The news from Boston today that Curt Schilling is headed for surgery to repair his right rotator cuff, labrum and biceps should not come as much of a surprise. When spring training began the question was whether or not Schilling would be able to respond to a rehab program and throw a pitch in a big league game before going under the knife.
Decidedly, the answer was no. No way.
Now, after Schilling has given up on the 2008 season as well as his tenure with the Boston Red Sox, a new question rears its head regarding the former Phillie:
Is it all over?
"There's a pretty decent chance that I have thrown my last pitch forever," the 41-year-old ex-Phillie said. "I don't want it to end this way, but if this is the way it has to end, I'm OK with that. If it's over and my last pitch was in the 2007 World Series, I'm OK with that. I just can't stress enough where I am mentally with this. I have not a regret in the world.
"None of this makes me bitter or angry. It is what it is. In that sense, honestly, it's very, very easy for me, because of what I've been able to experience compared to what I wanted when I first started my career. But if I have some say in how this is going to end, I want it to be different than what it is right now."
That much is obvious. After all, Schilling would not be having an elaborate surgery on Monday with Dr. Craig Morgan, the renowned shoulder specialist in Wilmington, Del. on Monday if he was thinking about hanging it up. Really, who has biceps tenodesis surgery (when the diseased biceps tendon is detached from the bone and reattached in another location) as well as arthroscopic surgery to determine if more surgery is needed to the labrum and rotator cuff if the only ball playing he does is with his kids in the yard? The rehab process for those surgeries is difficult for a guy just looking to handle the remote control with more alacrity, the fact that Schilling is going through with it means he wants to pitch again.
But whether or not Schilling will pitch again could be determined in Wilmington on Monday. According to Dr. Morgan, Schilling's future as a big leaguer depends upon what is found when the right-hander is scoped.
"The key issue there is frankly the rotator cuff," Morgan told The Boston Globe. "If he does not have significant rotator cuff involvement there's a good chance, even at age 41, that he can come back and pitch. But he must accept the fact that this may be career ending."
Schilling understands that last part very well.
"If I don't have surgery, my career is over today," he said.
Still even if the damage to his shoulder isn't severe and a return to the mound is not ruled out, Schilling knows the rehab process will be much more difficult. Age is the damndest thing - if Schilling were 10 years younger there would be no question that his career could continue in 2009. But even if everything goes perfectly and the tendons in the big right-hander's shoulder turn him into the $8 million man again, the fact that he was born in 1966 instead of 1971 or 1976 makes a HUGE difference.
So too does the issue of contracts and ability to pitch for an entire season. No longer the horse every five days as ex-Phillies GM Ed Wade once claimed, Schilling says he will not be able to go to spring training for a team to compete for a job. A better scenario, says Schilling, is a post-All Star return to a team in the playoff race. But of course, that's putting the cart before the horse.
Nevertheless, it is an interesting to think hypothetically. Let's suppose the Phillies are in a similar position in 2009 as they are today - one where they lead the division but starting pitching is still a glaring weakness - do you take a chance and sign up Schilling for a second-half run?
Clearly it's one of those low-risk/high-reward situations that general managers love so much (hello, Kris Benson!), but in Schilling's case the intriguing part is his history not just as a big-game pitcher, but also as a pitcher for the Phillies. Though his regular season statistics aren't shoo-in Hall-of Fame numbers (he'll get in), his body of work in the playoffs and World Series place him with the biggest names in the sport...
And that was before the bloody sock.
Here's one more question to ponder about Schilling until his future is decided: which cap does he wear on his Hall-of-Fame plaque?
Actually, this question is probably more apt... how long until Schilling is working on baseball broadcasts? Aside from big-time outings in big games, Schilling's legacy will be that of a guy who liked to gab just a little bit. In fact there may have been the rare occasion where he did not rehearse his interviews in the mirror beforehand. One time at Fenway Park I wandered over to the home team dugout to search out Schilling where I was told by a teammate to, "follow the cameras."
Guess what? That's where he was.