SI Vault
Gerry Callahan
February 02, 1998
Freewheeling Phillies fireballer Curt Schilling lives life the way he pitches—on his own terms
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February 02, 1998

Fast And In Your Face

Freewheeling Phillies fireballer Curt Schilling lives life the way he pitches—on his own terms

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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 WTP. 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.

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