Perfect friendship is the
The prologue to a perfect friendship occurred on July 12, 1999, in the visitors' clubhouse of Fenway Park in Boston. In the 11 years since they broke into the big leagues just eight days apart, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, like travelers to the same destination but with different itineraries, had never met. The only two active National League pitchers at that time to have struck out 300 batters in a season found themselves, on the eve of the All-Star Game, with lockers near each other in the NL clubhouse. Schilling, then with the Philadelphia Phillies, introduced himself by extending a hand, though his greeting then departed from the norm: His hand continued into Johnson's locker, where Schilling—whose affection for collecting encompasses model trains, Civil War artifacts and baseball memorabilia—grabbed one of Johnson's All-Star uniform shirts.
Johnson does not recall exactly what Schilling said then, but it was something along the lines of someone eyeing a slice of pizza on his kid brother's plate and asking, "You gonna eat that?" Johnson did not object a bit, recalling now in amusement that "I didn't mind, but it was nothing I would have thought of doing."
As introductions go, it was more effective than one of those HI, MY NAME IS...CURT stickers. Schilling always has been a man without a mute button. In a mall in 1990, when he was pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, he spied a cute production assistant for the team's cable telecasts and asked, "How about you and your friends get together with me and my friends? I'll buy the beers."
It worked. The production assistant turned out to be his future wife. "Someone's buying?" Shonda Schilling says. "I was 22 years old. What else are you looking for?"
One year and two weeks after Schilling and Johnson met in Boston, they became teammates for real when the Phillies traded Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks for four players. Johnson, lefthanded, serious and reserved, seemed the polar opposite of the extroverted righty. Even simply standing side by side they resemble the number 10—the 6'10" Johnson, long and lean, and the 6'4" Schilling, with the rounded chassis of an old DeSoto. "It's not a body," Schilling says. "It's a cruel family joke."
What happened between them, though, was an immediate mortise-and-tenon fit. Each strengthened the other. They connected through similar experiences. The language of friendship, Thoreau wrote, is not words, but meanings; it is an intelligence above language. In this case Johnson and Schilling knew the meaning of early struggles ( Johnson, now 38, was 49-48 until the season in which he turned 30; Schilling, 35, was 52-52), followed by the exhausting heavy lifting that comes with being the ace of a thin staff. They knew, too, how the voices of their fathers, seemingly clearer from the graves, pushed them.
And they knew how golf could stoke their jones for competition when they were not on the mound. It was on a tee box in spring training this year that Schilling took dead aim at the Cy Young Award, which Johnson had won two years running. "I'm going to take it from you," he told Johnson. "Either you're going to win it again, or I'm going to take it from you." Schilling smiled, but he wasn't kidding.
Again, Johnson: "It's nothing I would have said. I didn't mind. It's just that I'm all business. I know what I'm trying to accomplish, and I don't let anything or anybody get in my way."
Late last month at the Camelback Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., Schilling and Johnson stood on another tee box, the latest in their series of friendly grudge matches tied after five holes. "The way this year has gone," Schilling said, "we'll probably end up tied after 18 holes."