Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski won Triple Crowns. Ted hit .406 in 1941. Yaz was Sports Illustrated's Man of the Year and copped the MVP and went to the seventh game of the World Series in that glorious 1967 season. Bill Russell won the Olympic gold medal and the NBA championship in a span of less than six months (1956-57). Fred Lynn was Rookie of the Year and MVP and went to the seventh game of the World Series -- all in the same season (1975). Tom Brady went from fourth-string quarterback to Super Bowl MVP in one year (2000-01). Doug Flutie won the Heisman, the Cotton Bowl, and threw one of the most famous passes in history -- all in the span of less than two months in 1984. Roger Clemens won the Cy Young Award, the MVP, and went to the seventh game of the World Series in the same season (1986). Bobby Orr won the Hart Trophy, the Ross Trophy, the Norris Trophy, the Smythe Trophy, and the Stanley Cup all in the same season (1969-70).
But it can be argued that no one in the long, glorious sports history of our town ever had a year like Curt Schilling had in 2004.
Schilling was not the American League MVP. He didn't win the AL Cy Young Award. He didn't take home a single individual award. But in his first year in Boston, at age 37, he did something no one ever did. He pledged to bring Boston a World Series championship and he delivered. He won 21 regular-season games, then three more (one in each round) in the playoffs. And he bled for the Red Sox in front of the entire world. He also raised millions for charity and made a citizen's arrest. Oh, and in his spare time, he went to Ohio and helped get the leader of the free world reelected.
The day he signed with the Sox, Schilling said, "I guess I hate the Yankees now." Then he did a truck commercial in which he said he was coming to Boston to "break an 86-year-old curse." Then he put "Why Not Us?" on his T-shirt. Then he underwent an unprecedented medical procedure and beat the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series and the Cardinals in Game 2 of the World Series.
There was more. He brought a new face to the plague that is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Schilling's oldest child is named after Lou Gehrig). He straightened out Manny Ramirez when Manny was going into one of his midsummer siestas and he told Scott Williamson to get some guts. He ratted out a drunk driver, calling 911 when he saw a vehicle weaving dangerously in the night. He called WEEI ("Curt from Medfield") when he objected to anything he heard and he did his own weekly radio gig. He went online late at night, embracing and emboldening the Sons of Sam Horn.
A day in the life of the ace
There were simply not enough hours in the day to be Curt Schilling. And despite all of his activities, he led the majors in wins and posted the best winning percentage (.778) in the AL. No athlete in Boston history ever delivered as promised better than Schilling.
Schilling's bio in the Red Sox press guide is 12 pages. His "personal" section is longer than your average college essay. It's exhausting just thinking about it.
"You have to prioritize," he explains. "My whole career in the last 20 years is my schedule. The four days that I get ready to pitch, they are all laid out for me. I have X amount of time to do other things. And if the stuff they want me to do doesn't fit in that time frame, it doesn't get done."
Being nocturnal helps. Schilling doesn't go to sleep until 2:30 or 3 a.m. most days. He says that explains why he pitched poorly in day games early in his career. The late hour also explains his availability for online chats with the anonymous legions who worship at the altar of Fenway.
"I still talk to them a lot, but not as much," he acknowledges. "With those guys, there's no such thing as too much. It's been said and I say it myself, Red Sox baseball is a religion. Next to catholicism, it's the second largest religion in the New England area."
Touching on an obvious sore point, he adds, "There is this perception of me out there that I am a media hound. You can ask anybody I've ever worked with. I've turned down 50 times more things than I do, and I'm not a yes-no guy, so that changes a lot of the dynamics of the things I do. I'm not gonna sit down and go, `yes,' `no.' "
Four years ago, he hired an assistant to sift through all the offers. Anyone who wants to get to Schilling goes through Katie Leighton. Once the season starts, she doesn't put much in front of him.
"I am in complete control of my life as far as what I do and when I do it," he says. "I don't let it get to the point where it's overwhelming. There have been times in the past where all of a sudden you look back and say, `OK, slow down, too much going on.' That happened after we [Arizona] won the World Series in 2001 and I'm sure that this winter might have been the same had I not been hurt and had the rehab going. I think that's one of the main reasons we went back to Arizona -- to not allow 2004 to carry over too much."
Deflecting criticism at every turn
Schilling will be with the Sox when they open the 2005 season in New York Sunday night, but he's not ready to pitch in the majors yet. The November surgery on his right ankle left a sizable, L-shaped scar and kept him on the shelf for much of this spring. He's eligible to come off the disabled list April 10 and wants to pitch as soon as possible.
He's hurt by the suggestion that he was milking his injury in October. He's read the accusations that he is a glory hog and he knows cynics poke fun when he gives credit to a higher power.
"I'm human," Schilling says. "There's things written and said about me that I understand, but sometimes don't understand. I'm not a `yes-or-no' guy and that lends itself to being critiqued. A lot of it is hypocritical and cynical. There's jealousy. But I also understand that I'm human. I can't change that. I'm not going to be somebody to make the [writers who have questioned his sincerity] think I'm a nice guy. I don't know them and they don't know me. But my teammates do.
"In the postgame press conference after Game 6 I knew when I mentioned the Lord and my faith that there were going to be a lot of people rolling their eyes, but that didn't stop me. Should that have stopped me from doing it? I don't think so."
The way the Sox won, and the way Schilling was able to pitch while bleeding into his sock, was better than anything John R. Tunis could have written. It was Roy Hobbs meets Frank Merriwell. It was Fenway Fatima. Schilling was able to grasp the significance because he'd already experienced an event that he felt was equally powerful.
"What happened to us and to me last year was what it was," he says. "It's one of those things you don't understand when you're going through it. I looked back at 2001 and realized that things can happen bigger than you ever dreamed. The realization of that was Game 7 against the Yankees against [Roger] Clemens. My career was pretty much guided by him in our meeting when I was young, but I'd never pitched against him. Now, all of a sudden here it is, Game 7. Clemens. Me. I mean, you can't write that stuff. And last year -- come on. You come up with a way to break the Curse in 86 years and it wouldn't have sniffed what we did."
As a result, Red Sox Nation will embrace him forever.
"That's not a bad thing," he says. "I can think of a lot worse ways to go out. I'm proud of it. I'm not naive enough to think I was the reason. I was there. I saw it. I was part of a group. I understand that we did what we did because of Dave Roberts, because of Tim Wakefield's three innings of relief [Game 3, ALCS]. I get a different view than you do and I see behind the scenes. I understand how it works. Regardless of what I said about breaking the Curse, I believed we had a chance to win it all.
"I've had things happen to me that I could never have dreamed. I just wish people could experience what I went through."
Putting it all in perspective
The bloody sock from Game 2 of the World Series is in the Hall of Fame. The stained sock from Game 6 of the ALCS was never recovered. Schilling thinks it was stolen by some Yankee Stadium employee.
He says he wants to pitch two more years, then get out so he can spend more time with his wife and four children. He doesn't know how much time he'll spend in Boston once his playing days are done. That's up to Shonda. In the meantime, he'll continue to express his opinion on just about everything and he'll accommodate the public . . . within reason. Sometimes there really aren't enough hours in the day to be Curt Schilling.
"I'm blessed to be where I'm at," he admits. "The day I throw my last pitch, those people are going to stop coming. I understand when I'm done I'll still be able to do things, but it won't be the magnitude it is now. The fans of Boston on their own the last two years raised over $100,000 for two dinners that I had nothing to do with -- for no other reason than that ALS was the cause. You can't say no to these people."
Schilling's offseason was short. He spent the winter recovering from the surgery, making some appearances (remember him at Gillette with Johnny Damon?), and enjoying his family. His spring has been busy as ever, interrupted famously when he had to go to Washington to testify in the steroid hearing. The appearance at the Rayburn Building put him on the front page of the New York Times again and brought more ridicule from teammates and media wiseguys.
"I've never tried to say things to make you like me, but I've never tried to say things to make you not like me," he says. "I am who I am. That doesn't mean I'm right all the time. The congressional hearing is a great example. I made some comments a couple of years ago that were irresponsible and ill-timed and I'm not sure what the motivation was. How many times in your life have you done that? For people to call me on that and be [upset] about that is hypocritical. But there's nothing I can do about that."
Can the Red Sox repeat?
"I've spent a lot of time in the trainer's room and I haven't been able to be around to be a part of a lot of the things that have been going on," Schilling says. "But with the people here I'm confident that things are going to be the way they should be when the season starts. One thing we can't be is complacent, and I don't think we have complacent guys. These fans won't allow it. The media won't allow it. And I think that's a good thing. We're gonna find out real fast. Anybody can win one. Now we find out what we're made of."