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Monday, March 23, 2009
Simply put, Schilling made a difference

I don't have to make up my mind, officially, on whether Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer until December 2012. But I already know how I'll vote.


For a lot of people, I know, this man's Hall of Fame worthiness is going to be a tough call. Not for me.

When I watched him pitch, I knew exactly what I was watching.


We'll get to the numbers that prove that greatness in a minute. But first, let's digress.

I sat in the dugout with Johnny Damon today and talked about Curt Schilling. I told Damon about a conversation I had with Schilling a few years back in which I asked him how he'd like to be remembered. Here's how he answered:

"I want [my teammates] to say, when I'm done playing, 'If I had to win a game -- life or death, one game -- that's the guy I'd want to have the ball.' And I want the guys in the other dugout to say, 'Oh [no]. It's Schilling's turn to pitch.'"

When I asked Damon if that's how he'd remember Curt Schilling, he said: "Absolutely. He wasn't going to be afraid of that moment."

When we cast our Hall of Fame votes, I'm not sure how we're supposed to factor in that quality -- No Fear of The Moment. But there's no doubt Schilling is about as high up the No Fear charts as any pitcher I've ever watched.

Damon put three names on that list in his experience -- Josh Beckett, John Smoltz and Schilling. But he also knows he owes his World Series ring to only one man on that list. And that's Schilling.

Without The Bloody Sock Game against the Yankees, there would have been no ring. Whatever other people want to think about that night is fine. They can think whatever they want to think. Look, none of us has any doubt about what grade Curt Schilling got in drama class in school. But he did not invent that blood that night.

Damon laughed about all those red-dye rumors Monday. But he knows what that game meant to the 2004 Red Sox, whether Schilling was their favorite teammate or not.

"Curt was actually putting his career on the line for the opportunity to pitch that night," Johnny Damon said. "And it really made a big difference in a bunch of our careers."

And that's the bottom line here. Curt Schilling made a difference. He had Cy Young-worthy seasons for two World Series winners (the 2001 Diamondbacks and 2004 Red Sox). And he went 3-0 in the postseason for a third World Series winner (the 2007 Red Sox). He left his imprint on a lot of careers those three years -- and that includes his own.

So what's the case for Schilling as a Hall of Famer, even though he won "only" 216 games? Here goes:

1. He was the greatest postseason starter of modern times
If this whole debate came down to bloody socks, we might have a tougher debate on our hands. But Curt Schilling whiffed the first five hitters he faced in the first postseason start of his life (1993 NLCS), then went on to make 19 career postseason starts. Here's what he did in those 19 trips to the hill:

• He went 11-2, with a 2.33 ERA. That's what.

• That's the highest postseason winning percentage of all time (.846) for a starter with more than six postseason decisions.

• And only one starting pitcher in history had a better postseason ERA than that (with 100 or more innings pitched) -- Christy Mathewson.

• And remember, if you toss out the 2004 ALCS game against the Yankees in which his ankle was just about exploding and a normal human would have been having surgery, he'd be 11-1, with a 1.86 ERA.

So if this man was not the greatest October starter of modern times, there would be an awfully short list of other pitchers in the conversation.

2. He should have won three Cy Youngs
When we did one of our famous "That's Debatable" chats last winter about Schilling's Hall credentials, people kept bringing this up -- that he "never won a Cy Young."

Well, that's true. But he finished second three times (2001, 2002, 2004). And all three of those years, it took historic seasons by the winner -- Randy Johnson in '01 and '02, Johan Santana in '04 -- to beat him.

Take a look at his insane numbers in those three seasons:

2001: 22-6, 2.98 ERA, 293 strikeouts.
2002: 23-7, 3.23 ERA, 316 strikeouts.
2004: 21-6, 3.26 ERA, 203 strikeouts in 226 2/3 IP, while pitching in the AL East.

So how many pitchers of his generation had three seasons that dominating without winning a Cy Young? That would be none. And ohbytheway, he could have won a fourth Cy Young in 1997 (when he went 17-11, 2.97 ERA, with 319 strikeouts in 254 1/3 innings) if he hadn't been pitching for the worst team in baseball (the Phillies).

3. He was a dominator -- for 15 years
OK, so it took Curt Schilling a while to get his act together. But from 1992, the year he moved into the rotation in Philadelphia and his light bulb went on, through 2007, the final season of his career, he was a dominating starting pitcher in every healthy season of his career -- bar none.

When I was doing the research for last winter's "That's Debatable" go-round, I compared his numbers to those of every right-handed starting pitcher for that entire decade and a half. Here's what I found:

• Schilling not only led all those right-handers in complete games (with 83), but only one other right-hander in the whole sport (Greg Maddux) was within 25 of him.

• Only Pedro Martinez had a better strikeout ratio than Schilling (8.59 K/9).

• Only Pedro and Roger Clemens had more strikeouts than Schilling (3,116), period.

• Just Pedro and Maddux had a better WHIP than Schilling (1.137).

• And nobody had a better strikeout-walk ratio. In fact, Schilling's K/BB ratio (4.38 whiffs for every walk) ranks No. 1 among all pitchers in the modern era.

All right, anybody want to argue those numbers? And remember, they don't even count October -- the month when he did his finest work of all.

So is Curt Schilling a slam-dunk Hall of Famer? Those 216 career wins say no. But the other numbers? They say yes. Absolutely yes.

I can't wait for that debate to begin. See ya in 3½ years.