By Will Leitch
Tags: curt schilling, world series
In this space earlier this week, I referred to Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as “likable.” This was obviously a joke, albeit a poorly rendered one; of all the adjectives one might use to describe Schilling, “likable” would rank down there with “svelte,” “shy” and “Japanese.”
This sounds harsher than I mean it; in an age of cliché-spouting automatons, Schilling’s self-aggrandizing instincts are a splash of cool air. Well, if you could make cool air from hot gas.
The word “blowhard” would seem to have been invented for Schilling . . . and I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult, either. Earlier this season, Baltimore announcer Gary Thorne claimed, on live television, that Schilling painted on the famous “bloody sock” as a “PR move.”
Schilling vehemently denied it, and it’s almost certainly not true, but to anyone who has ever heard Schilling talk, it sounded true. Schilling isn’t an expert in his own myth-making – most people see through his act – but he certainly thinks he is. To Schilling, the rest of the planet is a supporting character in the ongoing legend of Curt Schilling. This makes him incredibly entertaining, and kind of charming.
One almost expects Schilling to start selling a monorail. He is a throwback to the days of players personally attempting to manipulate media members – rather than having publicity wizards (or Scott Boras) do it – into spreading the word of their own heroism.
About a year ago, Schilling actually emailed me after I had written a short piece joking about his “naturally self-effacing manner.” I had never met him, and I’m pretty sure I never will, yet he still felt compelled to spend 1,200 words of energy to defend himself to this nameless Internet dork with no influence and no real axe to grind in the first place.
He didn’t convince me, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t impressed and amazed. Schilling is the type of guy who will tell someone with a camera that steroids are ruining the beautiful game he loves, and then, when he’s called before Congress to testify on that very issue just two months later, will clam up and says that baseball has made “great strides” in fixing the problem. (At least he didn’t claim he couldn’t speak English.)
My favorite moment was when a radio station jokingly floated the notion that Schilling should run for the Senate; his response was not a dismissive chuckle, but rather, “I couldn’t rule it out because it’s not something I ever thought about in a serious capacity.” He wasn’t planning on running . . . but hey, if the people demand it! Schilling is baseball’s Eddie Haskell, and I can’t get enough of him.
What’s funny about all this is that Schilling has no need to pump up his own myth; he’s one of the gutsiest big-game pitchers of our generation. Whereas Roger Clemens limps off the mound with some suddenly flaring injury anytime he struggles in the postseason, Schilling raises his game when it matters the most. Even at the age of 40, with his 90-plus m.p.h. fastball long in his past, he gets by with pluck, guile and sheer force of will. He did it with the Phillies, he did it with the Diamondbacks, he did it in the 2004 World Series and he did it again last night.
Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez, almost 20 years Schilling’s junior, has electric stuff, but he doesn’t have the discipline and smarts of Schilling, who, somehow, outdueled the youngster even though he was in no danger of overpowering anyone. As a person, Schilling is Roger Dorn from “Major League,” the grinning car salesman; as a player, he’s riveting and almost impossible to root against.
You can see a glimpse into the Schilling dichotomy on his personal blog, which is half devoted to the Glory of Schilling and half a fascinating look at the art of pitching. Schilling often breaks down his own starts on his blog, revealing a professional’s obsession with detail, explaining why he threw this pitch then, remaining upfront and honest about his successes and his failings. It’s a must-read for anyone looking for more insight into the silent, endlessly complex side of baseball. (Schilling is not exactly the best speller but, to be fair, he might be typing with his glove on.)
This is all self-serving, of course; Schilling is clearly mighty proud of himself for his commitment to “connecting with his fans” and remaining a “real person.” And you know what? He should be. Even if the intention is to Make Sure Everybody Knows How Great a Guy Curt Schilling Is, that’s more of an effort than almost any other athlete makes. Actually, I give up: Schilling is likable, in spite of himself.
With this series beginning to look like a rout, last night might have been Schilling’s final start with the Red Sox. (He’s going to be a free agent.) The Fenway fans knew this, and gave him a rousing standing ovation. Schilling loved every minute of it, almost as surely as he deserved it.
I don’t want to overstep my bounds here, but I’ve never wanted to eat at Taco Bell less in my life. I’m not sure how much FOX is paying sideline “reporter” Chris Myers to “interview” Taco Bell COO Rob Savage, allowing the executive to shamelessly shill his alleged food product while leering frighteningly into the camera, but it can’t possibly be enough. Myers actually parroted the fast food chain’s slogan into his “report,” a slogan I won’t repeat here, because I still care a small bit about my soul.