What is Curt Schilling’s Legacy as a Phillie?


Aug 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies wall of fame inductee Curt Schilling waves to fans as he is driven around the ballpark prior to the game against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

While the current Phillies team continues to bleed losses, signaling a major change on the horizon for the organization, fans at Citizen’s Bank Park were treated to a ceremonious weekend honoring the accomplishments of Phillies past. With a cavalcade of former stars in attendance, most surprisingly Darren Daulton, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, the franchise gave their fans a chance to pay tribute to some of the great teams in their history. While the reception given towards Daulton may have highlighted the signature moments of the weekend, a major reason for the ceremonies was to induct former starter Curt Schilling into the Phillies Wall of Fame.

While Schilling is far from the ‘cut-and-run’ player that Scott Rolen, or, to a different extent, J.D. Drew, his time with the Phillies did come to an unceremonious end when the big righty requested to be traded to a contender during the 2000 season. The team had not turned in a winning season since 1993, the season where Schilling led a pitching staff that helped carry the Phillies to an improbable World Series berth. Schilling’s individual exploits, including several all-star game appearances and several double-digit win seasons, helped establish the big righty as one of the premier arms in baseball at the time. By the 2000 season, when the team’s struggles showed no signs of receding, the organization finally caved to Schilling’s demands and traded their staff ace for a less-than-acceptable return, highlighted by such stalwarts as Travis Lee, Nelson Figueroa, and Vincente Padilla.

Aug 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies wall of fame inductee Curt Schilling is introduced during the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies wall of fame induction ceremony prior to playing the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The Braves defeated the Phillies 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Sure enough, Schilling made the most of his new opportunities, winning three World Series rings and establishing himself as the premier ‘Big-Game’ pitcher of his era, before retiring in 2007. While Schilling’s post-retirement career has seen its fair share of ups and downs, including a controversy surrounding the famed ‘bloody sock’ incident during the 2004 World Series, barring any sort of bombshell involving a rules infraction, his resume as a clutch performer in the playoffs, with an MLB-best .846 playoff winning percentage, make Schilling a viable hall of fame candidate.

So while Schilling becomes immortalized on the Phillies Wall of Fame, with the likes of other greats and World Series champions Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, one has to wonder what his legacy as a Phillie will be when one looks back on his career. On one hand, Schilling represents one of the most important cogs of a team that, regardless of sport, garners more nostalgia than any team in the city, being the 1993 Phillies. With a roster that did not appear to possess the sort of top-end talent that would inspire confidence in such an unexpected run, Schilling established himself as one of the elite players on a team of overachievers. At such an early point in his career, all signs probably pointed to Schilling leading the Phillies back to multiple World Series and locking up a place at the top of Philadelphia sports icons for years to come.

Aug 3, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton (32) and Curt Schilling (38) greet each other during Phillies Alumni Weekend ceremony before game against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As is the case in all sports, sometimes a team is lucky enough to possess a special talent, but is unable to supplement that talent with the necessary pieces to win. For nearly seven seasons, Schilling’s role shifted from playoff performer on a World Series team, to lone attraction on a team without a prayer. It is difficult to recall just how bad the Phillies were during the mid 90s (although the team being trotted out this year might rehash some difficult memories), as the Phillies have restored their image among the more respectable franchises in baseball. For four straight seasons, the team lost 85 or more games and, even with Schilling posting back-to-back seasons with at least 300 strikeouts, there was very little reason for hope that the team was on the brink of improving.

With the team achieving success from 2007-2011, it is a struggle for current fans to fathom the idea of a player demanding a trade from the Phillies. We have been spoiled and flattered as fans to have players such as Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay express their desire to come to Philadelphia, even taking less money in certain instances for a chance to win. While the team has only claimed the one World Series in 2008, we have been treated to watching the accomplishments of players who were stuck on teams without promise that joined the Phillies to try to capture a championship, much like Schilling did for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. While the criticisms surrounding Schilling are somewhat vast, and warranted to an extent, it is for this reason that I think Schilling has every reason to be honored as one of the Phillies all-time greats.

Schilling’s role on a stagnant, mediocre Phillies team was as unpleasant by the end of his time with the team as it seemed. The frustration level of a pitcher, a player that can only help his team once every five games, on a roster that does not have the capability to contend is arguably the least desirable situation in baseball. After trying, and failing to preserve the magic of 1993 and gear up for another playoff run, it became clear that the Phillies lack of top-flight talent had caught up with them and put them in an unfortunate holding pattern. So, with Schilling being one of just a handful of leftover players with the talent to sustain success, the team found themselves in a position where the only way to regain success was to try and use free agency to replenish talent. Unfortunately, the team never approached an organizational talent level that made it conducive to try and stay and wait for the roster to improve to a playoff level. Schilling’s role as the best player on a team with no hope of contention clearly wore thin on the staff ace, and, while the rejection of their lone star stung at a difficult time, the organization catered to his whims and sent him off to pursue success with the Diamondbacks.

It is not Schilling’s fault that he ended up as a piece of an organization that, even with the success of 1993, was not in a desirable position for a winner. It was not until the mid-2000s that the Phillies started taking the steps toward legitimizing themselves as a marquee franchise and shaking the losing mantra that became synonymous of the team through the turn of the millennium. When he was given the chance to succeed on a big scene, Schilling delivered as a Phillie. His complete game shutout in the 1993 World Series in an elimination game stands as one of the most impressive individual efforts in Philadelphia sports history and it would be hard to argue that the team could have made the run they did without Schilling’s efforts. His most memorable performances from a career standpoint came following his departure, excelling for other teams in some of the biggest stages in sports. However, for a stretch of almost a decade, the most memorable Phillies performances usually involved Schilling in some capacity. While it would have been great for the team to boast a roster that was worthy of being led by a staff ace like Schilling in his prime, the organization did not deliver in that respect and ultimately, it was their fault that things got to the point with Schilling that they did.

Aug 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies wall of fame inductee Curt Schilling gives his acceptance speech prior to a game against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Curt Schilling’s competitiveness and drives is what makes him a Hall of Fame candidate. Whether you believe the conspiracy theorists or not, the fact of the matter is that Schilling was handed the ball in countless situations where his team’s chances rested solely on his shoulders. The stage never was too big for the right hander and seeing him deliver against the games finest in the most tense of situations became commonplace in the drama-filled playoffs of the 21st century. Because of this competitiveness, it would have been a crime to hold it against Schilling for wanting to go somewhere where his drive to win was rewarded, and not wasted. As one of the most talented players to ever don the uniform, Schilling’s induction into the Phillies Wall of Fame was justified and anyone who holds his departure against him needs to reconsider the perspective on just how bad things were when he finally was traded.