Fast And In Your Face Freewheeling Phillies fireballer Curt Schilling lives life the way he pitches--on his own terms

February 02, 1998

The wild-eyed kid with the blue streaks in his hair, the earring
and the Rottweiler tattoo demanded small bills, and the nervous
teller handed over a wad of cash about the size of a rosin bag.
Hurrying out of the bank, the kid grabbed a cab back to his
hotel room. When, he wondered, would someone with a gun and a
badge knock on the door and tell him the jig was up: Time to
give the money back, son.

Curt Schilling didn't rob a bank that September day in 1988, but
with $5,000 from his first payday in the majors, with the
Baltimore Orioles, he sure felt as if he had done some stealing.
"I was such a screwup when I got to the big leagues," says
Schilling, now 31 and the ace of the Philadelphia Phillies. "I
was a total idiot. I ran the nightlife, I drank, I just acted
crazy. I did all the stupid things you'd expect from a
21-year-old kid with money."

This was at the top of the list of immature stunts: When
Schilling returned to his room at the Cross Keys Inn in
Baltimore that day, he spread the $5,000 on the bed and lay down
on it, bathing in his newfound riches. So what did you expect
him to do--open an IRA? "I remember thinking, This is more money
than I'll spend in my entire life. I've made it. I'm a major
leaguer, and nothing can stop me now," says Schilling, shaking
his head, as if he were still trying to make sense of the young
fool in a bed full of $20 bills. "Sometimes I can't believe how
much of a dope I was."

Ten years later some people will tell you Curt Schilling is
still a dope. Last April 3, after long and contentious
negotiations, he accepted far less than his market value to stay
with the Phillies, a hapless ball club in a sports city without
pity. He could have waited and as a free agent after the 1997
season had his pick of numerous, richer offers. Even after
re-signing with Philadelphia, he could have waived his no-trade
clause in July, been dealt to the Cleveland Indians and perhaps
pitched the Tribe to victory in the World Series.

His three-year, $15.45 million contract is not a year old, and
already Schilling looks like an indentured servant compared with
National League Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez, late of the
Montreal Expos, whose new six-year deal with the Boston Red Sox
guarantees him $75 million. "People keep telling me I could have
gotten $8 or $10 million a year as a free agent," says
Schilling, "but I make more money than I will ever need."

Good point, to be sure, though not one that generally keeps a
ballplayer from decrying the great injustice of it all. So in
these petulant times for baseball, Schilling has become
something of a symbol of old-fashioned loyalty and
dedication--to a team, a city, a sport and a cause. He struck
out 319 hitters last season, a National League record for
righthanders in this century, and emerged as a superstar. Says
Philadelphia coach and friend John Vukovich, "He's what we would
want everyone to be: A guy whose life went in the right
direction after he became successful."

Most ballplayers would regard a stint in Philadelphia as akin to
a prison sentence, but Schilling thrives there, joyfully mixing
it up with fans who booed Santa and with a media contingent that
kill first, ask questions later. While most pro athletes would
rather pick up a dinner check than admit to listening to sports
talk radio, Schilling does more than just tune in to Philly's
notorious WIP. He calls. He argues. He knows what it's like to
be a fan, and he understands the irrational passion of the folks
who pay the bills. "I tell people all the time that without the
fans, I've got nothing," says Schilling. "When I struck out five
straight Braves in the [1993] playoffs, you know what made that
special? Sixty-two thousand people on their feet cheering."

Schilling seldom swats away an autograph pest because he himself
is a devout member of the Collectibles Cult. Souvenirs decorate
the lavish museum/basement in his four-bedroom house in exurban
Kennett Square. He owns 150 souvenir bats, truckloads of
souvenir balls, jerseys, cards and caps, including his pride and
joy: a Lou Gehrig Yankees cap from the late 1920s with Gehrig's
name inscribed on the sweatband. The cap is worth more than most
people make in a year. "You don't want to know what he paid,"
says Curt's wife, Shonda. "He's not reasonable when it comes to
that stuff."

Schilling also tests Shonda's patience with an interest in World
War II that borders on obsession. An office on the first floor
of his house features hundreds of books on the war; a
glass-encased collection of German artifacts, including dozens
of medals and ribbons with swastikas or SS insignias, is both
impressive and chilling. "War is by no means something
glamorous, and I don't think that should ever be forgotten,"
says Schilling.

His interest in military history is not just an adventure; it's
a job. Schilling is employed as a researcher for a company that
produces military board games--most recently he was delving into
armor tactics--and the loft on the third floor of his house
serves as a private war room. A personal computer and a small
refrigerator sit at one end of the loft, which is strewn with
stacks of books, charts, model tanks and computer software; it's
as if Ted Kaczynski's cabin had been airlifted and dropped on
the top of the Schillings' house.

Schilling's prodigious appetite for life, undiminished since he
arrived in the big leagues almost a decade ago, has just been
funneled into more constructive areas. Though he makes a lot
more money now, he rarely bathes with it. And though no member
of his family has ever had ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, he has
earned a reputation in the Philadelphia area as a tireless
supporter of the fight against that disease. Why the interest?
"I met a guy named Dick Bergeron who had been diagnosed with
ALS; six months later I saw him again, and he couldn't walk,"
says Schilling. "I started thinking, What if that was my child
or my wife, and I never got off my ass and did anything to help?
How could I live with myself?"

When Shonda gave birth to their first child in May 1995, the
Schillings named him Gehrig, a tribute, they say, to every ALS
patient they've ever met. Curt believes the birth of his son
changed his life, filling a void that had been left seven years
earlier when his father, Cliff, died, virtually in his arms.
Cliff, who spent 22 years as an enlisted man in the Army, was
already battling a brain tumor when he suffered an aortic
aneurysm while at home with Curt in January 1988. "It sounds
weird, but we stayed up late that night just talking about
baseball, life, everything," says Curt. "He said things to me
that a father thinks but doesn't usually say. I remember him
saying how he knew I was going to make it to the big leagues.
That was the last night of his life."

On Sept. 7, 1988, eight months after Cliff died at age 55, his
only son made it to the big leagues with the Orioles, but Curt
admits that his focus on baseball and his family ties were not
as strong then as when his dad was alive. Curt still talks to
his mother, Mary, who lives in Colorado, but not often. "My
father was the glue that held us together," says Curt. "When he
died, I kind of lost my whole family." Because his head was in
the clouds and his heart was not in the game, he bounced from
Baltimore to the Houston Astros to Philadelphia before finally
establishing himself as a solid starter in '92.

A decade later Schilling not only is one of the top pitchers in
baseball, but he's also got a family again. Along with Gehrig,
he and Shonda have an eight-month-old daughter, Gabriella, who
would have been named Ruth if Dad had gotten his way.

Despite his powerful arm, Schilling was never considered a
can't-miss prospect and was traded three times before his first
full season. In his first 100 big league appearances he had only
four wins and 11 saves, quickly earning a reputation as a
talented flake with a blue streak for a fastball and that blue
streak in his hair. In 1990, during his first extended stay with
the Orioles, Schilling got a loud and long overdue wake-up call
from his manager, Frank Robinson. Says Schilling, "I walk in, I
got the earring and half my head shaved, a blue streak dyed in
it. He says, 'Sit down,' and then just cocks his head and stares
at me for a while. Finally, he says, 'What's wrong with you,
son?' I just sit there and act dumb and say, 'Huh? What do you
mean?'"

While few people could match young Schilling's knack for looking
and acting dumb, it was, for the most part, just an act. Unlike
so many young players of his generation, he was fully aware of
the legend across the manager's desk. "I mean, this was Frank
Robinson," says Schilling. "He said to me, 'First of all, you
don't throw an inning for me until that earring is gone. Second,
when you get to the park tomorrow, I expect your hair to look
professional.' That was it for me--no more earring, no Mohawk."

Seven years, three teams and a lot of growing up later, a
friendly mob greeted Schilling at the Cleveland airport when he
arrived for the 1997 All-Star Game. He had already refused to
accept the trade to the Indians, but for three days Cleveland
fans romanced Schilling, culminating with a standing ovation
during the pregame introductions. The fanfare was nice, but
Schilling got a bigger thrill when he bumped into his old
manager at Jacobs Field and Robinson asked for an autograph. "I
had a feeling the kid would come around," says Robinson, now an
executive with the Arizona Fall League. "He wasn't a bad kid. He
just wanted to be noticed."

Against Robinson's objections, Roland Hemond, then Baltimore's
general manager, sent Schilling, outfielder Steve Finley and
righthander Pete Harnisch to Houston for slugger Glenn Davis in
January 1991. The trade remains Hemond's personal Rottweiler
tattoo. "My exact words were 'anybody else but Schilling,'" says
Robinson. "Obviously they didn't listen."

Schilling lasted just one season with the Astros, bouncing from
closer to setup man and even spending a month at Triple A
Tucson. After the season he stayed in Houston to work out or,
rather, to pretend to. One day in the weight room he was
confronted by another hard-throwing righthander who thought
Schilling was embarrassing their fraternity. "I was kind of
faking my way through a workout, and Roger Clemens was in there,
picking up and putting down every weight in the room," says
Schilling. "So Gene Coleman, our strength coach, walks over and
says, 'Roger wants to talk to you.' I'm thinking, Hey, cool,
he's one of my heroes, and he wants to say hi. But for the next
hour, he just railed at me. He said I was wasting my career, and
I was cheating the game. You know what? He was right. It got
through to me. I went to spring training with a new attitude."

He also went into the season with a new team. On the last
weekend of spring training in 1992, the Astros, unconvinced that
Schilling was about to break out, traded him to the Phillies for
righthander Jason Grimsley. Pitching for the last-place team in
the National League East, Schilling went 14-11 with a 2.35 ERA
and held opponents to a .201 batting average, lowest in the
majors. He had 10 complete games and four shutouts in only 26
starts, and he came away certain that he could be an ace. "I
finally realized that my father was right, that I could be as
good as I wanted to be," he says.

In 1993 the Phillies reached the World Series, and Schilling
reached another level. He won 16 games during the season, then
started the National League Championship Series opener against
the Atlanta Braves and set an NLCS record by striking out the
first five batters he faced. He didn't get the decision in his
two starts but had a 1.69 ERA and struck out 19 in 16 innings to
earn the series MVP award. He shut out the Toronto Blue Jays in
Game 5 of the World Series, though the Blue Jays won in six.

For the Phils the highs of 1993 were followed by a string of
lows that continued through last season. Philadelphia was beset
by injuries to its star players--Schilling spent time on the
disabled list during each of the next three seasons and won only
18 games--and has stumbled through four straight losing seasons.
Schilling's performance last year for a team that had the
majors' worst record the first half of the season prompted
comparisons with another eccentric Philadelphia ace, Steve
Carlton, who had 27 victories for the 59-win Phillies of 1972.

While the baseball world marveled at his 319 strikeouts,
Schilling was perhaps prouder of his career-high 35 starts and
254 innings. He went 17-11 with a 2.97 ERA and deserved better;
closer Ricky Bottalico blew three saves for him. Says Schilling,
"There's satisfaction in knowing my teammates can look at me and
think, Oh, Schilling's going? Well, we got a chance."

On Labor Day, Schilling blew away the New York Yankees 5-1 at
the Vet, striking out 16 (a National League high for the
season). Derek Jeter, who struck out four times, was asked after
the game what he thought of Schilling's fastball, which was
clocked at 94 mph or faster on 77 pitches. "You're asking the
wrong guy," said the Yankees' shortstop. "I didn't even see it,
man."

"That's what it's all about," Schilling says, a military
historian who knows the battle is often won before a shot is
fired. "I'm standing out there 60 feet away, and I know I'm
going to throw a fastball and he knows I'm going to throw a
fastball, yet he can't hit it. And he knows he can't hit it. I
can see it in his eyes. That is the ultimate feeling that you
can get in this game. There's almost a numbness that comes over
you. It's like a dream, and I can get that feeling every fifth
day. How lucky am I?"

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS Avid collector Schilling owns 150 bats, one of which, a Roberto Clemente model, is worth $12,000. [Curt Schilling with baseball bats, balls and uniforms] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS Schilling (warming up in the bullpen last April) struck out 11.29 batters per nine innings in 1997. [Curt Schilling pitching] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS Teeing it up with Dad, precocious Gehrig, not quite three, can drive a golf ball more than 30 yards. [Gehrig Schilling and Curt Schilling golfing on driving range]

"Clemens said I was wasting my career. And you know what? He was
right."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)