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A politically incorrect subject?

Ex-mates have fun with Schilling

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / September 3, 2009

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Wonder if Jim Bunning got a similar reaction when he first put out feelers about considering a run for the Kentucky state senate in 1979. The guess here is no.

Bunning went on to have a long political career and is in his second term as a Republican US senator from Kentucky.

Curt Schilling, of course, is a lightning rod for comments, positive and negative. While it’s unlikely that he will run for the Senate seat vacated by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, floating his name out there yesterday for public consumption provided some pregame entertainment for his former team.

“He would be good at filibustering,’’ wrote Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein in a text message.

Asked what he would bring to the Senate, Dustin Pedroia said, “A big appetite.’’ It was a funny comment, considering Schilling had said in a NECN interview earlier in the day that he had a “full plate’’ in his private life right now. Not to mention the weight clause in his final contract with the Sox, which prompted this response from a Sox personnel member: “He’d have to lose a few pounds to go on TV, wouldn’t he?’’

There were more important baseball matters on the plate, of course, but the Sox were pretty loose considering they beat the Rays, 8-4, Tuesday night to stretch their wild-card lead over Tampa Bay to six games. They finally played well at The Trop after losing 13 of 15 there. So if anything, the Schilling story provided a bit of comic relief around the clubhouse.

Most seemed to get a kick out of it, though some players retreated into very serious “no comments.’’ Others had pretty good one-liners like, “Will he wear a Ben Roethlisberger jersey in the Senate chamber when he’s making a speech?’’ Another player said, “But in the Senate you have to compromise, don’t you?’’

There was some rolling of the eyes, some shrugs and raised eyebrows. Yet there was no real surprise. Schilling has always had strong opinions. He’s always been a man of convictions. He was a politician in a baseball player’s uniform. He cares about people, given his tremendous work with ALS research. This seems like a natural progression for him.

And the Bunning comparison is not a bad one.

As major league pitchers, they had many similarities. Both were righthanded and played for Philadelphia, though they split their careers between the National and American leagues. Bunning, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996 by the Veterans Committee, finished his career with a 224-184 record and a 3.27 ERA. Schilling went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA.

Both are Republicans.

There are differences in their educational backgrounds. Bunning earned a degree in economics from Xavier and Schilling attended Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., before signing with the Red Sox, the team that drafted him.

Jonathan Papelbon, who usually has an opinion on everything, didn’t know what to make of it all.

“I just know Curt Schilling as a baseball man,’’ he said. “I never spoke to him about politics or anything like that. I think if that’s what he wants to do, he should do it.’’

When asked about it, Kevin Youkilis said, “Are you guys serious? If he runs, good luck. I wouldn’t want that job.’’

Manager Terry Francona, who has known Schilling longer than anyone on the Sox, said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think he’d want me as his campaign manager.

“No, I’ve been around Schill probably more than anybody. He’s very dear to me. I guess, whatever he wants, I want him to be happy just like anybody. I just . . . I’d love to be out in the crowd when he’s making a speech.’’

It’s not far-fetched that Schilling would garner some support if he ran. If the Red Sox are as beloved as we think, then the fact Schilling predicted and helped deliver the team’s first world championship in 86 years should carry some weight with Massachusetts voters.

Who would have thought that bodybuilder and admitted steroid user Arnold Schwarzenegger would become governor of California? Who could have predicted that Ronald Reagan would go from the silver screen to the presidency? Who would have thought that pro wrestler Jesse Ventura would become governor of Minnesota or that comedian Al Franken could be taken seriously enough to become a senator from Minnesota?

Schilling would join a long list of professional athletes who went into politics. In addition to Bunning, there was Bill Bradley and Kevin Johnson from the NBA, and Steve Largent and Heath Shuler from the NFL. Jack Kemp, the former AFL star for the Bills, had a long tenure as a congressman from Western New York. Gerald Ford, a former University of Michigan football standout, became the 38th president.

The trick is to be taken seriously. But pro athletes have other things going for them. They are used to performing under pressure and handling the limelight. Schilling would have no problem with that. Handling the media also would not be an issue. His name recognition would also help to build up his war chest, and his personal wealth wouldn’t hurt, either.

Kennedy to Schilling. Hmmm. Not the passing of the baton I envisioned.

His platform?

“Free pizza for every American,’’ kidded one veteran player.

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