Master Procrastinator

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Where Are the Schilling Skeptics?

Posted by Andrew Zercie on March 24, 2009

Let me preface what I am about to write with the following disclaimer: Curt Schilling is one of the best pitchers of his era.

Unfortunately, Schilling’s era was the Steroids Era.

Schilling established himself as a vocal opponent of steroids years ago. At the Congressional Hearings back in March of 2005, Schilling was brought before the panel because he was so outspoken about not using steroids. Perhaps that is why, when looking at his career through a microscope yesterday and today, almost no one has brought up the idea that Schilling’s career arc could be considered questionable rather than legitimate.

Many media outlets have split Schilling’s career into two part: the years 1988-1996, before he turned 30, and the years 1997-2007, after he turned 30.

From 1988-1996, Schilling went 52-52 with an ERA under 3.50. He had one season of 15 or more wins (1993), and two seasons with an ERA+ of over 125 (1992, 1996). Schilling topped 200 innings in both 1992 and 1993, but never had 200 or more strikeouts in a season during this time span.

From 1997-2007, Schilling was a different pitcher. Seven times he topped 15 wins. Three times, he won 20 or more games. Three times he finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting. Five times, Schilling had 200 or more strikeouts in a season, including three instances with 300 or more. On seven occasions, Schilling had an ERA+ of 125 or better. In all, he was 164-94 during the last 11 years of his career.

In a bygone era, we’d chalk up Schilling’s mid-career turnaround to the learning experiences of his youth, his maturation as a man and a pitcher, or his desire to make the most of his ability. And, in a sense, Schilling was a throwback-type player who gutted out injuries (Exhibit A: The Bloody Sock) in big spots, and who freely admitted that he didn’t work as hard at his craft in his youth.

But this isn’t a bygone era. Any spike in player performance comes with inevitable questions about whether the player improved legitimately or chemically. There are countless players, like Curt Schilling, who have never been implicated by the FBI, MLB, or Jose Canseco for any use of performance-enhancing drugs, and have seen their careers take off many years after they debuted in the big leagues.

Sammy Sosa went from a decent power-hitting outfielder to a superstar in 1998. Then he went before Congress in 2005 and acted as if he couldn’t speak English competently. His performance there tarnished his career, much more than anything he did on the field. Yet, in his defense, he never failed a drug test, has never been targeted by the FBI, was not named in the Mitchell Report, and was not named in either of Jose Canseco’s books. So why has the Court of Public Opinion handed Sosa a guilty verdict?

And why are we giving Curt Schilling the benefit of the doubt? Being outspoken against steroids doesn’t prove a thing. Rafael Palmeiro told Congress he never took steroids. Six months later, he was persona non grata. Alex Rodriguez told Katie Couric that he was never tempted to take performance enhancing drugs. 14 months after that interview, he admitted to doing just that.

My question is simple: where are the skeptics?

Some are questioning whether or not Schilling has done enough to warrant being in the Hall of Fame someday, but they’re not framing the question correctly. The question shouldn’t be, “Has he done enough?” The question should be, “Do we know what he did was legitimate?” Because, if we’re going to question the late-career surges of hulking Hispanic home-run titans, we should also question the late-career surges of outspoken, opinionated, blogging Boston pitchers, shouldn’t we?


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