Schilling's prodigious appetite for life, undiminished since he arrived in the big leagues almost a decade ago, has just been funneled into more constructive areas. Though he makes a lot more money now, he rarely bathes with it. And though no member of his family has ever had ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, he has earned a reputation in the Philadelphia area as a tireless supporter of the fight against that disease. Why the interest? "I met a guy named Dick Bergeron who had been diagnosed with ALS; six months later I saw him again, and he couldn't walk," says Schilling. "I started thinking, What if that was my child or my wife, and I never got off my ass and did anything to help? How could I live with myself?"
When Shonda gave birth to their first child in May 1995, the Schillings named him Gehrig, a tribute, they say, to every ALS patient they've ever met. Curt believes the birth of his son changed his life, filling a void that had been left seven years earlier when his father, Cliff, died, virtually in his arms. Cliff, who spent 22 years as an enlisted man in the Army, was already battling a brain tumor when he suffered an aortic aneurysm while at home with Curt in January 1988. "It sounds weird, but we stayed up late that night just talking about baseball, life, everything," says Curt. "He said things to me that a father thinks but doesn't usually say. I remember him saying how he knew I was going to make it to the big leagues. That was the last night of his life."
On Sept. 7, 1988, eight months after Cliff died at age 55, his only son made it to the big leagues with the Orioles, but Curt admits that his focus on baseball and his family ties were not as strong then as when his dad was alive. Curt still talks to his mother, Mary, who lives in Colorado, but not often. "My father was the glue that held us together," says Curt. "When he died, I kind of lost my whole family." Because his head was in the clouds and his heart was not in the game, he bounced from Baltimore to the Houston Astros to Philadelphia before finally establishing himself as a solid starter in '92.
A decade later Schilling not only is one of the top pitchers in baseball, but he's also got a family again. Along with Gehrig, he and Shonda have an eight-month-old daughter, Gabriel-la, who would have been named Ruth if Dad had gotten his way.
Despite his powerful arm, Schilling was never considered a can't-miss prospect and was traded three times before his first full season. In his first 100 big league appearances he had only four wins and 11 saves, quickly earning a reputation as a talented flake with a blue streak for a fastball and that blue streak in his hair. In 1990, during his first extended stay with the Orioles, Schilling got a loud and long overdue wake-up call from his manager, Frank Robinson. Says Schilling, "I walk in, I got the earring and half my head shaved, a blue streak dyed in it. He says, 'Sit down,' and then just cocks his head and stares at me for a while. Finally, he says, 'What's wrong with you, son?' I just sit there and act dumb and say, 'Huh? What do you mean?'"
While few people could match young Schilling's knack for looking and acting dumb, it was, for the most part, just an act. Unlike so many young players of his generation, he was fully aware of the legend across the manager's desk. "I mean, this was Frank Robinson," says Schilling. "He said to me, 'First of all, you don't throw an inning for me until that earring is gone. Second, when you get to the park tomorrow, I expect your hair to look professional.' That was it for me—no more earring, no Mohawk."
Seven years, three teams and a lot of growing up later, a friendly mob greeted Schilling at the Cleveland airport when he arrived for the 1997 All-Star Game. He had already refused to accept the trade to the Indians, but for three days Cleveland fans romanced Schilling, culminating with a standing ovation during the pregame introductions. The fanfare was nice, but Schilling got a bigger thrill when he bumped into his old manager at Jacobs Field and Robinson asked for an autograph. "I had a feeling the kid would come around," says Robinson, now an executive with the Arizona Fall League. "He wasn't a bad kid. He just wanted to be noticed."
Against Robinson's objections, Roland Hemond, then Baltimore's general manager, sent Schilling, outfielder Steve Finley and righthander Pete Harnisch to Houston for slugger Glenn Davis in January 1991. The trade remains Hemond's personal Rottweiler tattoo. "My exact words were 'anybody else but Schilling; " says Robinson. "Obviously they didn't listen."
Schilling lasted just one season with the Astros, bouncing from closer to setup man and even spending a month at Triple A Tucson. After the season he stayed in Houston to work out or, rather, to pretend to. One day in the weight room he was confronted by another hard-throwing righthander who thought Schilling was embarrassing their fraternity. "I was kind of faking my way through a workout, and Roger Clemens was in there, picking up and putting down every weight in the room," says Schilling. "So Gene Coleman, our strength coach, walks over and says, 'Roger wants to talk to you.' I'm thinking, Hey, cool, he's one of my heroes, and he wants to say hi. But for the next hour, he just railed at me. He said I was wasting ray career, and I was cheating the game. You know what'? He was right, it got through to me. 1 went to spring training with a new attitude."
He also went into the season with a new team. On the last weekend of spring training in 1992, the Astros, unconvinced that Schilling was about to break out, traded him to the Phillies for righthander Jason Grimsley. Pitching for the last-place team in the National League East, Schilling went 14-11 with a 2.35 ERA and held opponents to a .201 batting average, lowest in the majors. He had 10 complete games and four shutouts in only 26 starts, and he came away certain that he could be an ace. "I finally realized that my father was right, that I could be as good as I wanted to be," he says.