By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Schilling hits the wall

It’s never pretty when a great athlete reaches the end. What compounds the human drama is that the very qualities that made him great cloud his ability to see reality.

Not that I’m going to try to choose among doctors. But it seems obvious that the Red Sox are hoping against hope that they might get some useful innings out of Curt Schilling this year through a conservative rehab program, whereas Schilling believes if they’d only let him have surgery, he can return to his glory days.

Neither scenario is realistic, but at least the Sox are pursuing the one route that might work to a limited degree. If Schilling has surgery, it’s likely that he’s done for the year, if not forever. If he doesn’t, well, maybe there’s a chance that Schilling’s got one good post-season run left in him.

It’s inevitable that the Boston sports media, and especially Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, would try to turn this into a controversy. Schilling hasn’t helped, either. But it seems to me that there are really only two areas of possible controversy here, and neither hold up to inspection:

  • The course of treatment. Doctors disgree. What do we know? Nothing. End of discussion.
  • Schilling’s condition at the time of his signing. We know he took a physical and got an MRI when he signed a one-year, $8 million deal last fall. We may assume that he did not pass with flying colors. I’m sure the Red Sox were told that it was no worse than expected and that, with luck, he’d be able to pitch one more season. It didn’t happen. But to suggest that Schilling was hiding something is to assume that he could somehow fake his MRI.

Schilling says he needs surgery just to lead a normal post-retirement life. He sounds like someone who is deeply conflicted. I suspect he knows what he should do — announce his retirement, undergo surgery and forfeit the $8 million. If he feels like Josh Beckett next spring, well, he can always unretire.

But I’m sure Schilling believes he signed his contract in good faith, with both sides knowing the end was near, and that the Sox shouldn’t get a pass for refusing surgery — especially since his own surgeon seems to think he could be back by mid-season. (Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a 41-year-old who took a year and a half to recover from ankle surgery.)

The thing is, I see no evidence that the Red Sox aren’t acting in good faith, too.

All that said, I think there’s something to what John Henry told Shaughnessy today — that Schilling’s surgeon has created considerable doubt in the pitcher’s mind as to whether rehab will work. Might a compromise be possible? How about letting Schilling go ahead with the surgery, but not letting him collect the $8 million if he’s not back by, say, Aug. 1?

It’s worth asking him. Then again, maybe they already have.

Photo (cc) by guano, and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Anonymous

    “What do we know? Nothing. End of discussion.”…despite the many paragraphs above and below that comment.Since when is ignorance of the topic any reason to put an end to a good debate, anyway?Most of us know precious little about foreign intelligence or diplomacy, but we debate without end the Iraq war and the way it’s been carried out.In reality, as pertains to Schilling’s shoulder, lives are not at risk and everyone involved will live a much much better life than most of us no matter how the debate or public discussion of this issue goes.So I don’t see the harm of throwing our opinions around on this.It’s a hell of an interesting situation, don’t you think? Isn’t that why you posted on it?–noternie

  2. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    It would seem that when a star performer’s doctor goes public and says the team’s decision on the star performer’s medical issues has zero chance of success, you have yourself a controversy. When you have a pitcher who signs for $8 million and then suddenly can’t toss a baseball sixty feet six inches with no apparent reason for the sudden decay in a limb that has won 226 major league baseball games, you have yourself a controversy. How does “disease” result in a tear, ordinarily caused by trauma?Makes no difference whether we can tell an MRI from an RBI, the injury is too serious to not have some sort of basis. Nothing wrong with asking Why? and if asking why is controversial, so be it.

  3. mike_b1

    We do know that, Boston being Boston, this will be raised to the level of the Cuban Missile Crisis before all is said and done.I don’t think the Players Association would let a member “compromise” after signing a contract. They are known to be a particularly difficult bunch, and it sets too much of a precedent for other injured players.

  4. Suldog

    Has anybody thought about getting a third opinion, as a tiebreaker?(Maybe there has been one. I’m just being persnickety.)

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Suldog — There has been a third opinion. The Mets team doctor more or less sided with the Red Sox, although he also found rotator-cuff problems.

  6. Steve

    And, to add to Dan’s last – the rotator cuff problems were already an issue known and agreed to by the Red Sox and Schilling’s doctor. They were not considered an issue that would block one more year of pitching for Schilling.

  7. Anonymous

    If Schilling were 31 instead of 41, I would be firmly in his corner, as he has a right to protect his future viability as a professional athlete. The fact he’s 41 makes this a dicier matter.I think the guy’s a big blowhard, but I have a real problem with someone’s employer forbidding them from getting surgery. I know a lot of money’s involved and baseball’s “different,” but still…Who was the last Red Sox ace WITHOUT a monumental ego? Luis Tiant? Ray Culp?Bob in Peabody

  8. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    Last ego free ace had to be Culp or Sonny Siebert.I still think the Vida Blue (10-1) vs. Siebert (9-0) game in 1971 was the greatest regular season game with no post-season implications in the modern (post ’67) Red Sox Era.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    The fact that Culp and Siebert were the aces suggests that ego is not a bad thing in an ace. Yes, they pitched for mediocre teams, but they didn’t exactly set the world on fire, either.Tiant, Martínez and Schilling may all have huge egos, but they strike me as pretty good guys. Pedro got a little pissy on his way out the door, but so what?

  10. Anonymous

    Bob in Peabody: Schilling isn’t forbidden from getting surgery. He just had to decide between the surgery and the $8 million.

  11. Anonymous

    When I asked who was the last Red Sox ace without a monumental ego, I was defending Schilling, not knocking him — I though I was making the same point Dan was above.I agree completely, and when they were here, I was a big defender of Clemens and Martinez, and I was an even-bigger defender of Wade Boggs. To me, what counts are wins and losses, and they come from creating runs and preventing them, not giving “aw shucks” interviewsI was even willing to point out that Carl Everett always busted his butt on the the way, has he endorsed Huckabee yet?That being said, Pedro was pretty prickly long before his parting shots: “shutting it down” early, the Florie game, etc.And even though I’m sure Dan doesn’t want to turn over his blog to statheads, I must point out that in 1968 and 1969, Ray Culp, armed with his fabled palmball, went 33-14 for two teams that did not contend for a pennant.And Sonny Siebert …remember when in the American League, it mattered whether a pitcher could hit or not, and people knew who the good-hitting pitchers were? The Red Sox seemed to have made it a fetish: Earl Wilson, Gary Peters, Sonny Siebert, Ken Brett. Going back further, my father would certainly bring up Maury McDermott and Jerry Casale, and my maternal grandfather would want me to mention Smoky Joe Wood and Babe Ruth.Bob in Peabody

  12. mike_b1

    amused, is your choice based on the W/L records of the pitchers at the time? Or something else?This was a great one: 18, 1999…Pedro vs Cone, both former Cy Young pitchers, each w/ one loss on the season. Felt just like a playoff game.

  13. endangered coffee

    Bob- Carl Everett needs to know where Huckabee comes down on the existence of dinosaurs before he makes a decision.

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