Curt Schilling revealed this morning that he will have season-ending surgery on his right shoulder on Monday, saying there was a “pretty decent chance that I’ve thrown my last pitch forever.”
The 41-year-old Red Sox righthander made the disclosure during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan show, sounding very much like a player whose career could be over.
“I don’t want it to end this way, but if this is the way it has to end, I’m OK with that,” Schilling said. “If it’s over and my last pitch was in the 2007 World Series, I’m OK with that. I just can’t stress enough where I am mentally with this. I have not a regret in the world. … None of this makes me bitter or angry or pissed. It is what it is. In that sense, honestly, it’s very, very easy for me because of what I’ve been able to experience compared to what I wanted when I first started my career, but if I have some say in how this is gonna end, I want it to be different than what it is right now.”
Even in a best-case scenario, Schilling said, he wouldn’t try to return to the mound for a full season in 2009, but rather make an attempt to be a hired gun for some team during the stretch run. To even get there, however, Schilling acknowledged he’d have to clear a lot of hurdles.
“If I did everything I wanted to do, and did everything I could do and needed to do, and I was healthy, and I was better than that 2007 end of the season guy, and it wasn’t painful, I’ve got a decent track record after September,” Schilling said. “Putting myself out there next All-Star break as healthy and auditioning for whoever’s in contention and pitching the final three months of the season, kind of in a David Cone hired gun kind of thing, I wouldn’t care where it was or what it was. From a personal standpoint, my family’s OK.”
The Globe’s Gordon Edes reports that the Red Sox have confirmed that Schilling will have surgery, and that GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona will discuss this development before the Red Sox-Cardinals game at Fenway Park tonight. Schilling will not be at the ballpark, according to the club.
Schilling also wrote in his blog today that he would provide an update after Monday’s surgery and what the prognosis and decisions are going forward.
Schilling said the major procedure would be performed by Dr. Craig Morgan, who thought Schilling should have chosen surgery in the offseason rather than the rehab program recommended by the Red Sox. When asked if this meant that Dr. Morgan’s initial analysis of the injury and rehab was correct, Schilling replied, “I don’t know … and I don’t care.
“There’s a chance a lot of things could happen here. My season’s over. There’s a pretty decent chance that I’ve thrown my last pitch forever, so I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I’m going in to make it not hurt anymore, which is pretty much all I care about.”
According to Schilling, the procedure will involve a relocating of the biceps muscle, plus “some other stuff,” Schilling said. When asked if that “other stuff” might entail repair to the labrum and rotator cuff, Schilling wouldn’t speculate, saying that would be determined after he went under the knife.
“This could conceivably be a career-ending procedure,” Morgan told the Associated Press. “We’re doing this so that Curt Schilling will have a totally functional, pain-free shoulder for the rest of his life.”
Schilling acknowledged that even if the surgery is successful and doesn’t reveal more problems, he faces a very long road back.
“Off of surgery there’s two other possibilities, two potentials, which was I could wake up after the surgery and be told ‘you know what, it’s been a good run, you got no shot of getting back out there’ which is something I’ve … had to be OK with because it’s a potentially likely scenario,” he said. “And the other one is, we fixed it but whatever happens between now and when you decide to pitch again, it’s going to be five times as much than you ever had to do from a rehabilitation standpoint. Those are the two surgery results.
“The second option to me was my career’s over today. If I don’t have surgery, my career’s over today. So, I’ve had to sit back and weigh those options and figure out what we wanted to do.”
Early in spring training, Schilling’s course of treatment became a source of melodrama. Team physician Dr. Thomas Gill recommended rehab for a tendon injury. Schilling sought a second opinion from Morgan, who operated on the right shoulder in 1995 and 1999. Morgan felt surgery was best and rehabilitation would fail — and potentially end Schilling’s career.
After experiencing a setback last week, Schilling returned to Boston ahead of the team to see Dr. Gill to discuss where to go next in his efforts to rehabilitate his ailing right shoulder. His last throwing session, Friday in Cincinnati, did not go well — Red Sox manager Francona called it a “plateau”. This morning, Schilling explained what went wrong.
“Painful,” Schilling replied when asked to characterize the setbacks he’s faced. “I never could get past a certain stage. The analogy I use to explain to people where I was at was if you use a scale of 1-to-10, and 10 is pitching in a big-league game, I’m at about a 3 right now. And if you use a pain scale from 1 to 10, I’m probably at a 1 to 2 from a discomfort standpoint. When I try to make the move in effort from 3 to 4, my pain goes from 1 to 2 to 7 or 8.”
Strengthening the shoulder wasn’t the issue, Schilling explained on the radio this morning.
“I got strong,” Schilling said. “Everybody involved is very pleased and in Dr. Morgan’s case, ecstatic with the amount of strength that I have in my shoulder. I remember making the comment a couple of months ago, my fear was that I’d get strong and be able to do all this awesome strength stuff but at the end of the day I wouldn’t be able to pitch, and that’s kind of what happened. Functionally my shoulder is incredibly strong. From a rehabilitation standpoint if there isn’t career-ending damage, I’m in an incredibly good position to have surgery, but I can’t throw a pitch. And when you’re a pitcher, that’s a problem.”
No matter what happens with the surgery, Schilling insists he has no regrets.
“I’ve been blessed a billion times over,” Schilling said. “I’ve been given far more than I ever, ever, ever, ever could have imagined and to be able to spend the last couple of years of my career as a member of this franchise, in front of these fans is a gift I’ll never be able to repay. This is not a funeral. It’s not a bad thing. I’ve been given a billion times more than I ever dreamed I could get and to be able to finish it here, if that’s what happened, is OK, and I have nothing but appreciation and gratitude and love for the people that root for this team and the teammates of mine. So, it’s not a bad thing.”
The Red Sox are deep in starting pitching even without Schilling and have the second best record in the majors, trailing only the Chicago Cubs.
Josh Beckett is the ace, Daisuke Matsuzaka is 8-0 with a 2.53 ERA, and youngsters Jon Lester and Justin Masterson are having solid seasons. Bartolo Colon, the AL Cy Young award winner in 2005, is 4-2 after signing a minor league contract during spring training, and Tim Wakefield is 4-4 with the second most innings pitched on the staff.
The Red Sox also have Clay Buchholz, who began the season with Boston but is now at Triple-A Pawtucket. He pitched a no-hitter in his second major league start last Sept. 1.
Schilling ended last season, his 20th, with 3,116 strikeouts, 14th most in baseball history. And he’s been dominant in the postseason with an 11-2 record, the best of any pitcher with at least 10 decisions.
In 2004, his first season with the Red Sox after being traded from Arizona, Schilling became a sports icon in Boston when he won Game 6 of the ALCS and Game 2 of the World Series after a surgical procedure to suture a loose tendon in his right ankle. His bloodstained right sock became a part of baseball history.
Schilling said he was not hurt when he signed a one-year, $8 million contract with Boston in November but knew in spring training he might never pitch in a game again.
“I don’t have any choice. If their course of action (rehab) doesn’t work I don’t pitch this year, and I may never pitch again,” he said at the time.
He has a career record of 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA, and was co-MVP of the 2001 World Series with Randy Johnson for Arizona.
Schilling spent part of last season on the disabled list with what the team said was tendinitis in his right shoulder and went 9-8 with a 3.47 ERA in 24 starts. Then came the postseason and he was outstanding again. In four starts, he went 3-0, including a 2-1 win over Colorado in the second game of Boston’s sweep of the World Series.
More Schilling quotes from his lengthy WEEI interview:
Regarding how often he is feeling pain:
“It started to get painful again, non-throwing pain, which is a huge part of the equation. I went through four months of strengthening with no pain whatsoever and I was excited about the fact that I was not generating inflammation and pain given the intensity and rigor with what we wanted to work, but at some point here we got to a point where I imagine we might get, I just hope we get there at the end of the process where throwing went from being kind of uncomfortable thing to a downright painful thing and when the pain increases, the amount of time it lingers afterwards changes, and it’s starting to move in that area.”
On facing reality:
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do a case study. I’m 41, I’ve got over 3,000 innings under my belt there’s a period of time when some of those innings stacked on top of each other for a lot of years. I know when you read an MRI and it shows things, generally it shows the bare minimum and when you get opened up you add a lot to the mix. I’ve got some issues beyond the bicep that I’m very comfortable will be fixed. I’m very ready for something else to be wrong.”
On his contract situation with the Red Sox:
“Unfortunately now, my career ended with me taking a paycheck for six months and not pitching and I feel good about the fact that I went back to them and did restructure the deal. I’m not getting paid to weigh in but part of me feels bad about the fact that all this happened to begin with and I think at some point in time during this process there was a lot of things in question about me from an integrity-principle standpoint and I hope that those things aren’t in question with the people involved anymore but I never intended for this to be the way it is. I never misled anybody and we are where we are because I got hurt, and I can’t change that.
Are you going to hang around?:
“I would like to pull a Mark McGwire, in a sense, for my family’s sake and it’s probably the right thing to do from an outside of the Red Sox standpoint. I don’t know what the club wants me to do. I don’t know what they’d like me to do, if anything, and if we have that discussion, I’m sure I’ll talk about it.”
More on the surgery:
“Actually Dr. Gill was trying to accommodate a request to sit in on the surgery and the gentleman who invented the procedure [to] transfer the bicep muscle is actually going to come down. He’s at UConn. He’s gonna come down and sit in on it as well.”
On keeping it in perspective:
“I’m not mad that I didn’t get to pick the way I walked away. Part of it is my fault in a good and a bad way. Again, it’s not a bad thing. And I appreciate the condolences, so to speak, but I’ll give you a good example. I’m talking to a woman named Bridget, whose 31 years old, and is this picture of perfect health, whose 25 months pregnant, has stage-4 cancer, and has six-to-nine months to live. You know what? That’s tragedy. This is not. This is 22 freakin’ years I’ve been playing this game. I would hate to think that’s I’m not going to get a shot, but if I don’t, I don’t… this is all about perspective. … Wouldn’t we all like to throw a no-hitter in our last start at the age 40 in the World Series and walk away. Who wouldn’t? That’s not real life.”
Background information from the Boston Globe and the Associated Press was used in this report.