ESPN broadcaster and analyst Curt Schilling announced yesterday that he is dealing with an undefined cancer. The four-time World Series pitcher said, “I’ve always believed life is about embracing the gifts and rising up to meet the challenges. We’ve been presented with another challenge, as I’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer. … My father left me with a saying that I’ve carried my entire life and tried to pass on to our kids: ‘Tough times don’t last, tough people do.’ … With my incredibly talented medical team I’m ready to try and win another big game. I’ve been so very blessed and I feel grateful for what God has allowed my family to have and experience, and I’ll embrace this fight just like the rest of them, with resolute faith and head on.”
So why would a Baltimore sports blog do an article on Schilling? Well, three reasons come quickly to mind. I have always really liked the guy, he pitched portions of three seasons for the Baltimore Orioles at the beginning of his career, and there is a point of application to be made relative to current Birds pitchers.
Curt Shilling had a great career as a pitcher, posting a lifetime record of 216-146 with an ERA of 3.46. His career strikeout total of 3,115 ranks 15th all-time in baseball.
But he will most be remembered for his even more stellar playoffs record, where in 19 games and 133 innings he was 11-2 with an ERA of 2.23 and WHIP of 0.968!
With the Baltimore Orioles from 1988-1990, Schilling began his major league career. His numbers were not stellar, as he was 1-6 over that time, pitching a total of 69.1 innings with a 4.54 ERA. In January of 1991 he was traded along with Steve Finley and Pete Harnish in the infamous deal that brought Glenn Davis from Houston.
True to the character of the statement made yesterday, Schilling was always a tough competitor. He was an aggressive bulldog in his style of pitching, and a colorful and verbal player in interviews and the clubhouse. A history of his baseball career includes a number of controversies and strongly-worded statements and opinions – one of which even involved the Orioles’ own broadcaster Gary Thorne.
The enduring visual of Curt Shilling will always be from the playoffs in 2004, where the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate the rival Yanks on the way to their first World Series championship in 86 years. In the sixth game of the AL Championship Series, Schilling was pitching on an ankle that had been stitched that morning, and the oozing of blood could be seen seeping through his white sock. But he gave up only one run in seven innings on the way to a 4-2 victory.
Schilling had pitched previously (and well) for the Phillies in the 1993 Playoffs and Series – a time when I lived near Philly and went to two of those games. Phillies fans loved the toughness, as did Arizona fans later on in 2001 when Schilling pitched with Randy Johnson in a championship run.
This “toughness factor” that we are reminded of when reflecting on Schilling’s career raises an issue I read about very recently regarding the need for such in a MLB pitcher. The article stated that this intangible component was as equally important as the physical baseball capacity in a player. That sounds rather outlandish and overstated.
I do not have a precise answer, nor could it honestly be quantified, but having watched the past decade or so of young pitchers in the Orioles organization, I now believe that the mental component in a pitcher is larger than previously believed. If I had 20-something year-old daughters (which I don’t since I’ve got five of the opposite gender!), I would probably rather see them marry the very nice guys who’ve come up recently through the Birds’ system than marrying a lightening rod like Schilling. But, in a pitcher, I’d rather see the fiery and fierce demeanor that says “you are NOT going to get a hit off me!” Instead, there has been a too-steady diet of guys who have flashes of lights-out talent, but who more frequently look confused, bewildered, and terrified that something dreadful is going to happen next.
I am hoping that the “fresh eyes” pitching instructors will see this prancing, stretching, yawning, and cap-adjusting nervousness, and that they will have the skills to reach beneath and within to trigger a mental approach and toughness that exhibits itself in consistent success – with resolute faith to embrace the fight head-on.