FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Last Thursday, he was in Room 2154 of the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill. On Friday, his picture was on the front page of just about every newspaper in the world, prompting Manny Ramirez to ask, "Hey, man, where'd Curt get that suit?"
Yesterday, Curt Schilling was back in his work clothes: baseball shoes, red socks, white baseball dress pants, and a black US Marines T-shirt. And, surprise of surprise, he had a microphone in front of him.
In some ways, Schilling is the Reggie Jackson of his time. It's pretty easy to imagine Curt making dinner reservations
and asking, "Could I have a table for six with one podium?" The man has an opinion about everything and we love him for it. Schilling was a big player in Thursday's congressional hearing -- a disastrous day for the national pastime -- and the hungry media corps in Red Sox camp was eager to hear his review of the proceedings. Pledging to talk about the steroid issue one last time, Schilling answered questions for almost a half-hour in the back of the press box before yesterday's exhibition game against the Orioles.
"I don't think there can be any question about the fact that things will change, whether it be voluntarily or involuntarily," he started. "As a player who hasn't taken steroids, I think it would be naive of me and you to think that we don't want these players caught and fixed or kicked out."
He reiterated his position that he never has witnessed steroid use in baseball. "In 19 years I've been in the game, I have never seen steroids in pill form, in liquid form," he said. "I have never seen a player inject himself with steroids. I absolutely believe players have taken it and are taking it, but I could not sit here and tell you who."
Schilling's willingness to speak his mind sometimes gets him in trouble. When he tried to downplay the scope of baseball's steroid problem Thursday, some of the committee members reminded him of comments he made to Sports Illustrated in 2002. In that article, Schilling lightheartedly spoke of his reluctance to congratulate teammates by patting them on the behind, because "that's where they shoot the steroid needles."
He explained, "I can speculate and I have speculated in the past about what I felt or how I felt, and a lot of the comments . . . I didn't retract the comments. I was in error when I made them." He said he didn't believe Jose Canseco's book was all lies, but he believes the percentage of cheating players is closer to baseball's figure of 1.7 percent than to Canseco's claim of 80 percent. True to form, he had some instructions for the media.
"The same players you guys are vilifying and crushing now are the same guys you guys touted to the world for the last 15-20 years," he said. "With the same suspicions that we had. You have four guys in the last 18 years that have done something that has never been done.
"It started in 1988 when Jose went 40-40 [40 homers, 40 steals]. Now an admitted cheater who took steroids his whole career. You have Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who in 1998 did something that had never been done before. Sammy's hit 60 home runs three times. You have Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs. All four guys in the court of public opinion are accused of or suspected of using steroids. To the fans, that's 100 percent. The four best players in the game -- not one or two, everybody's suspected.
"So I see where it's hard for people to make that leap from 100 percent of those guys to 1 percent of everybody. If anything, it makes me realize that Alex Rodriguez is more of a genetic freak than we ever thought. Because he's truly the only 40-40 guy to ever play the game."
This is Schilling at his thoughtful best. No one in Congress, and no one with a keyboard, has framed the issue in this manner. (As a bonus, the theory enabled Schilling to become the first person in a Red Sox uniform to say anything nice about Rodriguez this spring.)
Pushing the point, he added, "Our four best players have been going under scrutiny and they all had one thing in common. Physically, they all four drastically changed. So everybody began to accuse or suspect."
Asked to assess the fairness of the suspicions, he said, "I think it's unfair that they were all guilty before being proven innocent. In Jose's case it wasn't unfair. He admitted to being a cheater.
"In the case of the other three, I don't know. That's for you to decide on your own, based on what they've said and how they've acted."
Is the reaction to McGwire unfair?
"I don't know," said Schilling. "Mark is a friend. He made decisions based on advice and I can only speak about my situation and how I would have acted. It's tough when you have a guy sitting there refusing to talk and the guy sitting next to him [Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro] absolutely denying what he did. It made for some very uncomfortable situations, and as a person, not as a player, I felt bad for him to have to go through that.
"I can say this: If my name had been in Jose Canseco's book as a steroid user, two things would have happened. I would have issued a press release to deny it and call him a liar and I would have sued him."
Schilling challenged the intentions of some unnamed members of the committee. He took responsibility for not being versed in the issue for most of his career. Given an opportunity, he was careful not to bash the Players Association for its intransigence in the area of drug testing. But he cleverly created some distance between himself and Messrs. Fehr and Orza.
"I was a player rep through the '90s," he said, "and I know that I never objected to any comments about potential testing or what it would entail."
He said he had no problem with naming names of players who test positive, adding, "No player that isn't cheating has a problem with that. It's very clear now that if someone is a positive, they're done. They might still be able to play after a suspension, but they're forever labeled as a cheater."
He sounds like a man who plans to run for office one day. More than one panel member commented on Schilling's political savvy during Thursday's hearing. Maybe he'll run for president and Reggie Jackson can balance the ticket for him.
In the meantime, Schilling will go back to pitching for the Red Sox, starting tomorrow in a minor league game at the far end of godforsaken Edison Road. He still wants to be Boston's starting pitcher two weeks from tonight when the Red Sox open their championship defense on national television at Yankee Stadium. Despite Terry Francona's pronouncement that David Wells will pitch the opener, we've learned never to count out Schilling. Don't be surprised if Curt vaults out of a wheelchair to take the mound.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist.