Schilling puts it in writing

Pitcher announces retirement on blog

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / March 24, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - The baseball had to be there every day he pitched, tucked into the right cleat in front of Curt Schilling's locker. From the moment he stomped into the clubhouse - "dressed in all black," David Ortiz said, "like he was Tony Montana" - Schilling demanded each detail be perfect. He left his house in Medfield at a precise moment. He threw his first warmup exactly 20 minutes before game time. He left a ticket in his late father's name every time he started.

Schilling glowered at teammates, writers, coaches, anyone who dared look at him on days he pitched. Sometimes Schilling spoke to Terry Francona before he started. That's when the manager would think, "He's not ready to pitch." It didn't happen often.

People in baseball have a phrase to describe competitive pitchers. "He'll take the ball," they say. Schilling, who announced his retirement yesterday, will be remembered for a lot of things by a lot of people: his bombast and his blogging, his churlishness and his charity. Some teammates revered him; others abhorred him. But they all can agree on one thing. Schilling took the ball.

Schilling, who made the announcement on his blog, spent 20 years in the majors, the final five with the Red Sox, including last year when he didn't throw a pitch. He arrived in Boston in 2004, boasting that he had come to break an 86-year-old curse. He leaves behind 53 victories, the Schilling Tendon Procedure, a bloody sock, and, in the form of two World Series trophies, a promise delivered.

"I don't think we're standing where we're at, having won two world championships, without Curt," catcher Jason Varitek said. "What he brought in his preparation as a winning commodity, as a winning pitcher, somebody that strived for this organization to do well, to work towards doing what this organization hadn't done in 86 years. I know that he was such a huge part in helping turn this organization around."

Schilling retires as a member of the Red Sox, which would not have been the case had he decided to pitch a 21st season. He and general manager Theo Epstein had scant communication, Epstein said, and none of it regarded the possibility of Schilling pitching for the Sox again.

Schilling had mentioned the Cubs and Rays as potential employers this season. Instead, he will have his entertainment company (38 Studios) and his work as a writer and commentator for WEEI.

"This party has officially ended," Schilling wrote on his blog. "After being blessed to experience 23 years of playing professional baseball in front of the world's best fans in so many different places, it is with zero regrets that I am making my retirement official."

The marriage between Schilling and the Sox began in the late fall of 2003. The Red Sox had just lost an epic seven-game American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. They needed a new manager and, Epstein believed, they really needed pitching. Schilling became a possibility via trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Schilling lore begins here. Epstein showed up at Schilling's house in Arizona for Thanksgiving dinner, hoping to persuade him to waive a no-trade clause. Schilling decided on coming to Boston while chatting on an Internet message board after midnight. Ultimately, though, the courtship may not have been so sensational.

"I think in the end, we really didn't need to sell it," Epstein said. "The Red Sox were perfect for him, because he likes the big stage, the history of the game. He likes to be the center of attention."

Schilling saved his best for when the attention was ratcheted highest. His regular-season statistics - a 216-146 record and a 3.46 ERA - impress but don't overwhelm. But he is a potential Hall of Famer because of what he did in the playoffs. He shared a World Series MVP award with Randy Johnson in Arizona in 2001. For his career, Schilling went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in the postseason.

"One of the things people didn't realize about Schilling is that he was really motivated by fear, fear of failure," Epstein said. "He really did not want to fail, and he was very cognizant of his fear of failure.

"So he worked himself up through his nerves to go out and dominate to the best of his ability every time he had the ball. That was where some of the 'clutchness' came from, the realization that he had about how much he hated failure, and how much he feared failure."

His most enduring moment came Oct. 19, 2004, one of the most famous victories in Red Sox history. His team facing elimination for the third straight game, Schilling took the mound with an ankle crudely repaired by a new procedure Dr. Bill Morgan had all but invented on the spot.

"I expected him not only to pitch," Francona said, "but to win."

Blood seeped through Schilling's sock for seven innings. He allowed the Yankees one run on four hits. Eight days later, the Red Sox had won their first World Series since 1918.

"He had the ability to reach back for more about as good as anybody I've ever seen," Francona said.

Schilling always found a way into the headlines. He never backed down - not from a hitter or a microphone. "Curt was a really smart man," Ortiz said. "He's so smart that he turned to be stupid sometimes."

Schilling's performance in the 2007 playoffs is far less celebrated than his 2004 heroics; it lacked drama but still revealed his guile. His pitches diminished by age and injury, Schilling allowed eight runs in 24 innings, winning three games and losing none. No one knew at the time what everyone learned yesterday: Those would be his final pitches.

"I don't remember one day that he would go out there and give it up before the game even started," Ortiz said. "You can feel that from some people. You don't get that from Curt. Even when he was throwing 86.

"The guy, he got it done."

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