Red Light Redistrict

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If you ask me, Boston is officially a two sport town. Baseball and Football. Sox and Pats. They’re the only things that matter. Once football ends in January (and through our frequent good fortune of late – sometimes early February) it’s just a brief three week layover until baseball talk and prognostication begins in earnest.

Spare me your Bruins and Celtics speak. They’re has been teams of a bygone error.

Although I’m lapsed of late, I was a veritable WEEI Sports Radio junkie for the better part of this decade and found it increasingly comforting that the number one sports station in New England chose to focus on the Sox and Pats and gave hockey and basketball the short shrift. Of course, there were the frequent yahoos (the men whom time had forgotten) who would call in and berate host Glenn Ordway (once a former Celtics color commentator) for refusing equal airtime to the Gold and Green. They’d usually spout some nonsense about Bah-stahn being a Haw-keee town first and foremost. Of course, it’s easy to take pity on these poor misguided souls whose brains have been likely mummified through years of second-hand Aqua Net ingestion. Pity their sad, simple lives.

Bah-stahn is a hockey town? Please! That’s loser talk. This is a Baseball/Football town where the greatest rivalry is often between the Pats and Sox as they jockey for that vaunted front page and the most pub in the Hub.

All this brings me to my utter delight in bidding my football hangover a fond adieu. After the Pats loss to Indy in the AFC Championship game, I turned my attention to other pursuits – namely some more Wii play and getting this Blog back on track. I knew baseball was on the horizon, but with winter chill finally tightening its grip on the region, it felt a bit further than usual. The fact that I’ve since unplugged EEI in favor of the WBCN Toucher & Rich show (which runs the nighttime drive and has coaxed such laughter that I’ve almost plowed my car into the Fast Pass gate twice), has only kept baseball as a hazy promise of things to come far in the future. It was always on my mind, but in the dregs of January, it felt so far away.

Not any more.

This past Monday morning I crawled into the chilled igloo that was my car and fired up the defrost – bypassing scraping duty for 15 minutes of morning radio and carbon monoxide poisoning. Although Dennis and Callahan can be too much to bear on most days (as a former EEI acolyte, I was always Big Show brethren) the familiar voice booming through my speakers held enough promise and sway to keep me from surfing.

Monday morning, as I sat frozen in my coach, I became reacquainted with my main man, Curt Schilling. Say what you will about the guy, I find that although I may not completely subscribe to his political ideology, I do like hearing him speak. He always seems to speak his mind, he gives a great deal of insider knowledge and he comes across as the type of guy you’d want to sit beside and down a few beers with. Plus, when I tuned in, he was talking about drilling Meterparel in the rib cage when the two face off for a charity batting practice event in Fort Meyers next month, so my interest was certainly piqued.

Within a few minutes, Schilling dropped this bombshell. Contrary to prior reports, he would not retire at the end of the 2007 season. Although he is contracted with the Sox through the remainder of this season, he mentioned that he has already had preliminary discussions with Sox brass on potentially extending his contract through another season or two, keeping retirement temporarily at bay. He said that he feels stronger and healthier than he has since 2004 and most importantly, his family has urged him to keep pitching.

Schilling was a realist and stated that although his first choice is to pitch with the Red Sox (he truly likes it here) he realizes that this is a business and the Sox may choose not to gamble on a pitcher of advanced age. Also, he would like to have a deal done before the season begins as he feels he’s earned that respect and doesn’t like to drag contractual matters into the regular season.

When asked if he would consider pitching for New York, Curt shot that down with a “No! Never!” John Dennis reminded Schilling that he might want to recant that as the threat of pitching for New York is a good bargaining chip but Curt came back with a refreshingly honest answer. “If I continue to play, it’s not about more money. I’m already making a ridiculous amount of money for pitching this season and the market bears that out. Where ever I pitch I’m gonna’ make more money than I could ever need. This is really just about continuing to do what I love to do.”

If the Sox are going to continue their annual courtship of Clemens in a bid to bring the Rocket back for one final swan song, I think Schilling deserves a second look. Both pitchers, when healthy, are pretty much a wash at this stage in their career. Sure Roger may have greater overall numbers but Schilling bests those in big game performances. Besides, Clemens has been padding his stats by feeding on the weaker National League, meaning there’s no guarantee he’ll put up the same numbers as he did for Houston. Look at Randy Johnson’s shaky stint in New York – whose now slithering his way back to the National League to try and apply a little polish to that career end cap. Clemens in Boston could be a complete bust.

With Schilling, there’s no special treatment in store. He’s a gamer who completely loves all facets of the game, not just his role. There won’t be any furloughs requested to give the old man a few weeks off to bean his sons and make men of them. Schilling reports when pitchers and catchers arrive in Fort Meyers and plays straight through October (hopefully!!!). If you thought Manny skipping to the loo in the Green Monster was front page fodder, wait until Clemens takes May off to attend the Preakness.

Members of the media have dubbed Schill, ‘Red Light’ – a nickname aimed at deriding his affinity for the television camera. This is the same media that throws a hissy fit when Keith Foulke refuses to play nice and talk on camera or Manny inevitably becomes Manny. In other words, you can’t win in this town. Schilling gives them the sound bite (and then some) and gets blasted for being available to speak. On this point I’ll refer back to comments I posted in my Vinatieri article from last year.  What I said then is probably as good as I’ll ever say it:

This criticism of Schilling rankles me to no end. In 2005, as Schilling rushed to rejoin our World Series winning champs, we sat and suffered through a never-ending series of setbacks, beginning with Boomer Wells being handed the Game 1 ball. Talk radio was flooded with listeners complaining about Schilling’s love of the limelight – appearing and pontificating in front of every camera and microphone that would have him as he discussed and dissected everything from ‘roid rage to his newly anointed Level 47 Druid Mage. When Keith Foulke threw a mid-season hissy fit and announced that he was going home and taking his ball with him, Schill stepped up and said he would take on closing duties. Immediately, people accused Schilling of being selfish. He was just hogging the spotlight – anything to grab another few moments atop the soapbox and another bullet point on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption.

How quickly we all forget.

The 2004 ALCS Championship. There are indelible images tattooed  upon my brain. Raw, cold rainy nights. Steinbrenner’s stormtrooper squad of riot police summoned from the bowels of Yankee Stadium in a moment’s notice to combat imminent fan Armageddon. A blinding white sock with scarlet ribbons spreading their sickly tendrils across its surface – the red badge of courage come to visceral life.

During those few precious weeks in hometown history, Boston bore witness to the birth of our own Six Million Dollar Man. We had the technology. We could rebuild him. Over the airwaves, we heard freak Frankensteinian tales of tendons fused to bones, pistons being inserted in arms, cats being attached to dogs.

“I heard, they dug up Cy Young, Tommy John and Randy Johnson and spliced their genes together to make one uber tendon. What do you mean Randy Johnson’s not dead? Looks dead to me.”

Looking back now, it is apparent how closely the fairy tale followed the script, on its way to the dream denouement. Schilling stumbled early in the Yankee series, his first start marred by shaky control (as a result of an injury suffered in the Angels series) – a poor start magnified by Schilling’s poor choice of words “I can’t think of anything more satisfying than shutting up 60,000 Yankee fans!” – which only served to conduct the chorus.

Thus the scene was set for our own private Cinderella Man story, assuming Schilling could make the drive to work.

Through his next start – the start of legends – Curt Schilling became that mythic fiery phoenix; greatness risen from the ashes.

Yet, Boston fans dare ask, “Hey Curt, what have you done for me lately?” As far as I’m concerned, on a cool, chilly Autumn evening in Beantown, Schilling sacrificed himself for all those poor souls that prematurely departed this world a frustrated Sox fan. He exorcised our demons and brought joy to Mudville. For one magical night, he became greater than any athlete that ever came before – he became mythical – a Superman among mere mortals. What went down in that fabled October is the tale for the ages. Yes, I know, I haven’t left a cliché unturned but it’s events like this that demand cliché, for what is a cliché but a tale often told; a common truth. Schilling became that baseball god that we all genuflect before as we travel the long, winding road from April to October. Very rarely do we get proof of their existence.

In October 2004, we received the message loud and clear. The Baseball God does exist… and he’s hooked on Everquest.

The point of all this is Schilling’s comments on EEI the other day got me excited about baseball and this forthcoming season. He walked through the team Theo and company has assembled (with Schill, Beckett, Papelbon and Matsuzaka all in the rotation) and I got that charge thinking of how sweet this season could be if this dream team comes together as expected. The team – on paper – is a powerhouse and could seriously contend to win the AL East and after that, who know, the whole damn thing???

Screw Hockey. Skip Basketball. Forget Roger. Resign Schilll.

Play ball.

Comments now closed (6)

  • I like the guy. I think it’s highly unlikely the Sox would have won in ’04 without him, so that alone gets him a Lifetime Pass on my Good Guy List. Yeah, I kind of wish he wasn’t so noisy about his political leanings, but hey, he’s an Everquest geek and founded his own computer game company called Green Monster Games. That’s pretty cool. Incidentally, apparently Todd McFarlane and well-known Dungeons & Dragons author R.A. Salvatore are involved in developing the company’s first game.

    Regarding Toucher & Rich—I just can’t get past their arguably cruel treatment of Adolfo. It’s the same reason I could never get into Howard Stern…that freak-show-voyeur vibe.

    And I still miss Nik Carter.

    I do like Hardy & Robbie Roadsteamer. They’ve got this awkward comraderie, with Robbie playing the lovable goof to Hardy’s long-suffering straight man, that just cracks me up.

    Last week, Robbie had cooked up a bunch of fake contests that they were going to plug on the air and then never actually do. One was “What did Mike Timlin have for dinner?” and Robbie had made this annoying jingle for it and kept playing it over and over, interrupting whatever Hardy was trying to say. It was stupid at first, but then there was that perfect one, where you think he’s done with it and then he interrupts Hardy one last time…it nearly ran me off the road.

  • I also heard the Schilling interview. As a diehard ‘EEI fan-but unable to stomach the posturing of D and the neanderthal rants of C- I generally just check in to see what the topic is and decide what my tolerance level is. I always catch the scheduled live talk! The Schilling interview was enough to put a spring in my step for the day, and also some props because I was the only one who heard the announcement and got to spread the happy word throughout the land! I emailed the Red Sox with my best Larry the Cable Guy impression…” Git ‘er DONE!”!

    And did I happen to mention that my Christmas present was tickets to Opening Day?…and since Ron wasn’t sure when D-Mat might pitch, he got them for the rest of Seattle series!

  • You make a good comparison between Schill and Rocket — good line about buzzing the K-kids — and if I had choice, I’d also take Curt over Roger right now simply because Curt is getting it done in the AL and we don’t know if Roger will if he came back. His domination of the NL when he has pitched suggests he would do okay, but you never know, and if he does break down, I’d rather it for the Yankees than the Sox.

    As far as Schilling’s contract *demands* go — don’t mistake his words for anything other than that — I don’t like it. It seems very self serving to make the first strike like that so that the fans are on his side just in case the Sox balk. I think the media is questioning whether Curt had in fact talked to Theo and Co. before making his announcement, which would be in poor taste if it were true.

    I think the Sox should roll the dice — insert D-Mat quip here — and see how he does this year. If he is lights out, then pay the man what the market bears next year if you want, but why take the risk on locking him up when you are trying to get younger and have plenty of young arms in the pipeline to replace him?

    As far as the other two sports go, I agree that they will continue to flounder with the majority of the fan base for as long as they continue to suck, but that is just like the Pats and Sox did before starting their runs in the 90’s (Pats more so than Sox). Boston is still a hockey town, Original Six, but the team is so mismanaged that even the diehard fans have lost interest. Should they ever get straightened out, fans would go back there before the Celts. Hard to imagine them ever being better than fourth best around here…

  • @ Sean – That’s just my point. I’m not saying sign Curt just to sign him, but if the Sox are going to relaunch their courtship campaign of Roger and bankroll another multi-million dollar e-card (or video as it were) you might as well focus efforts squarely at home towards the aging ace already sitting in the clubhouse who brings with him far fewer demands. I’d rather guarantee Schill WiFi in the washroom so he can continue work on The Burning Crusade over the 3 weeks off and the free Leer that Roger is going to want comped.

    As for Boston being a hockey town, Original Six or not – it’s not a hockey town anymore. That’s ancient history. In fact, after the strike a few years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find another multi-sport city that can still call itself a hockey town outside of the Canadian provinces. There may be die hard blue collar hockey fans – but neither hockey or basketball carry the same cross-over appeal to the casual fan that the Sox and Pats command. And it’s that cross-over appeal that works to convert the casual to the die hard, which both teams have been successful in doing.

  • I’m glad for the announcement earlier this week that they won’t sign him before the end of Spring Training. It is going to make him hungrier to perform, not that he really wouldn’t, and we’ll get the benefits. I’m willing to bet that if he does well enough, they’ll sign him back up over any reasonable offer from another team if he does hit free agency. Also, the Sox left the door open that they could talk to him as the year progresses, so we’ll see if Curt’s stance softens up…