Thursday, November 13, 2003

Schill Game

Curt Schilling, who's never met a microphone he didn't like, tells the Inquirer's Jim Salisbury today that he'd like to finish his career in Philadelphia. The only problem, of course, is that the former Phillie is still under contract to the Arizona Diamondbacks, to whom the Phils traded him a few years back and whom he helped to win a World Series. The Diamondbacks now are looking to dump salary, and Schilling says he'd accept a trade to either Philadelphia or the Yankees.

For the Phillies, though, there would be significant fiscal and organizational obstacles to acquiring Schilling. He's owed a fair amount of scratch, and the Phils, thanks to the last couple of seasons of spending, have less of that lying around than they used to. Additionally, the D'backs are said to be demanding a lot in return for a trade. (Today's New York Times reports that Arizona is demanding Alphonso Soriano and Nick Johnson for Schilling and Junior Spivey, and that the Yankees are balking at that price.)

In Salisbury's interview, Schilling, as usual, throws everything on the table. But love him or hate him, it's hard to argue with much of what he says:

"If I had to bet, I think the only thing I'd bet on is I probably won't be in a Diamondbacks uniform when the season starts," he said. "I've said it before: If it's impossible for me to finish my career with them, I'd like to do it in Philadelphia, because that's home, and it's comfortable. That team has a chance to win the World Series. There's a new park. I love the fans there. The chance to pitch in that environment would be cool." . . .

Schilling understands the Phillies' situation.

"If the Phillies don't trade for me, it's not because they are cheap," he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. The commitment they've made to winning, getting [Jim] Thome, now Wagner, it's certainly a change." . . .

Schilling did this interview while sitting at the kitchen table in his home late Tuesday night. The kids were in bed. His wife quietly watched television. As the pitcher spoke, he alternately scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad and reached down to pet his rottweiler, Patton. (George Steinbrenner will love that name.)

Schilling said he knew his words -- and his desire to return to Philadelphia -- would sound odd because it wasn't that long ago that his frequent questioning of ownership's desire to win led to his trade to Arizona in the first place.

"Except for one year, they sucked while I was there," Schilling said. "There were years we had 14 big-league players on the team. That stuff doesn't fly in that town.

"I didn't beg to get out of Philadelphia. That's taken on a life of its own. It got uncomfortable at the end, and something had to be done. But the strongest statement I made was to Ed Wade when I told him it was OK to deal me.

"I complained about the people who were inactive. I wanted people, top to bottom, to be as committed to winning as I was. Every fifth day, I take the ball and try to kick someone's butt. I expected my teammates to have that attitude, and I expected the front office to provide a team capable of doing that.

"There were some things I shouldn't have said publicly. There were some arguments I shouldn't have had. But the fact of the matter is, for a long time, there wasn't a commitment to winning there."

There is now. And Schilling dreams of being part of it, even if in reality it is just that -- a dream.

"Things come full circle," Schilling said. "Some people off the field might not want me, but not the people on the field.

"The Phillies are doing whatever it takes to get to the World Series. But I still feel they're one piece away. I could be wrong, because I'm certainly biased. I believe the team that gets me is thinking, 'This is the guy we want on the mound winning Game 7 of the World Series for us.'

"We'll see what happens."

Ed Wade absolutely has to find a way to make this happen. Schilling can be an enormous pain in the ass, but his dedication, his approach to the game, and his talent are undeniable. He'd be an improvement over Kevin Millwood, and he would take a more active role than Millwood in tutoring guys like Brett Myers and Randy Wolf. Can you imagine Schilling tanking it the way Millwood did in that late-season loss to Florida?

Three-and-a-half years ago, the Phillies did their own salary dump of Schilling, picking up Travis Lee, Vicente Padilla, Nelson Figueroa, and Omar Daal in return from the Diamondbacks. Only Padilla is still with the team. Lee is one of baseball's biggest wasters of pure talent, Figueroa pitched for his fourth team in four years last season, and Daal sports an 11-year winning percentage of .466 with a 4.29 ERA. It's time for Arizona to return the favor.

Wade already has parted with one prize pitching prospect this off-season in Taylor Buchholz, who was dealt to the Astros in exchange for Billy Wagner. I understand his reluctance to part with Myers, whom the D'backs are said to like; Myers has the look of a stud. But there aren't many Schillings floating around, and the Phillies are no longer rebuilding -- their time to win is now, not in five years. And Schilling would greatly increase their chances.

Plus, watching him and Larry Bowa try to coexist would be absolutely priceless.


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