Bloody sock is stuff of legend

The Baltimore Sun

It has been 2 1/2 years and we're still talking about Curt Schilling's bloody sock, which - I think - qualifies it as a legitimate baseball legend.

The fact that we are wondering again whether Schilling delivered the ultimate tough-guy performance or pulled off the ultimate act of self-promotion during the 2004 postseason in which the Boston Red Sox ended the 86-year "Curse of the Bambino" is simply a testament to the myth-friendly nature of the sport.

Funny how everything in baseball somehow comes full circle. Schilling's strange ankle injury became the most intriguing subplot of a postseason that conjured up the ghost of Babe Ruth, who may - or may not - have perpetrated one of the greatest public relations stunts in baseball history.

His famous "Called Shot" in the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field has been debated for generations. He supposedly pointed to center field to indicate where he was going to hit the next pitch, then slammed a mammoth home run off Chicago Cubs pitcher Charley Root.

In the immediate aftermath of the game, only one newspaper made reference to the incident and Ruth was slow to confirm that version of the story, but as the legend grew over the next 15 years, baseball's all-time showman embraced it and embellished it, and it became a truly wonderful piece of baseball lore.

Newsreel footage of the game seems to support the notion that Ruth was simply gesticulating at Root and the Cubs' mouthy bench, but why let the facts get in the way of a good story? Ruth was larger than life, so his accomplishments are now viewed through the same oversized prism. I've got absolutely no problem with that.

If you do, let me ask you this: Would you rather live in the fairy tale world where the Babe called that shot, or the real world where many of today's sports stars are more famous for shooting up.

I'll take the fairy tale every time.

When Mid-Atlantic Sports Network announcer Gary Thorne said on the air Wednesday night that Schilling's famous hosiery was stained with paint and not blood, Schilling and the Red Sox reacted - quite predictably - as if he had opened an old wound.

The situation was made more uncomfortable by Thorne's hotly disputed on-air claim that current Red Sox reserve catcher Doug Mirabelli had supplied the damning information, which prompted a late-night attempt by Red Sox officials to get Thorne to retract his comment.

I totally understand how the Red Sox feel, and yet the same thought keeps popping into my mind:

I wish all of baseball's controversies were this much fun.

Maybe I'm just jaded, but I don't really care if Schilling added a little color to his bloody sock to make it more visible on television. I'm not saying he did or didn't. I'm saying that it works for me either way.

If he pitched with all that blood and pain (and I know there was some blood and pain because I saw Schilling's ankle uncovered in the clubhouse a few days later), then he's a tough guy who went above and beyond to help the Red Sox end nearly nine decades of frustration.

And if he was pitching on a sore, bloody ankle and decided to make sure that it didn't go unnoticed, then he's guilty of making the 2004 postseason just that much more dramatic and entertaining and, well, I'd like to thank him on behalf of all of us who think Major League Baseball could use a new coat of paint once in a while.

Maybe this is a subtle distinction, but there is a difference between fraud and showmanship. We all know what fraud looks like, and it usually comes via FedEx or UPS from some rogue pharmacy. Showmanship doesn't change the competitive balance on the field. It simply recognizes that professional sports are about competition and entertainment.

The Babe understood that instinctively. So did Muhammad Ali.

I don't know about Schilling, but I do know this: Whether it was blood and guts or smoke and mirrors, he put on a hell of a show.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad