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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Legend of Ye Olde Stopper

I blogged before that if he kept at it for 3-4 more years, stayed healthy and got to 230+ career wins, he'd have a good shot for the Hall of Fame. I honestly believed that then, and I believe it now. He has thrown a wrench into this analysis, though, because he's talked about retiring as early as after this season.

Last night, Curt Schilling won his 199th career game against the Yankees. True, the Yankees were missing Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui, but the rivalry remains intense and lesser pitchers have wilted in rivalry games. This guy, it always seems, pitches big when the lights are the brightest.

And that, of course, will be his legacy. He may not get talked about today the same way we talk about Clemens, Maddux, Glavine and Johnson, all of whose bodies of work outshine his. I would argue, however, that he has outshone at least three of them in the post-season, and perhaps four, although Randy Johnson pitched outstanding baseball in the 2001 World Series, was named Series MVP and shared, along with Schilling, the award as Sports Illustrated's Sportsmen of the Year. Schilling pitched great in the same World Series, and he can add his heroic efforts in the 1993 post-season for the Phillies and in the 2004 post-season for the Red Sox.

How will he be viewed 25 years from now? 50 years from now? As just another pitcher, someone who just somehow didn't make the Hall of Fame, a la Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris? Or, depending on the sabremetrics of the day, will he be viewed as one of the most clutch pitchers of all time and, therefore, worthy of the Hall?

The media loves him, the fans like him and appreciate his candor, and, okay, so his front offices haven't usually taken a shine to him and his teammates bristle because of the publicity he gets for himself. I can't predict how that cocktail will medicate his chances, but the guess here is that his media-friendly attitude and his heroics will work in his favor.

It would be a shame for him to retire after this year. As the stats have shown, when he gets enough rest and doesn't throw 131 pitches in a game in April, he is better than most, even as he approaches 40. The money has been great, so much so that he's probably set for life and doesn't need to work a whole lot longer. That factor, along with the drag that the travel of a baseball season places on any family, let alone one with four children, plus the fact that his wife is a cancer survivor, might contribute to an earlier than later retirement.

That's Curt Schilling's right, of course, but when he does retire he will be missed. Baseball history isn't usually kind to those who get to the threshold of the Hall and just don't quite make it. I'm not going to digress into an argument as to who belongs but hasn't gotten the votes versus who has gotten in and the voters were nuts to elect them. In Schilling's case, I hope that they'll think hard about his entire body of work and how he has excelled against the biggest names in the biggest games.

It's not only longevity that should count, but also the quality of your body of work. Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro are in the Hall and both were excellent pitchers, but I'd take Schilling in a big game over them any day of the week.

Come to think of it, I'd take Schilling over Clemens, Glavine and Maddux too.

And I'd pay as much as I'd ever pay for a ticket to see a Schilling-Johnson matchup when both were in their primes.

Let's hope that when considering whom to elect, the Hall of Fame voters remember that.


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