Curt Schilling is beginning his third season as an ESPN baseball analyst, and still, something doesn’t seem quite right whenever he appears on the television screen plunked behind a desk on the set of “Baseball Tonight.’’
It’s not that it’s anything resembling a surprise that he’s a talking head; in essence he’s always been one, even in his playing heyday. A prominent media gig seemed a foregone conclusion long before he ever put away his fastball or pecked out his first blog post.
Maybe it’s that ESPN regulation suit and tie, or the parted hair that looks like it was combed just so by mom for school photo day. Our visual of Schilling is either in his uniform (perhaps accessorized by a bloody sock) or someone else’s. His wardrobe sometimes suggested his closet housed the most eclectic jersey collection this side of Mitchell and Ness.
But while the look is different, the manner is the same. Schilling has opinions as always, he’s being compensated well for them, and he’s sure as heck going to share them.
Even if they lead to justifiable charges of hypocrisy.
Make no mistake, Schilling has often been an asset to ESPN this spring in regard to discussion of the fascinating Red Sox. Having pitched 75 2/3 innings in relief in 1991 without a start, then 226 1/3 innings the following year with 26 starts in 42 appearances, he is wholly qualified to comment on Daniel Bard’s attempt to convert to the rotation. When he says, as he did on “Baseball Tonight’’ March 23, that the Bard situation is “being mismanaged on an epically horrible scale,’’ the words are worthy of serious consideration. Pitching is a subject Schilling knows from firsthand experience, and he’s excellent at articulating his insights.
The hypocrisy comes into play when his opinions shift from the mound to matters within the clubhouse. That’s when his mouth gets him into bigger jams than his arm ever did.
During a segment on WEEI’s “The Mut and Merloni Show’’ this week, Schilling said Bobby Valentine’s approach was already wearing on some members of the team.
“I thought that the manager that managed the Mets that I was not a big fan of was now going to be a different manager, and I don’t think there’s anything different at all,’’ Schilling said. “And I don’t think that that is going to be conducive to doing well here. There’s a lot of things I think that are happening not just from his perspective, but when you talk to these guys - and I’m still talking to some of these guys - I don’t think this is going well. And I think it’s going bad quicker than I expected it to.’’
Regarding Valentine, Schilling also added: “I always - kind of like I felt with Tony La Russa in a sense - I always feel like Bobby’s trying to reinvent the game. I don’t think players have ever responded well to that.’’
Forget that Schilling and Valentine have one huge character trait in common - both lack a filter for their thoughts - or that Schilling is a longtime supporter of former manager Terry Francona, with whom he is reunited at ESPN. The hypocrisy here is blatant: When he was a player, Schilling was a outspoken believer in the tenet that if you’re not in the locker room and a member of the team, you can’t possibly know what is going on with said team, even if plugged-in sources are telling you. Several years ago, he famously ripped former Fox 25 sports anchor and WEEI fill-in host Butch Stearns for suggesting there was a rift with fellow ace Pedro Martinez.
Et tu, Schill? The role changes, and so do the rules?
WEEI’s “The Big Show’’ co-host Michael Holley summed up the situation perfectly on Wednesday’s show: “Curt Schilling has become what he despises.’’
That seemed to be the sentiment of one of his former teammates, too. During an interview with “The Big Show’’ Thursday, Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett was asked about Schilling’s comments.
“I haven’t seen him around this year,’’ he replied. “Is he one of our pitchers?’’
Schilling the player would have loved that retort. He probably would have said it himself.
Now, he’s behind the desk on the other end of it, and it must feel as uncomfortable and unfamiliar as a jacket and tie.
A tip of the cap to the MLB Network for listening to viewer feedback and deciding to air Thursday’s A’s-Mariners game live rather than on tape delay, as it had done for Wednesday’s regular-season opener between the teams in Japan. Because the first pitch of the season was delivered at 6 a.m. Eastern time - or 3 a.m. Pacific for the home fans of the teams playing - the network chose to air the game on delay at 9 a.m. Eastern. Because the MLB Network received backlash from fans annoyed that the first game of the season would be tape-delayed, it changed its approach Thursday, showing the second game at 5 a.m. Eastern and immediately rebroadcasting it after the final out . . . Comcast SportsNet New England’s “The Baseball Show’’ will make its season debut April 7 at 9 a.m. Bob Neumeier is back as host, and he will be joined by Lou Merloni, Dan Shaughnessy, Sean McAdam, and Jess Moran . . . In-game reporter Jenny Dell isn’t the only addition to NESN’s Red Sox coverage this season. A new wireless camera will showcase the game and the ballpark during its 100th anniversary. And there will also be in-game dugout interviews with Valentine . . . The MLB Network has added Mike Sweeney to its lineup of studio analysts. Long regarded as one of baseball’s nice guys, he hit 215 home runs in 16 seasons, mostly with the Royals. Around here, we know better than to confuse him with Mark Sweeney, the pride of Holliston and the University of Maine, who put in 14 big-league seasons himself. He’s also moved into a media career - he was hired as the primary studio analyst on Fox Sports San Diego’s Padres broadcasts earlier this month.