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Tim Cahill: Curt Schilling and the Sins of Success

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


As I drove into work last week, listening to Curt Schilling getting pummeled by callers on WEEI radio, I was reminded of the speech Theodore Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in Paris over a century ago: "It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better."

The critics were having a field day, accusing Curt of everything short of the Isabella Steward Gardiner Museum art heist. And what was it that he did that brought him such criticism?

Well, I guess Curt's first sin was that he was one of the most successful pitchers' of his time. As a top of the rotation pitcher for almost two decades for the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox, he won over two hundred games, and pitched three teams to World Series championships. Some people appreciate success and understand all of the hard work and sacrifice that goes into performing at the top in your chosen field.

But the critics, be they the press or just regular fans, seem to resent the attention and money showered on the successful. Whether it's jealousy or envy, people cannot seem to wait to jump on a famous, accomplished individual every time they stumble. If the 2004 Boston Red Sox had not rallied late to pull out victories in games four and five in the ALCS against the New York Yankees, Curt Schilling would never have been remembered for the "bloody sock" but instead for getting bombed earlier in the series.

Instead of being the hero of the first Red Sox championship in 86 years, he would have been remembered as the goat; who choked on the biggest of stages and whose early season boasts of beating the Yankees rang hollow. He got his second chance and made good on his earlier promise to "shut up 55,000 New Yorkers." As Roosevelt said, "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face(or in this case sock)is marred by the dust and sweat and blood."

Curt's second sin was publicly announcing his Republicanism and endorsing George Bush after the 2004 World Series against favorite-son, John Kerry. As Bruins' goalie Tim Thomas has learned recently, Boston fans do not like mixing their sports with politics. And extra runs are tacked on to your ERA by members of the media if you happen to be supportive of a more conservative style of governing here in this liberal-leaning region of the country. The minute Curt Schilling's video-game enterprise applied for and received tax breaks for relocating his business to Rhode Island, he came under public ridicule for political hypocrisy. I do not ever remember the CEO of Evergreen Solar coming under such criticism.

As a politician, I was rarely in favor of the government handing out subsidies, be they grants or tax breaks to private businesses. I believed that it was not governments' role or expertise to pick winners and losers in the private sector. Yet if that is a government policy, as it is in many states, why is Curt Schilling being attacked for taking advantage of it? That is what enterprising entrepreneurs do: take advantage of opportunities to grow their business. Should not matter what political party they belong to.

Third and finally, Curt Schilling is being raked over the coals because he tried to succeed at something other than baseball. Critics, who already cannot stand your success in one field, will be damned to see you win again and become even richer and more successful. After all, most have already labeled you a "dumb jock." Being smart enough to succeed outside the white lines means upsetting their narrative. Roosevelt himself experienced the same backlash when he turned his back on the Republican Party that had once nominated him for president and ran as a third-party candidate in 1912.

If Theodore Roosevelt were alive last week, he might have been motivated to call into WEEI last week. He would not have berated Curt Schilling as the critics were doing, but praised him instead as someone "who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again...who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."


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