion the wheels that could ultimately lead to the return of the Prodigal Son to Philadelphia for one last chance to help the Phils as he once helped Arizona and Boston. Admittedly, the road is not a straight one and could well take detours in cities like Cleveland, Milwaukee, St. Louis or Chicago. But if Schilling is even remotely the romantic idealist that he always manages to portray himself he will know that all roads lead to Philadelphia for one final date with destiny. It seems a story line too incredible to pass up.

The career accomplishments of Curt Schilling read like a Who's Who list of some of the greatest hurlers the game has ever seen. After a relatively unproductive first four seasons with Baltimore and Houston, where he pitched mainly out of the bullpen and recorded a dismal 4-11 record, his winning percentage has been a sterling .617 [212-135] since.

He has recorded no less than 3 seasons of 300 strikeouts or better [1997,1998,2002] while having won over 20 games in a season 3 times while with Arizona and Boston. His records during those three seasons were an incredible 47 games above .500 at 22-6, 23-7 and 21-6. Even during some of the darkest days with the Phillies from 1997-99 his record was an impressive 47-31.

Even more impressive is the way he almost instantly catapulted every team from also ran to championship status. He joined the Phillies in 1992 and after becoming a solid starting pitcher for a last place team that year, helped the team to the World Series in 1993 with a 16-7 record and a Most Valuable Player performance in the playoffs against the Atlanta Braves.

He will forever be remembered fondly for his heroic performance in Game 5 of that series against the Toronto Blue Jays when he threw over 140 pitches in a 2-0 shutout in front of a maddening crowd in Philadelphia. In many ways, this was the game that began his legacy, and helped create the image of a player who raises the level of his play to fit the intensity and importance of the situation.

It was the first of his now legendary 11 post season wins, a number unmatched in the annuals of post season play. It was to be his last visit to the playoffs though he continued to pitch well and achieved a 101-78 record with the Phils until he was traded to Arizona in mid season of the year 2000.

From there, he immediately formed with lefty Randy Johnson a righty-lefty tandem that led to the D'backs only World Series berth a year later when they defeated the Yankees in 2001. He continued to dominate in the desert through the year 2003 with a 58-28 record when it became clear to him that Arizona had no intention of resigning him after the '04 campaign.

It was during the winter of 2003 that it actually looked at if he might return to Philadelphia in time for the opening of the new Citizens Bank Park. He opened campaigned for a return but finally realized that then General Manager Ed Wade had no real desire for the reunion and it was then and only then that Boston entered the picture.

The Red Sox had hired a young GM named Theo Epstein, a sabermetric wizard who knew that his best chance to end the Boston curse of 86 years without a championship was to woo Schilling to his American League club. The wooing actually occurred over Thanksgiving dinner at the Schilling household and the following day the trade was announced. Curt Schilling was headed East, but not back to Philadelphia but rather to Boston.

His four seasons[2004-07] in Boston are now legendary, the stuff that will someday rank with the rides of Paul Revere and the Tea Parties in the Harbor as some of the most memorable moments in the cities history. Not only was he a member of the 2004 club that overcame an 0-3 deficit against New York to win four straight and then sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to end the 86 year old drought but his "bloody sock" story is one for the ages.

Of course, he recently punctuated that legend with yet another heroic post season effort that culminated in still another Boston World Championship, this time against the Colorado Rockies. Admittedly, his role was less singular and his performance less dominant but can anyone argue that his 3-0 post season record wasn't a major factor in the clubs ultimate success?

In fact, it is this less dominant trend that has many baseball insiders convinced that it would be an unwise investment to sign Curt Schilling even to a 1 year deal. His record in 2007 was a pedestrian 9-8 with a 3.87 ERA and he is no longer able to pitch deep into games after suffering shoulder problems last summer.

Yet, it is precisely these shoulder woes that helped "reinvent" the Curt Schilling that was on full display this October. No longer able to flash his infamous 96-97 MPH fastball, he must now become the master of location in order to fool enemy hitters. Still equipped with pinpoint control, he seems quite capable of at least one more season as a middle of the rotation starting pitcher. In a word, "exactly" what the Philadelphia Phillies seem to need.

Admittedly, bringing back Schilling would be tinged with emotion as his story indicates but without the ability to pitch effectively and help the Phightins' win, he might as well wait until an Old Timers reunion at CBP. No, it is because seems capable of helping the Phils win on the field that his return seems so imperative.

As presently constituted, the Phillie rotation for 2008 stands as Cole Hamels as the "ace" of the staff with possibly Adam Eaton located somewhere at the bottom. Somewhere in the middle lie youngster Kyle Kendrick and the veteran lefty Jamie Moyer. Clearly, there is a need for at least one more starting pitcher, and although free agent Kyle Lohse has indicated that he is "open" to the possibility of returning to Philadelphia, it will not happen.

Lohse has has his agent, Scott Boras, and his demands will never match the desires of the Phils to pay well but not exorbitant fees for a hurler who is at best a 50-50 proposition. With this in mind, and with the notion that youngsters like Carlos Carrasco, J.A. Happ, Joe Savery and Scott Mathieson are at least a year away from making a real dent in the Phillie rotation, the return of Schilling seems very much a no-brainer.

Oh, the Phils might be inclined to consider other free agents like righty Carlos Silva or Josh Fogg and could even attempt to trade for hurlers like Noah Lowery or even Erik Bedard, both of whom are rumored to be available in trade. But Silva and Fogg seem more inclined to produce images of Adam Eaton and Freddy Garcia than they are to become standout hurlers in Philadelphia and both Lowery and Bedard will be had only for a king's ransom, something the Phils are reluctant to offer.

No, only Curt Schilling seems that singular round peg for the round hole and might just be the last remaining piece to the puzzle that outgoing GM Pat Gillick has been assembling since he arrived in the winter of 2005. Much like Schilling, Pat Gillick has a resume guaranteed to attract Hall of Fame votes when he retires after the '08 campaign and both would like to go out the way they have up to now been perceived, as winners wherever they go.

In the context of their off season agenda, the mantra around the offices in PhillieLand have stressed the three greatest needs as "pitching, pitching and more pitching." It is therefore, ironic, that at this particular time in their history, when the need is so great, that perhaps one of the greatest hurlers in their history is somehow available.

Equally interesting is the fact that Schilling mentions on his preferential list the need to hurl for a team that has a solid chance of entering the post season and winning it all. Despite their failure in the National League playoffs, the reality is that for the first time since 1993, the Philadelphia Phillies can proudly fly the flag of "National League East" champions at their stadium in 2008.

This would seem to be precisely the type of team that Schilling lists in his rolodex file of "interesting prospects for future employment." The marriage seems so appropriate as to be foretold already. Yet it behooves both Schilling and the Phillies to act responsibly, wisely and somewhat quickly.

It would seem to recall the words of Samuel Johnson who once remarked that "to improve the golden moment of opportunity and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of life." For the Philadelphia Phillies and Curt Schilling, it would seem that now is the "golden moment of opportunity" and would allow both to "catch the good that is within...reach."

The Philadelphia Phillies present the opportunity to pitch for one of the most powerful offensive machines in baseball. Their success in 2007 stands on its own merit and their future greatness seems easily within reach. Curt Schilling stands equally comfortably on his own merit, as 2007 was once again a season of adversity, conquest and victory for the veteran right-hander.

Their destinies seem united as if in the writing of the final chapter of an as yet unfinished novel. The Phillies hope to write that final chapter with a second World Series banner flying high over Citizens Bank Park.

Curt Schilling hopes to culminate his outstanding career with the one final act that would almost assuredly guarantee him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame...one more World Championship with yet one more team. Ironically enough, the team where he first performed on the World Series stage. It would also present a strong case that should Schilling make it to the Hall of Fame, Boston might lay claim to the "bloody sock" but the the Phillies would no doubt take pride in the big bright P on the cap he wears into the Hall.

Neither party need apologize for their recent past and both can look forward with hope for a successful 2008 campaign. The Phillies of Utley, Howard, Rollins and Hamels present an intriguing and captivating venue for Schilling's swan song in the big leagues. They offer an excellent opportunity for the still talented veteran to end his career with one more title.

As for Curt Schilling? He need not worry that his critics will speak louder than the people who defend his skills. He can take comfort in the fact that at least in Philadelphia, and for the thousands of phans who hope for his return...Schilling needs no shilling.

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast



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