Welcome to “The Curious Guy,” a segment in which I e-mail questions to somebody successful — whether it’s the GM of a baseball team, an author, a creator of a TV show, another writer or whomever — and we trade e-mails for the rest of the week. In case you missed the last three editions, we featured Mavs owner Mark Cuban, author Chuck Klosterman and “OC” creator Josh Schwartz.
This week’s exchange was with Curt Schilling, the six-time All Star who famously helped the Red Sox capture the 2004 World Series on a ravaged ankle, as well as the only local athlete ever to call Boston sports talk radio station WEEI while driving in his car, just to upbraid the hosts for being stupid. Needless to say, he’s one of my favorite athletes.
One note: The first section of this interview happened in late-December; the second part in mid-January. Here’s what transpired.
Simmons: As sports fans, none of us know how it feels to win a championship — not just the moment itself, but how it feels to share an experience like that with teammates and coaches — and I can’t imagine any baseball team winning in a crazier way than the way that Red Sox team did. In just 12 days in October 2004, you guys staged the greatest comeback in sports history against your archrival, capped it off with a World Series sweep and erased 86 years of baggage for millions of fans. And maybe it couldn’t have happened any other way.
But here’s what struck me: During the wild postgame celebration in St. Louis, you hushed everyone for a second before raising your champagne bottle and screaming, “To the best Red Sox team ever!” Then everyone cheered and poured champagne on one another. And I remember thinking to myself, now here’s the difference between athletes and fans, right here. There isn’t a single scenario in my life, or any other nonathlete’s life, where I could achieve an impossible goal with a group of co-workers or friends, followed by our jumping into a giant pig pile, hugging everyone in sight, then heading back into the locker room to celebrate and pour champagne on one another for the rest of the night. Even the greatest gambling night in the history of Vegas wouldn’t end like that.
Anyway, ever since the DVD came out, like countless other Sox fans, I watched your toast multiple times and it never gets old — it’s right up there with Norman Dale’s “I love you guys” speech in “Hoosiers” and Paul Crewe’s “For Caretaker” speech in “The Longest Yard” in my book. It was the perfect exclamation point to the season. Plus, you didn’t drop the ball — you could have given a long-winded speech like a drunk best man at a wedding, or you could have turned it over to Manny, who would have said something like, “To the 2002 World Series champs!” or “This was our destination!”
So did you realize at the time that you were giving the most famous champagne toast in the history of New England? Hell, do you realize it now? More importantly, how much do you remember from that night? Between the champagne and the ankle meds, I almost imagine you remembering that night the same way I remember my wedding — you know you were there, and there is a video and pictures, but it’s all a giant blur and you’re just glad you didn’t throw up on yourself.
Schilling: The thing I most vividly remember was the energy, the feeling of completeness that was in that room. Realizing that in pretty much the same way I felt in 1993 watching Joe Carter’s home run, or in 2001 watching Gonzo’s floater into shallow left center, I had just been a part of, and witness to, one of the single greatest moments in the history of the game. It’s pretty staggering mentally. I felt at that moment that every player, every coach needed to know exactly what it meant to us as a team.
You can throw every Sox team from 1919 on against that club, but at the end of the day, none of them could have beaten us. We did what none of them ever could. I don’t buy, nor did I ever buy, the curse crap. The curse was one of TEAM. Great teams overcome bad breaks, great teams overcome adversity, and in the end we proved that up to that point, we were the greatest Red Sox team ever put together. Given the history of this team, that was saying something.
Simmons: Well, in just 14 months, you ended up losing 16 of your 24 teammates from that night. I know you have to be careful with what you say here …
Schilling: Why would I start now?
Simmons: … and I’m not trying to put you in a position where you might get in trouble. Really, I’m not.
Schilling: [Dan] Shaughnessy says the same thing, often.
Simmons: But if that was the greatest Red Sox team ever — and we all agree it was — then why wouldn’t the front office do everything possible to bring everyone back?
Schilling: Because it just doesn’t work that way. The Yankees are really the only team in the last 20 years that pulled that one off, and they did so because of the players they had, players the caliber of Jeter, Martinez, O’Neill, etc. The A’s of the late-’80s had a somewhat similar situation, but I thought they had the same thing with guys like Dave Stewart and Carney Lansford. It’s a business, no matter who wants to say differently at the end of the day, it all comes down to dollars and sense [sic]. Theo started from Day One changing the philosophy here, and now this organization uses sabermetrics and many formulas, methods and ways to decide a player’s present-day value, and as important, if not more so, a player’s value based on projections in the [subsequent] years of contracts they offer. It’s one of the reasons I felt assured last winter with Jason [Varitek] being a free agent, that he would re-sign here. They saw what he brought to the table OUT OF UNIFORM, and he transcends some of those formulas and I thought [he] was worth what he was asking, if not more.
Simmons: Still, do you feel cheated that the 2004 team has been basically dismantled? As a longtime fan, I wanted that team to defend its title with as many of those guys as possible, and I know it’s impossible to bring everyone back … but it seemed like they were more interested in building the Perfect Red Sox Team than keeping the Greatest Red Sox Team Ever intact. As you heard about change after change over these past two winters, did you ever find yourself saying, “Wait a second, what are you guys doing?”
Schilling: Every day, especially when Theo left, my first thought was, ‘What the hell is going on, and who the hell is it going on with?” If for some reason Theo doesn’t come back, that will be the biggest blunder of the year in sports.
[Editor’s note: Since this portion of the exchange, Theo returned, and he probably never truly left.]
But we had our chance to defend that title [last year] and failed miserably. We were clearly not the better team come October and in my opinion, it was due to many reasons: no Pedro, injuries, the White Sox being that damn good, lots of things. But we had our chance and didn’t get it done. As far as feeling cheated? No, I am disappointed more than anything because some of the lesser covered moves are going to have a far larger impact in the clubhouse than the so-called epic media events that have occurred. Losing Doug Mirabelli, Billy Mueller, guys like that, impact us as players far more than other things. [Popular physical therapist] Chris Correnti leaving was another. These guys were part of the internal makeup and day-to-day life, they were family, at least to me, and those are the tough ones. But again, it’s a business, so you deal with it, move on, and shoot to win another world title with whatever you are given. Obviously losing Johnny [Damon] is going to have an impact, not only because we lost him, but as much, if not more so, because the Yanks got him. I am hoping they have something in mind to replace him at the top of the lineup. Johnny suited up every single day and played the game hard, relentlessly, that’s the biggest thing I will miss about him.
Simmons: How would you approach it if you ran a baseball team — would you keep tinkering and tinkering to find the perfect team on paper, or would you value chemistry and continuity over everything else?
Schilling: They go together. Chemistry starts from Day One in spring training, which is where I think Tito [Francona] has an enormous impact, but it never truly develops until you win and win often. Bottom line in all this is that some guys left against their will, Billy [Mueller] to name one, and those hurt the most as teammates. Other guys left because someone else offered them more money. It really is that simple, I just wish both sides would own up to it when called on it, you leave for more money, or you don’t offer someone more money, say so when someone calls you on it. Never understood that one.
Simmons: Yeah, I thought the Sox were slightly disingenuous with the Damon thing. They made him just one offer, wouldn’t budge, tried to trade for like four other centerfielders, made a bunch of other big moves, never said anything to the effect of, “Whatever happens, it’s very important for us to bring Johnny Damon back,” and then pretended to be shocked and dismayed when he finally fell into Steinbrenner’s arms. I thought that was really lame. After the 2003 season, we watched them go out of their way to court you. After the 2004 season, they did everything they could to bring Varitek back. But with Damon, as I wrote in my column (after he left), they pursued him with the same enthusiasm of Nicole Richie halfheartedly poking at a Caesar salad.
Schilling: To me, this is where the problems arise, from a player’s standpoint and a fan’s standpoint. People that read print media, online media, whatever media, have to take what’s said there with a grain of salt the size of Texas. I was privy to a lot of what went on during some of this, I know what’s been reported is not true, and I find it humorous how “in the know” some portray themselves as, that aren’t.
Has anyone ever really played this one out? Ask yourself this. Doesn’t every team that makes a HUGE offer to a free agent, then loses out — doesn’t that team find it in their best interest to make sure their fans know they tried? I mean, the earth wouldn’t split if this was the first time Scott Boras BS’d a team into giving a player way more than any other team out there because he had a team on the grassy knoll offering 200 billion, would it? If I am the ‘Mystery Team,’ I want my fans and season-ticket holders to know we tried, to know we laid 65 million out there to get Johnny Damon. I think it was only the Yanks and Sox in on this one to begin with.
I was sure Johnny would be back for a few reasons: What he said in May about never going to N.Y., and some of the things talked about in the clubhouse, added to the player he is … so this one did bother me more than a little when it fell through. I think the Sox had a certain value on JD, and I think they fumbled somewhere during the race. Teams consistently misunderstand negotiations in my opinion, they make them way too impersonal. As a player, you are out there looking at who REALLY wants you, and it was obvious in the end that the Yankees wanted JD a lot more than the Red Sox, which if you are a Sox player, sucks.
Simmons: Were you surprised by the amount of hostility toward Johnny, after he finally got fed up and signed with the Yankees? It was obvious the Sox weren’t overly enthusiastic about having him back, so he went out and grabbed the highest offer he could … even if it meant playing for the Yankees and pretending to enjoy A-Rod’s company for the next four years. But many people back home reacted like he blew up the Bunker Hill Monument.
Schilling: I wasn’t surprised by that at all. I think the problems arose when people on both sides tried to make it out to be something other than what it was, and the fans don’t want to be BS’d. Johnny Damon is a New York Yankee because the Boston Red Sox didn’t offer enough money to keep him, and the Yankees offered him more, period. That’s how baseball works, it’s a billion-dollar business, so money is going to interject itself into almost every decision made in situations like this. George Steinbrenner viewed Johnny Damon as being worth 52 million dollars to the Yankees team, and he wins.
Simmons: This is a semi-impossible question to answer, but what would you have done in Johnny’s shoes?
Schilling: I can ONLY answer in my situation and how I have looked at it from about mid-May of last year, to today, in the same manner. I can’t fathom, can’t even begin to comprehend how a guy can move from one of these teams [Boston/N.Y.] to the other. The only reason I can see someone doing this is because the money means enough that you are ready endure the repercussions. It’s basically saying ‘Kiss my butt’ to the fans of one of the cities. Having said that, I don’t blame anyone for doing this, it’s their choice, their right, they earned it, and that’s how this all works. I have been in a few situations in the past where the dollar value of my contract was going to dictate my time in the city where I was playing. At some point, a long time ago, the money became much less of a determining factor than the environment and organization I was playing with/for.
Simmons: Do you think it’s hypocritical for Sox fans to play the loyalty card with someone like Damon, when some of them also turned on guys who helped Boston win the championship in 2004 (namely, Bellhorn, Millar, Foulke and Embree)?
Schilling: It’s beyond hypocritical. Fans use the loyalty card only when it suits the argument. Teams cut/waive/trade guys that DON’T WANT TO LEAVE every day of the year. But somehow the loyalty card only comes to the forefront when a player has played long enough to earn the right to make his own choices as to where he’s going to play. It’s been that way for a long time, and I don’t see it changing. Very few owners are in the public eye enough to be recognized, and in a lot of cases the players end up being hung with the tag of “traitor.” What happened here is simple, very simple. Johnny Damon wanted to stay in Boston for more money than the Red Sox thought he was worth, so the Red Sox didn’t offer him enough money to remain in Boston, and the Yankees did, end of story.
[Editor’s Note: Now we’re into the exchange from mid-January.]
Simmons: After two separate surgeries to fix the same ankle that you ruined during the 2004 postseason — and by the way, the Sox wouldn’t have won the championship if you didn’t keep pitching, which warrants mentioning — you struggled last summer trying to come back, and it didn’t seem like you were truly rounding into form until the tail end of the season. Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Schilling: I look back now and realize a lot, as we all do from time to time. I came back way too early, and my ankle stopped being seriously prohibitive about 15 days prior to the end of the regular season. And while anyone would certainly appreciate the sentiments above, I am at the point where I sometimes cringe when reading this. It’s the same as being in public with a teammate and someone bum-rushes you, grabs your hand and tells you they named their first child after you, and that what you did was the greatest thing that ever happened to them, all the while ignoring a guy who was also on the team, standing right next to me, and had as much to do with it all as I did. It’s uncomfortable because, like with most passionate topics, fans tend to go overboard and it’s awkward. I am proud of what I did, but 10 times more proud of what we accomplished, something that had never been done before in the HISTORY of the game. I will carry that with me, as we all will, forever.
Simmons: Good point — that was my favorite part of the 2004 playoffs, how the Sox wouldn’t have won unless like 20 different guys didn’t come through at various times. But the fact remains, after staying alive over 26 innings and two nights at Fenway, your team had nobody to start Game 6 at Yankee Stadium: It was either you or Gabe Kapler. So I stand by my gushing hyperbole.
Anyway, a certain minority of fans (on message boards and on the radio) were definitely less than diplomatic about what you were trying to do, when the fact remained, you could have shut down for the season and chosen your own physical well-being over the sake of the team. At the same time, the vast, vast, VAST majority of Sox fans — including every friend I have who roots for the team — appreciated what you were trying to do, but those are people who probably wouldn’t call into a radio show or reply on a message board to defend you. When you’re a professional athlete, is it difficult sometimes to remember that the Very Vocal Minority doesn’t represent the Silent But Humongous Majority?
Schilling: That changes from day to day, as it does for you as a writer. Some days you just get tired of hearing it, about anyone, others it just rolls off your back. But I learned real early on, regardless of who you are and what you’ve done, that in this profession, where millions of people think they get to know you from quotes in papers, on TV, and commentaries about you from writers like you, people never straddle the fence. They will form an opinion on one thing and stick to it. Not to mention the large group of people that don’t like athletes to begin with due to a variety of factors, from our salaries to our lifestyles. These people don’t bother me, and the reasoning is simple: Outside of the people I actually meet, shake hands with, and talk to face to face, no one else knows me. They think they know me by what people in your profession write, say and discuss, on radio, TV and in the print media, but they really have no idea who I am, or we are.
Add to the fact that people in your profession can cut and paste quotes any way they choose, and editors can frame articles, stories in any way they choose to draw readers’ attention, and you realize that a sportswriter’s job, and much of their success in doing it, revolves around sensationalism. An easy example would be my first few weeks of being in the organization in 2003. It was very apparent that the media in Boston was pissed about my interaction with fans on the SOSH [Sons of Sam Horn] Web site, and they said so. Human beings by nature are biased, that doesn’t change for members of the media — they are biased, and many of their stories are done with a bias, [spun] either way, on the athlete being covered. It manifests itself inside a clubhouse and in the game as well. You hear and compete against guys for years — never really knowing them, getting your impressions about them from guys around the league and in the media — then you end up playing with them and realizing you were 100 percent incorrect in what you thought that person was like. This happens all the time.
Bottom line for me here was that I didn’t quit last year. Check out the SOSH site, there were tons of people on the “Shut it down and go home, you suck” bandwagon, most of them spouting that opinion because that’s what they would have done, most also not realizing that doing that makes you like most of the rest of the world. Times get tough? Bah, quit and try later. For a lot of guys that would have been the path of least resistance and the easy way out, I guess. I never once felt that I made us a worse team by being on the field. When I did feel like that, I went back on the DL. But when all was said and done, I didn’t quit, and that’s the thing I take out of last year more than any one thing.
I am looking forward to this season, and being physically right again, and listening to those same people that basically wrote off my career last year suck it. Nothing better than hearing someone wax poetic about how much they “know” when it comes to someone sucking, being done, written off, get gagged to silence by that same athlete righting the ship and doing it better than they did before. The best thing about SOSH is going back and seeing all the idiots that took that route change their stance. Don’t get me wrong, the fans — they’re are Sox Nation through and through — they bleed it, that’s for sure, but like most other venues, some get carried away all too often.
Simmons: Lemme translate that last paragraph for everyone: “You’re an idiot if you don’t spend $30-35 on me for your 2006 AL-only roto team.” Done and done. I already had you in my “Poised for a comeback year” category, now I’m moving you to the top of the list. Plus, after the Beckett trade, I read enough “Sox have a new ace” headlines/articles/message board posts to think to myself, “I bet Schilling reads this stuff, shakes his head, then goes to work out with the same look on his face that Clubber Lang had training for the first title fight with Rocky.” But it’s nice to know you’re sufficiently inspired; I feel better about this upcoming Red Sox season. Anyway, you had that running subplot with the fans, as well as the usual troublemakers wreaking havoc in the local media, plus some low-level clubhouse sniping … by the end of September, you seemed a little discouraged to me …
Schilling: No need to kid yourself, there was more than a little discouragement by the end of last season.
Simmons: … like you were coming off a dream season, then all of these things kept happening to remind you that sports is a business, that some fans can be fickle, that even the tightest bonds on a team can unravel a little bit. When an unnamed teammate took a shot at you that month, you were even quoted as saying, “Somebody on this team wants me to get booed to make them feel better, and that really bothers me a lot. Those are the kinds of things that really make me look at this game and understand when I’m done in the game, I’ll be done with the game … if we get into the postseason and do well and win again, it will still never be like last year. Nothing will be like last year.” So what was the worst part of last season?
Schilling: The [quote from the unnamed teammate] was certainly tied for the No. 1 worst moment, no question — knowing who said it probably made it that way. The other would be the moment that A-Rod’s homer landed in center field [during Schilling’s first appearance as a closer in July], less than a minute after your eardrums could have burst when I jogged in from the pen and that entire park was on its feet. There were many times during the season when, mentally, I almost got beat. More than once I talked with my wife about possibly just walking away from it all. If it ended today, I couldn’t be mad, the Lord has blessed my life and my career far beyond anything I could ever have imagined. I’m not sure I can convey the disappointment I felt in letting my teammates down, as well as the fans, our coaches and the organization. I was the team’s highest paid pitcher and supposed No. 1 starter, yet I was baggage for most of the season. Waking up every day and trying to change that, and it really not happening, was incredibly disappointing. It was like a horror flick remake of “Groundhog Day” from mid-spring training until September. It wore on me, no doubt, but I tried as hard as I could not to drag that around the clubhouse. There were a lot more important things going on in and around there than me getting right again, and I was trying as hard as I could to not drag anyone into the morass of negativity that I was wading in for 6-7 months.
Simmons: Did it harden you at all? Were you hardened already? (After all, you did play in Philly once upon a time … ) And how did 2005 affect your feelings about 2004?
Schilling: I don’t know if it hardened me. I certainly had a chance to realize a lot more about a lot of people. Especially members of the local media. No one has to tell me, or anyone, how much of a free pass I got from the fans, they were incredible to me from the get-go. There were obviously some members of the media that it bothered, and that led to the article and quotes from a teammate that you mentioned above. But understanding jealousy and envy made me understand why this all came to be, and you move on. As far as how it affected my 2004, it didn’t. No one, regardless of what’s ever written or said, can ever take away what we did in 2004. I will be the first to tell you that some, including myself, handled some of it less than good in terms of what was said and done post-2004 World Series, and there were things that came about from comments we made that made us look a lot less professional than we thought we were (and rightfully so, I might add). But when you wipe away all the crap, from a personal and team standpoint, 2004 will be remembered forever by everyone that has even the slightest interest in the game, and I got to be a part of it. How cool is that?
Simmons: Heading into your stint with the Red Sox, you knew the Boston media was as relentless and agenda-ridden as any market in the country, between troublemaking columnists, button-pushing radio show hosts, supposedly objective reporters moonlighting as opinion-spouting radio/TV guests and everything else. To be fair, there are some who don’t qualify here — for instance, I loved the job Chris Snow did as a rookie beat writer for the Sox last season — but on the whole, it’s pretty brutal to play in Boston, and some of these people don’t make sports that fun to follow. (Which should be the goal here, shouldn’t it?) At the same time, athletes have to coexist with media members and give them a certain level of access, because after all, they have a job to do … and I find it fascinating that:
A. Athletes are always expected to be forthcoming and accessible, and if they’re not, then they’re selfish jerks who don’t respect the jobs of others.
B. Reporters, columnists and broadcasters are expected to remain objective and fair, but when they aren’t objective and fair — which seems to happen far too often — then it’s OK because they’re just “pushing the envelope” or “getting people talking.”
Schilling: Right, but Point B all makes sense because many media members are working as hard to become the story, or part of the story, as they are in reporting the story. As for Point A, I am not sure I can answer that any better than it was stated. That’s the way people look at us, because members of the media are lying if they tell you they don’t have an agenda or bias when it comes to reporting. They are human, we all have opinions on people we meet and talk to, you are no different, and most, if not all, of them inject that bias or agenda into their topics. The only thing, as a fan, that you can be assured of as truth is the box score — beyond that, there’s a butt-load of crap being thrown around. Obviously, that’s not to paint them all with the same brush, because there are a ton of good ones and great people, Jayson Stark, Sean McAdam, Tom Verducci, and others.
The thing that I find funny is that some of the better writers suck at their jobs from my standpoint: Shaughnessy and [Bill] Conlin are two that come to mind. Two separate incidents from each of them told me all I needed to know about how bad members of the media can be. Dan wrote a column basically calling Pedro a piece of trash after he left the ball park on Opening Day 2004, talking about what a bad guy and horrible person he was for doing so. This is the same guy who waxed poetic years earlier when Roger Clemens did the exact same thing, calling Roger a gamer, someone that despised losing. Don’t get me wrong, there is no bigger Clemens fan than me, but the two opposing viewpoints on two people doing the same exact thing paint a stark picture into how these guys look at what they do.
Bill Conlin had (not sure if he still does) a Hall of Fame vote the year Nolan Ryan was up. Bill wrote a column the day after the voting on why he DIDN’T vote for Nolan Ryan on the first ballot. At best, it was repulsive. Bill used his Hall of Fame vote to promote his agenda, which was that if Don Sutton didn’t get voted in first ballot, then Nolan Ryan didn’t deserve to get voted in, either. As if the HOF ballots were his personal right to make statements. So he took 26 years of Nolan’s career and used his vote to make a statement about his opinions on Don Sutton. Sad, really. But in a nutshell, that’s Bill Conlin now anyway — bitter and sad. [Editor’s note: Conlin did explain in print why he did not vote for Ryan, but he did not mention Don Sutton.]
Simmons: Geez, he used to seem so jovial on the “The Sports Reporters.” And by the way, I’m not saying that I don’t push certain agendas in my column — when you’re trying to remain opinionated, it’s natural to skew your perspective certain ways to suit various arguments. I believe most readers can tell the difference between someone who’s writing something just to start trouble and someone who’s writing something because they’re genuinely trying to articulate an opinion in an entertaining and informative way. Maybe I’m crazy. But I know you think about this stuff. What bothers you more — that fans can be so easily manipulated by some writers or radio hosts, or that some of these media people enjoy doing the manipulating so much?
Schilling: First of all, you are crazy, you are supposed to be. As a member of Sox Nation, the closer we get to spring training, the less rational and reasonable you are supposed to become. I am fully expecting a two-page column on the current Sox lineup and their projected VORP as it compares to the Yankees, with personal insight into each player and a breakdown of the bench players and their potential to change the balance of the AL East.
As for the manipulation question, the hardest part now is seeing what the fans believe to be true, and knowing how incredibly far from the truth so much of it really is. Seeing someone in the media claim to be “in the know” and understanding that people believe them to be, and knowing that the person is full of crap or just doesn’t know they are full of crap. That bothers me more.
Simmons: It bothers me that I don’t know what VORP is, I feel inadequate. No wonder they don’t take me seriously on the SOSH Red Sox board. Let’s move to some happier topics as we wind this thing up. Some quick questions before you go back to preparing for the first 30-win season in 38 years …
We always hear about what a great guy David Ortiz is — how he means so much in the clubhouse, keeps everyone loose, keeps Manny in check and so on. In fact, this was one of my arguments for Big Papi winning the 2005 MVP, that he was valuable on and off the field, unlike that ninny A-Rod. But the reality is this: I have no real way of knowing how valuable Big Papi is other than (A) he comes through in the clutch all of the time, and (B) during the telecasts, everyone in the dugout seems to love him. Can you please tell me what makes someone like Big Papi special behind the scenes?
Schilling: The hard part about something like this is that the answer really is personal in my opinion. What makes David, David, is at the core of who he is more than anything. He really is that big teddy bear guy you want to believe he is. He’s about smiling, about people AROUND him having fun. That’s infectious. But above it all, he wants to win, and he prepares to win. The big thing for me here is that David respects the game and the people in it. He’s fully aware of where he was and where he is, and he appreciates that.
Simmons: My favorite “Manny being Manny” moment happened in the final game of the regular season — he had just crushed a home run, the cameras caught you guys sitting next to one another in the dugout, he was talking excitedly about what pitch he had hit, and somewhere along the way, you just started staring at him in disbelief, as though he had just said something like, “I knew it was going to be a slider because I started craving a pork sandwich, and that always means a slider’s coming!” And you just kept staring at him, and then he walked away to another part of the dugout, and you started shaking your head in shock like, “Wow, I will never, ever, ever figure that guy out.” How many of those Manny encounters happen per season?
Schilling: Three to four per day.
Simmons: What’s it like to play with someone like him on a day-to-day basis?
Schilling: From a pitcher’s standpoint at times, it’s unreal. I watch Manny prepare, I watch him at different times to see what and how he does things. He is dumb like a fox at the plate. He really is “see ball, hit ball,” but there are well thought-out plans behind the physical action. Manny is about solid contact. You will never see him snap when someone makes a great play. In fact, you rarely, if EVER, see him emotional over his at-bats. Part of that is because he rarely, if ever, goes into a prolonged slump, but the other part is that he has an incredibly deep grasp on how to hit a baseball. I always feel as if Manny is only concerned with squaring the ball up. If he does that, he’s fine.
Simmons: Your friendship with Theo started in Thanksgiving 2003, when he made that Thanksgiving trip to Arizona to meet you and your family (when the Red Sox were courting you). Clearly, he was one of the reasons you decided to waive your no-trade clause and sign an extension with Boston. When we started exchanging e-mails last month, you were unhappy because Theo had resigned and you thought he was too valuable to lose — you almost sounded a little betrayed (by the front office, not by Theo). Now he’s back. Why do you think Theo initially parted ways with the Sox, why do you think he came back, and will you be playing yourself in the inevitable TV-movie about what happened over the last three months?
Schilling: I think this was what Theo says it was. Three months ago, Theo didn’t feel like re-signing in Boston was the right thing to do because there were relationships and situations here that would prevent him from doing the job he was being paid to do. I think over the last 10 weeks, those things have changed, both from his viewpoint and his input. I think, and hope, that his return will coincide with him having a much broader range of input and more say in the final day-to-day workings of the Red Sox baseball operations — the on-the-field and in-the-clubhouse stuff, the stuff that ultimately matters most to the manager, coaches and 25 players. The irony or tragedy (not sure which) of this whole thing was the litany of people spewing extensively on how much integrity and character it took for Theo to walk away, to keep his principles and ethics and walk away from his dream job when it all happened. Then, 10 weeks later, some of those same people vilify him for coming back and demand an explanation beyond what’s out there. As if they are entitled to some sort of in-depth look at who he is and what happened. Bottom line is that it ISN’T any of their business beyond the obvious: He left for the reasons he stated, he came back for the reasons he stated, let’s move on, and really, other than the nosy bastards out there, who gives a rat’s ass — he’s back, that’s enough, move on.
Simmons: I agree with you — way too much was made out of it from Theo’s standpoint. Now it’s pretty clear that he left because he didn’t like the parameters of his job, and the owners didn’t realize he was unhappy until it was too late. So they changed some things around and he came back. End of story.
Last question: I remember attending Game 1 of the Anaheim series in 2004, and there was this moment in the sixth inning (I even wrote about it) when McPherson was up with the bases loaded, and the Angels fans were banging together those stupid Thundersticks, and you stepped off the mound for a few seconds with your back facing home plate. One of my friends thought you were “going to that special place”; I thought you were just soaking the moment in, and only because the place was so freaking loud that it almost seemed like the scene in “Karate Kid 2” when Daniel-San has to fight the crazy Japanese kid to the death and everyone is banging those drumsticks. Then you stepped back onto the mound, took a deep breath and got McPherson to ground out.
Now, I don’t know you, we’ve never even met … but just from following you on the Sox these last two-plus seasons, it seems like those are the moments you appreciate the most, when the place is packed, the crowd is going bonkers one way or the other and you need to come through in a big spot. As you mentioned earlier, that’s what killed you the most about giving up that A-Rod homer last July, not the homer itself as much as that the homer killed the moment. You always take that extra second to appreciate the moment for what it is, and I feel like most athletes don’t do that, or worse yet, they don’t even care. So when you retire, are those little moments what you’ll miss most about playing baseball for a living?
Schilling: I don’t think I will be any different than most guys. The Lord has blessed me way way WAY beyond anything I ever hoped or dreamed that I would get here. I remember being a young player thinking, “Man, if I can hang around and become an arbitration-eligible guy, I got it made.” Eighteen years later, I look back and know for a fact that the single biggest thing I will miss when it’s over is the camaraderie. Being in the clubhouse at one in the afternoon, joking, laughing, griping, pissing and moaning with the guys to which you have become family for eight months of every year. During the season, I spend close to 10 hours a day at the park … that’s a family, and every year there is a new one. It’s such a blessing to be a part of this that you try and soak it in and enjoy every day, each one for the little things.
Simmons: What else cracks the top-five?
Schilling: Probably the rush. There were three things my wife and I talked about during the 1992 season when I felt like I was beginning to establish myself. The first was to be nominated for the Roberto Clemente award. He was my Dad’s favorite player and that was something we felt would be a much larger barometer of who I am (beyond just my stats). The second was never allowing the game, or any person, to make me act like or become someone I am not. I never allowed a teammate or a person in this game to make me do something, or say something, that wasn’t me. Oh, I know I’ve said and done things I regret, but I never did it to make people think of me as anything other than who I am. I made mistakes, and I never had a problem being held accountable for the mistakes I have made.
But beyond those and near the top would be the moments I have been a part of … I want, and have always wanted, the guys I have pitched for, when all is said and done, to want me to have the ball if they had to win one winner-take-all game. I wanted the ball in those situations where I always felt everyone else didn’t want the ball. When the world was watching and no one expected it, I wanted to be better than everyone else, I wanted to be the guy that everyone — friend or foe — knew had it in him to be beyond his best when all the chips were on the table. The postseason is (and has been) a time when you have to do things better than you’ve ever done them. Being “good” in the postseason means you go home before your team wins 11. The postseason is about being great, and I will miss the chance to elevate myself mentally to a level that only October baseball and big games can bring out of you.
Schilling: I’ve thought about this a lot and don’t think that’s going to be possible. I don’t have the ability to be a yes-man or an ass-kisser and I think that in this day and age, you have to play way too many political games to work “in” the game. That’s not, nor has it ever been, a strong suit for me. I love talking baseball and love working with young pitchers, so that’s an outside possibility, but the most exciting part of the end of my career is the thought of being a dad, of trying to pay back my family in some way for the huge sacrifices they have made to allow me to do this. From February to October every year, my family loses a member. The long hours at the park, the enormous amounts of travel, contrary to what some think, the enormous salaries don’t make that OK. The money won’t buy back that time with my wife and kids, and for that I owe them. I can’t wait to be a dad.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy’s World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.