With Schilling in tow, 2004 will be a tell-all season

When I noticed that Curt Schilling, age 37, had been traded to the Boston Red Sox last Saturday night, a series of horrible flashbacks flooded my mind in the form of David Cone, Bret Saberhagen, Dennis Eckersley, John Burkett and Frank Viola. These men were all pitchers acquired by the Red Sox in the twilight of their respective careers, and they were all grossly overpaid, injury-plagued failures.

I suppose the fundamental difference between Schilling and the other moldy leftovers is that Schilling was acquired by a boy genius in Theo Epstein, while the leftovers were captured by Dan Duquette, a man who needs no introduction to Red Sox fans.

But since this isn’t the greater Boston area, I’ll give him a brief introduction that should accurately sum up his current standing and level of respectability in regard to baseball. While Duquette does deserve some credit for convincing Pedro Martinez to play in Boston, he also deserves plenty of blame for signing all of the aforementioned leftovers, as well as all but forcing a reluctant Roger Clemens to leave Boston for two division rivals.

If you add this to the long list of other bonehead moves Duquette has made and consider the fact that Duquette is now out of baseball and pursuing his dream as a thespian of local theater (he last appeared in “Damn Yankees” this summer in Danvers, Mass.), what you have is a fool’s rsum.

Epstein, on the other hand, isn’t even 30 years old, but he’s already being considered among the best GMs in baseball. It was this fact that calmed my fears and ended the continuous train of flashbacks just in time, as I was about to vomit after seeing Frank Viola’s arm detach at the elbow mid curve ball, over and over again.

As soon as I calmed down, I started thinking about guys like Clemens, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan. These guys all pitched very well for their teams beyond the age of 37.

The Red Sox have Schilling through 2006, and have a mutual option for 2007. That means he should have plenty of time to establish legendary status in one of the few ballparks still capable of bestowing that distinction. Of course, for Schilling to be considered legendary, he’ll have to be at least as successful as Clemens, Sutton, Carlton and Ryan.

Clemens is the least distinguished of the group, despite winning 63 games after he turned 37. That comes out to just more than 15 wins a year, which is quite an accomplishment from my point of view.

Sutton won 83 games after he turned 37, including 17 in one season. Carlton was even more successful, having won 67 on the hill once he was over the hill, including 23 games at age 37. The optimist in me likes to think that Schilling will have one of those years in 2004 (his 37th).

But if I had to choose just one pitcher for Schilling to take after, it would be Nolan Ryan. Although Ryan’s yearly win totals weren’t spectacular, his longevity was exactly that. He led the American League in strikeouts at ages 40, 41, 42 and 43. (He had 301 K’s at 42!) Not to mention, he led the league in lowest opponent batting average six times after he turned 37. When all was said and done for Ryan, he had amassed 324 wins, including 105 after the age of 36.

So, needless to say, I have high expectations of Schilling. What’s made these expectations even higher is that the Red Sox could possibly lose Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Trot Nixon and Derek Lowe at the end of next season. So, in my mind, 2004 is THE year.

With Schilling as the No. 2 starter, the Sox have one of the best rotations in baseball to back up one of the best lineups. How can they not win it all?

OK, maybe that’s going a little too far, considering the fact that George Steinbrenner isn’t going to keel over and die (Satan is immortal) and the Yankees will once again be a force. In fact, now that I look back at the stats of these great pitchers, maybe it’s unfair to put that amount of pressure on the man. After all, he is coming into Fenway Park, one of the most unforgiving ballparks in the majors, and he’s a fly ball pitcher. Now that I think about it, he only won eight games last year in Arizona, one of the most forgiving ballparks in the majors. But I guess he was hampered by injury all last year…wait a minute-is Dan Duquette still in the house? What’s going on? I guess we’ll have to wait until April to see if this is another post Bambino bust or if Epstein really is ushering in a new era of Red Sox baseball.

In my opinion, 2004 will be a forecast for a decade of Red Sox fortunes. If the Sox win the World Series behind the arms of Martinez, Schilling and Lowe, the Sox will replace the Yankees as the American League powerhouse. However, if Casey Fossum and Brandon Lyon (two of the four players the Diamondbacks acquired in the Schilling deal) have an improbable battle for the NL Cy Young award, and the Diamondbacks so much as make the playoffs, the Red Sox will never win the World Series, and Steinbrenner will take over the universe before 2010.

However, as a man who has always put his faith in Vegas, I am somewhat satisfied to know that the Red Sox have much better odds of winning the world series this year than the Diamondbacks, and until Casey Fossum implements a much-needed steroid program, he won’t win 10 games, much less a Cy Young Award.

So, fellow Red Sox fans, put your faith in Vegas too, and the universe will remain intact, at least for now.

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