Monday, March 23, 2009

Curt Schilling: A Tribute to a Retiring Great

I frequently speak to my family at dinner about always trying to do the right thing.

We talk about always trying to live up to the standards we set for ourselves. We try—though we don't always succeed—to be kind, courteous and thoughtful.

I'm proud of my family.

We don't park in handicapped spaces. We still hold open doors for people. We think of our fellow man.

We usually try to be politically correct in a land where political correctness is usually not politically correct.

Today, Curt Schilling announced his retirement after 23 years as a major league pitcher, most recently with "our" Boston Red Sox.

I've never had the pleasure of meeting Curt or had my dream come true of breaking bread with the Schillings.

But I will bet my left arm, that the conversations that occur around the Schilling table are very similar to the ones I just shared with you.

I speak to my family about "repetitive habits." Once you know a person's repetitive habits, you can predict the future.

Curt Schilling's repetitive habit is always doing what's right. So it came as no surprise to me that he announced his retirement from baseball on his blog, 38 Pitches.

You know Schilling. He was the one that stitched his leg together to pitch for his team in the 2004 playoffs.

His ankle looked like it had been gnawed on by my dog, Fenway. It was gnarled and torn pieces of flesh that were held together by staples.

The surgery had to be attempted on human cadavors before being tried on Schilling to see if it would work.

Critics claim the sock was actually covered in ketchup in an attempt to motviate teammates with his heroics.

Heroes don't cheat to motivate—they simply play injured.

His bloody sock sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. His World Series ring rests on his right hand. Second finger over.

Probably next to the other two he won.

Of course, that World Series victory came after an 86-year Boston drought, and on the heals of the now famous New York Yankee choke of 2004.

When he signed with the Red Sox in 2003—after a Thanksgiving Day meal with Red Sox officials—Schilling adored himself to the Bahston accent and Bahston fans in this famous Dunkin' Donuts ad.

Upon Schilling's arrival in Boston, he took shots at the "Evil Empire" and all but predicted the end of the vaunted Curse of the Bambino and the stranglehold that the Yankees had on the Boston nine.

During his five-year tenure with the Sox, Schilling ripped Boston nemesis Manny Ramirez on several occasions for not giving his all, saying his "level of disrespect to teammates and people was unfathomable."

He later shared his disgust with radio station WEEI's Glenn Ordway and former Sox players Brian Daubach and Lou Merloni after Manny had dissed him and his teammates upon his arrival in Los Angeles last year.

"The guy got to dress in a locker away from the team for seven years," Schilling said. "And then [when] he's on this crusade to get out of here, all of a sudden he's in the locker room every day, voicing his displeasure without even having to play the game that night."

Schilling also mixed it up with Fox News 25 Sports anchor Butch Stearns back in 2004, after Stearns claimed that Schilling had "issues" with former Sox hurler, Pedro Martinez.

Schilling called Stearns from his car while Stearns was a guest on station WEEI in September, 2004. The conversation went as follows:

Glenn Ordway (host of WEEI): Next we have Curt in the car up next here on the Big Show.

Schilling: How you doin' guys? Hey listen, I'm not going to be long but I'm gonna say one thing. I don't know who it was that just said something regarding Pedro and I.

Butch: That was Butch Stearns...That was me, Curt.

Curt: Don't be stupid enough to think you can make something out of nothing. That's how dumb, idiotic rumors get started by those who don't know the game. I have (well we're glad you called...) I have nothing but the utmost respect for Pedro. I think he's probably one of the best pitchers I've ever pitched with. He's a great guy. We get along awesome. Because you don't see us playing grab-ass on the field doesn't mean a thing. Don't say something stupid and something ignorant like that.

Butch: Alright Curt, I understand, and I'll apologize for that, but can I ask you a question?

Curt: No. Here's my problem. If I don't call up, you don't apologize for it, you don't retract it, and somebody calls and you make it a bigger deal than it is.

Butch: I'm not trying to make it...

Curt: It's a stupid, idiotic comment to make. It's irresponsible. And you know what? It's ignorant, because you don't know. Obviously, you just made it up.

Butch: I didn't make anything up.

Curt: Sure you did. Sure you did. I've hugged Pedro on the field this year, after we've won a game. That's a stupid thing to say...Isn't there some other controversy you can go to? Because you had some valid points, but don't make up stupid stuff.

Butch: Alright, fair enough Curt. Can I ask you a question? What do you care to offer us about your relationship with Pedro? That's all.

Curt: love him. Pedro's an awesome guy. And he's arguably one of the best pitchers I've ever pitched with. He's a fantastic human being.

Butch: Do you feel like you guys have pushed each other in a good way, for the good of the team?

Curt: I don't know if we push each other, I've learned a ton from watching the guy pitch this year. A ton.

Butch: Same or different than relationship with Randy as players?

Curt: No, it's different because RJ and I lived right down the street from each other. We both have four kids. Our wives are very close. So there's a lot of different...It was different. As teammates and as friends, Pedro has my utmost respect and he's a guy I'd kill for, absolutely."

Steve Burton: Hey Curt, in all fairness to Butch, I'm the one who brought up the subject and what I said was 'how do you think...Pedro's used to being the ace of the staff. Here you come in...

Curt: No, no you didn't preface it with that, you just said “how do you think Pedro feels when Schilling pitches well?”

Steve: Right, and I think that's a fair question. I think...

Curt: Wait, wait, wait. Why is that a fair question? Because in that situation you'd be jealous? Given a similar situation, you'd have problems with it?

Steve: I think some people would, yes. I think that's a very fair question.

Curt: You're assuming Pedro is “some people.” Pedro is not “some people.” Pedro's one of the five best people on the planet at what he does. People like that tick differently than people like you. You have to. The top five in the world at anything, they do and they're going to be so vastly different people than you are, or that most normal people are. Yeah, they're human. They have emotions, but you know what? You get here doing things differently than most people do. I gotta go guys, I just wanted to make sure that people understood that that's not a top subject.

In an era where we beg for players to be passionate about their sports, protective of their teammates, and passionate about what they believe to be right, this is another example of Schilling donning his Superman cape and standing up for what he believes to be just.

He is the proverbial poster child for doing what simply feels right.

Schilling also appeared before the House Judiciary committee with Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Raphael Palmiero, and Mark McGuire, speaking vehemently against the use of HGH and steroids in the game that he loves so deeply.

I don't think more needs to be said on this topic.

Schilling and his wife, Shonda, contribute endless hours and boundless energy to Curt's Pitch for ALS in an attempt to stamp out the disease that took the life of Yankee great Lou Gehrig.

Shonda is also founder of SHADE, The Curt and Shonda Schilling Melanoma Foundation of America. Shonda had a very public battle with malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

She launched The SHADE Foundation in 2002 to promote sun-safety awareness.

Does it get any more right than that?

Politically, Schilling is a staunch Republican and though he and I couldn't be more opposite on that, he stands up for what he believes is right, as opposed to sticking his head in the sand like so many fellow role models do.

On a personal note, when I was laid off in November after a lifetime as a warehouse and logistics manager, I sent e-mails to all the friends in my AOL address book.

Schilling does not know me from Adam, but within hours, I got a personal e-mail from him telling me that he can't guarantee anything but he would forward my resume to the HR manager of his company,

His HR person, Aurelia Laff, sent me several e-mails wishing me well in my period of unemployment (they obviously didn't have anything for me).

I also watch the way the Schillings use their Facebook pages. There is nothing fake or choreographed. Their pages are open, sincere and genuine (don't try to friend him..he has reached the Facebook limit of friends and is advocating a change in Facebook's policy).

So when Schilling announced his retirement today instead of pulling a late season entry into the pennant race (a la Clemens), it came as no surprise to me.

Rather than disgrace the game he loves by pitching in a diminished role, rather than spend yet another season away from his wife and children, Gehrig and Gabby, Curt has decided to hang up the glove, the cleats, and the bloody sock.

And as opposed to pulling Brett Favre-like antics of “retire today and sign tomorrow,” I believe that Curt is sincere in his announcement.

Been there, done that. Time to hang 'em up.

Somehow, I expect him to jump in the saddle of his white horse and travel into the sunset.

So Curt...One last time...This one's for you!

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