Curt Schilling is the elephant in the room. Simply thinking about him is exhausting, trying to reckon with him is harder, and trying to reason with him is discouraged in the strongest possible terms. He is one of the central figures in Red Sox history, but he has made such unfortunate and at times downright nasty life choices since his playing days ended that it's hard to remember him for anything else.
I have tried to write about him before and failed, but I think I understand what's at the heart of his self-destructive ramblings. It's something that's true of all of us, but must be harder for Schilling, a warmonger who is merely a metaphorical war hero, to wrap his head around: he is a nobody.
Yes, Schilling is damn near a baseball Hall of Famer, known regionally for a feat so cinematic, so fantastical the Yankees thought it was fake. When he led the Red Sox to a World Series title in his own crimson-stained stockings, literally giving his blood for the team, it seemed like the world adored him, and that he'd be celebrated in Boston forever. All he did after that was help deliver another title in 2007. You'd think this would count for quite a bit. It does. It did. He's done his best to make us forget.
For, as we all know, he has also taken the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for $68 million in a third-person video game gone south and gotten fired from ESPN for his refusal to stop posting coarse conservative memes on Facebook. As gross as that is, the worst was yet to come. Only now has Schilling hit rock bottom. What's worse than being a literal oversharer? Being a blogger. I'd know!
Yes, Schilling recently dipped his metaphorical fingers back into his metaphorical crayonbox and wrote a nice little story about gun laws following the Orlando attack. I won't get into the politics, but as a writer and editor, Schilling is about as good at crafting prose as I am at pitching to A-Rod (i.e., not good.). He has all the subtlety of an exploding piano. He doesn't do subtle. He never has.
Schilling has always been in-your-face, because he is a troll, first and foremost. Baseball was less an end in itself as a means to that end. When he could throw a fastball, he trolled baseball players and the media, self-mythologizing his pitch chart studies to make him seem like a flame-throwing Greg Maddux. It is never enough that Schilling is doing something. You have to know about it. He needs you to know about it.
As it turns out, neither playing nor covering baseball is the best way to accomplish this. Despite the level to which we -- and I truly mean we, whoever is reading this plus me, and neither the royal nor editorial ‘we' -- engage and immerse ourselves in both sports and politics, it is simply not a common practice. If it is the only thing we talk about, it is only because we've all found each other. Witness:
"One of the great illusions of the sports industry is mass fascination." -- @mattfutterman from "Players." Day-to-day US audience is — Keach Hagey (@keachhagey) May 13, 2016
I saw this tweet last month and still haven't recovered. (Hagey, a media reporter for the WSJ, is a friend of the program and all-around badass.) Four percent. Four percent. In real life, what this means is that if you enjoy sports on a day-to-day basis, you are likely to see one other actual sports fan out of every 25 people you see every day, everywhere, depending on the level of engagement you'd expect in your area at a given time. It's higher in some places and lower in others, but the gist is the same.
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The beautiful thing about the Internet is that it turns these four percent of people into 100 percent of an audience, but it's still just us 16 million or so at any given time. The only people to whom something like Schilling's rolling embarrassment of a post-career life matters are the people who are interested in both sports and politics, and he is standing in the middle of it, begging people to take him on.
Schilling doesn't want just the 4 percent, though. He wants the whole enchilada, and he wants us Red Sox fans either with him or against him. He has made that clear. It's is why he has used the cozy confines of his built-in fan base to make himself louder and more abrasive than ever before. It seems reckless, but his abrasiveness isn't a bug, it's a feature. He wants you to be enthralled or repulsed by him so that he can return the favor. Our responses, this column included, are just oxygen for his lungs and flaming hot takes alike.
The problem is that his takes are trash. They are bad and not good. Schilling needs to get himself an editor and, of course, a job. The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations could sure use the money. Schilling has said previously he wants no sympathy for his predicament, and that he owns his decisions, but the only thing he's owning now is himself. About 4 percent of me actually feels bad for him. But that doesn't count for much.