Boston or not, business is the bottom line

Curt Schilling can determine how he'd like his legacy to be fulfilled, but business remains his bottom line.

Updated: November 26, 2003, 6:19 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

So Curt Schilling going to the Red Sox will enhance his legacy as a big-league pitcher?

Curt Schilling
Will the champagne flow in Boston if Curt Schilling decides to end his career as a Red Sox?
Absolutely. If:

(a) Schilling is brilliant;
(b) The Red Sox win;
(c) The Red Sox win it all; and
(d) The Red Sox win it all in a Series in which only Schilling's presence could have made the difference.

Outside of that, not really so much, no.

We're hearing a lot of talk about legacy this week, which is perhaps bound to happen when the subjects are Schilling, one of the finer pitchers of this era, and the Red Sox, who are to tortured sporting history what Kleenex is to tissue. The Red Sox are the brand name of choice, right there next to the box marked "Cubs" in your crying-eyes aisle.

Watching Schilling conduct his own bizarre front-lawn news conference the other day -- what did he announce, that he might get traded later in the week? -- might have led one to conclude that some seismic shift was about to occur in the industry. Closer to the truth, Schilling is making sure the bases are covered before he switches teams away from an Arizona franchise that says it can't afford him after next season.

If you listen carefully to Schilling, that is, you'll hear the business at work. It's the rest of the baseball world that is rhapsodizing. Schilling is the one speaking pointedly of needing an iron-clad agreement on a contract extension and, in the case of the Red Sox, wanting to know that his former skipper in Philly, Terry Francona, will indeed become Boston's next manager.

Others speak of Schilling and the Red Sox in prose and verse; Schilling is spending his time glancing at all the bottom lines. There is money, length of contract, commitment of franchise, family consideration, physical plant (Schilling initially was leery of pitching in a Fenway Park he thought to be more homer-happy than it actually is), video facilities, scouting staff.

They're ready, out there in the great beyond, to dedicate poems to the first roster, or single player, to whom the Red Sox can trace a World Series championship, and that's legacy. But Curt Schilling is the guy crossing the T's and dotting the I's, and that is business.

The great scenario in the Schilling sweepstakes would've been the Yankees as a serious entrant, if only because it might have forced a kind of legacy conversation on the 37-year-old pitcher. Schilling might have found himself pondering whether 'twas nobler to bring a championship to a franchise than to be welcomed into, essentially, a kind of ongoing coronation like the one in the Bronx.

But that presumes so much, which is why the legacy talk is stillborn in this case. Schilling's legacy as a part of the Boston franchise comes into play only if the Red Sox win it all. History, not to mention the career arcs of right-handers like Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, tend to argue against the odds on that one.

If Schilling winds up as a good veteran pitcher playing on some good Red Sox teams that make playoff pushes but fail to capture the World Series, then he's every decent hurler in Boston history, no more. And he's a late arrival, a guy the Red Sox dealt away while he was still a prospect, returning 15 years (and his own Series championship in Arizona) after the fact to take the mound. It isn't as though Schilling has spent his career's work making Boston a champion.

You have to wonder how much time Schilling spends actually looking through that end of the telescope, the legacy end. After all, he made it fairly clear that his first preference, if he wasn't to remain in Arizona, was to return to Philadelphia, where he pitched for years on mostly mediocre teams but where he and his family still have a home. The Yankees at one point were second on Schilling's wish list, the Red Sox a vague third.

It's hard to get runaway sentimental over the actions of a man who, as ESPN.com's Jayson Stark explains, wasn't even much interested in Boston until Francona's name surfaced in the managerial search. Now Schilling is warming to the idea, embracing the fact that you can be right-handed and pitch in Fenway and be successful.

Of course, sentiment is what the Red Sox are ready to shower upon whichever group of players it is that finally guides them to a championship. In advance of that, or perhaps in place of it, they'll give Curt Schilling some seriously bankable cash over the next three or four years. If Schilling takes it, he's a fine pitcher going to a competitive team.

That's not legacy, just good business.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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