Indeed. Two days ago, I wrote about the former pitcher turned ESPN analyst, who gave a radio interview Sunday in which he said, “For every John Smoltz there’s a Kirby Puckett,” while talking about the character of players in the Hall of Fame. It picked at some old scabs about Puckett’s personal life, and it touched off a lively debate in the comments section — some of which was not particularly kind to Schilling (pictured during spring training this season along with current Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia).
Schilling’s quote was a juicy sound bite and made for a relevant headline, but I tend to not want to stop there if possible. So I sought out Schilling in hopes that he would expand on his larger point, which was that we tend to worship athletes without knowing enough about them. Schilling, who was en route to a family vacation, was kind enough to take my call.
Q Puckett appears to be a name that popped into your head when you were making a larger point, but …
A Listen, the context with which the question was answered is we were talking about (Roger) Clemens and (Barry) Bonds and steroids and the Hall of Fame. The question was, ‘Should the Hall of Fame make a wing for (guys with) bad character?’ And I said that’s a kind of Pandora’s box if you open that. … What people don’t know is that I idolized Kirby Puckett. I loved Kirby Puckett and still love Kirby Puckett. But I have three boys, and the thought that we create unapproachable, mythological figures out of athletes is a challenge for me. Because I see them. I am one of them. I know how many flaws I have. … When you start to talk about the character of people you don’t know, it’s dangerous. I played with guys who the public thought were the greatest human beings ever, and I knew they were scumbags. That’s like any sport.
I know Kirby is no longer with us. … I was devastated when I read that [2003 Sports Illustrated] article. I faced him [in 1990] and it was one of the most memorable at bats of my life. Walter Payton was the same way. Walter Payton has a Man of the Year award named after him. And off the field, would you want your kids being anything like that? But I apologize to the Puckett family. I didn’t mean to offend anybody. I just meant to respond to the question.
Q Do you think – and maybe this is an obvious question – but as someone who was a ballplayer and was around ballplayers, do you assume fans would just rather not know these things about athletes, their heroes?
A Fans want to know until they don’t want to know. It’s the reality TV generation. When was the last time you watched a reality show that shed a really positive, kind light on someone. Nobody watches that. The only show I ever watch because I believe in the humans on it is Duck Dynasty. All the other stuff is, “who has a worse life than me?” People love to find out that people who are quote-unquote more famous than they are are more miserable than they are.
I didn’t for a second intend to offend Kirby’s family. I was in the (group of people) that was just blown away by what came out about him after retirement. Pretty much the same way I was about Walter Payton. … I mean, I get that people might be (upset) with me for bringing it up, but I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t making it up. And again, I never made these comments from a glass house or pedestal. I just made them as observations. People want to say, ‘Oh, as a guy who bankrupted a business …’ well, I’m like, ‘OK, being an entrepreneur and spending $50 million of your own money is somehow a bad thing?’ I did it. I paid for it. It’s my fault. I’m going to live with that until the day I die. … I made mistakes, but my glass house doesn’t have to do with drugs or infidelity or spousal abuse or DUI. That’s not going to come out in some book after I die.