Curt Schilling's teammates sense this isn't the end. Somehow, they think, he'll have surgery and be back by midseason next year, riding to the rescue of a contender that needs someone who can win a big postseason game. Exactly what the Red Sox had hoped Schilling would provide them.
In the end - which apparently came yesterday when Schilling said he will have season-ending and perhaps career-ending surgery on his right shoulder Monday - his season was a washout. Even when he was negotiating those kooky incentives in his contract last offseason - weight clauses? - there was a sense that Schilling had likely pitched his last game.
Theo Epstein had offered him a Roger Clemens contract - pitch a half-season, maybe a third of the season - but Schilling insisted on a full-season deal. Then came the ugly, public dispute over whether he should have surgery or abide by the Red Sox' prescription of a conservative, nonsurgical approach. The Sox' diagnosis, supported by other medical opinions, was that Schilling would not be able to return from major shoulder surgery at his age. Ultimately, he reluctantly followed the team's wishes.
You can argue whether the Red Sox should have allowed Schilling to have the shoulder repaired surgically, but the fact is his return just wasn't meant to be.
So now it's time to ponder: Is Schilling a Hall of Famer?
Did he win enough games (216)? Do his postseason record (11-2, 19 starts, 2.23 ERA, 4 complete games) and vital contributions to three world champions put him over the top? Was his "money pitcher" status enough to overcome his shortage of wins?
The sense here is that he will be lumped with Jack Morris, Bert Blyleven, and other borderline candidates. Voters will discuss and analyze and debate his candidacy for the next five years and likely beyond.
I think he will be elected at some point. His vote total will climb over the years as appreciation for him grows. The bloody sock episode definitely puts him in a different light. Now you're talking about a player who showed blood (literally) and guts by undergoing a drastic procedure for the chance to pitch - and win - in the postseason crucible.
We conducted a poll among some Hall of Fame voters that bodes well for Schilling's chances.
"My gut says yes," said San Francisco Chronicle baseball writer Henry Schulman, "with his performances in the 2001 and 2004 postseasons weighing in his favor."
"Right on the border. I say yes," said Newark Star-Ledger national baseball writer Dan Graziano.
"Yes, first ballot," said Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice. "He was at his best when the games meant the most. Besides that, he'll give one hell of a speech in Cooperstown. I'm tearing up just thinking about it."
Among the positives that boost Schilling's candidacy:
He's won 20 games three times (2001, '02, '04).
He has posted three seasons with 300 or more strikeouts and has 3,116 for his career (14th all time).
In 20 seasons, he has 83 complete games and 20 shutouts.
He has been one of the best pitchers on four teams that have gone to the World Series, winning three times (Arizona, Boston twice).
In four starts during the Sox' march to the title last year, he went 3-0, including a 2-1 Game 2 win over the Rockies in the World Series.
His 11 playoff wins are tied for fifth in history.
He is a six-time All-Star and was the co-MVP of the 2001 World Series.
"I voted for Blyleven and Tommy John last year," said East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune baseball writer Jack Magruder, "so I like starting pitching. My first inclination is a strong maybe, listing toward yes, although his victory total works against him. I know some of that was because he was down with injuries."
"Right now, I'm on the fence, leaning towards no," said Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register.
"I can see Schilling becoming a latter-day Blyleven, a guy with several compelling arguments but perhaps not enough to sway 75 percent of the electorate," said St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer Joe Strauss. "Does Mike Mussina go in with more wins? Obviously, Schilling's postseason heroics will have weight, but it's difficult to recall pitchers who have gained induction based largely on the postseason. I can see where his candidacy could become as controversial as his personality as a player. My guess is he has a lengthy wait. Maybe he benefits from the lowered statistical standards that will be applied to pitchers 10 or 15 years from now. It's hard to see how he has a better argument than Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson."
St. Petersburg Times baseball writer Marc Topkin voted no.
"Schilling had a marvelous career and proved to be one of the greatest postseason pitchers in history, but falls just short of being a Hall of Famer. He needed one or two more 15-win seasons to make it," said USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale.
Said Kansas City Star baseball columnist Bob Dutton, president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, "Schilling? Boy, that's tough. It seems I usually draw the circle tighter than most people. And Schilling's regular-season stuff, while good, doesn't really meet my standards. But you add his ability to elevate his game in the postseason, and, yeah, I think I vote for him. Now that's a snap judgment. I might change my mind upon further study and reflection. But off the top of my head? Yeah, I'd vote for Schilling."
Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News said, "While he has a good winning percentage and a good ERA, I'd like to see him get between 250 and 300 wins. I don't think I've voted for any starting pitcher with 215 wins for the Hall of Fame and don't think I could do so now."
"My original gut feeling was that his career was short of Hall of Fame standards, but a .597 winning percentage, 3.46 ERA, and 11-2 postseason record puts him over the top in my book," said Beaver County (Pa.) Register baseball writer John Perotto.
When I posed the question to Jason Varitek, who has the utmost respect for Schilling, he said, "I'd have to study all the numbers. What I know is he brought a tremendous winning attitude to this organization. I've personally learned so much from him and I think the pitchers around him were able to soak up some of his knowledge. I know how much he meant to our team and organization. And I'm not going to speak of him in the past because I hope and pray he can still pitch again."