The Phillies have a unique history when it comes to retiring numbers
Retiring a number in any sport is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a player, and in 138 seasons of Phillies baseball, only six players have had their number hung up for good.
Philadelphia has an unofficial rule that’s stood for years that only players who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame can have their numbers retired. Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn, Roy Halladay, and Jim Bunning have each been bestowed that honor, but they could be joined by others in the near future.
Arguments have been made to break the rule for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard should they not make it to Cooperstown, but their achievements in Philadelphia arguably outmatch those of Halladay and Bunning.
But the Phillies will be faced with other difficult and possibly awkward decisions in the near future with a flood of former Phillies (other than the aforementioned ’08 core) contending for a place in the Hall of Fame.
The next likely Phillie to get into the Hall of Fame via the writer’s ballot is Curt Schilling, who spent 9 of his 20 seasons with Philadelphia.
If Schilling is elected to the Hall of Fame, should the Phillies retire number 38?
While Schilling spent parts of nine seasons with the Phillies, the most time he spent with any team in his career. After eight years of injuries and stints in the bullpen with multiple teams, Schilling broke through late with the Phillies and did a lot more damage with other teams.
Schilling won 216 games with the Phillies, Astros, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Orioles, 101 of which came as a Phillie. That’s nearly twice as many wins as he had in Boston and Arizona where he had his most dominant seasons.
You could argue that Schilling only had three or four “great” seasons with the Phillies: 1992 and ’96-’99. Some years he won a lot of games with a high ERA, other years it was the opposite, and only a few times did those numbers come together. Granted, Schilling pitched for some bad Phillies teams in the late 90s under Jim Fregosi and Terry Francona.
Schilling also never won a major award with the Phillies, finishing fourth in the Cy Young race in 1997 and never getting a vote any other year. Elsewhere he’d have three runner-up finishes with Arizona and Boston.
Schmidt, Carlton, Halladay each won either an MVP or Cy Young, and Roberts won a Major League Player of the Year award with the Phillies. Schilling, Bunning, and Ashburn didn’t win major awards, but they were each multi-time All-Stars selections with Philadelphia.
Ashburn was once the team’s all-time hits leader and Bunning threw the first perfect game in team history.
Schilling is also not among the franchise leaders in any pitching categories, granted Carlton steals the thunder for most players with 10 noteworthy records for Phillies pitchers.
Schilling is fifth in WAR, seventh in wins, and fifth in strikeouts among all pitchers in team history. It’s worth noting that Cole Hamels has better numbers than Schilling in each of those categories and has two no-hitters and a World Series ring/MVP to his name.
Can you rightfully retire Schilling’s number and not Hamels, even if Hamels doesn’t make it to the Hall of Fame? At 36 years old Hamels is 37 wins away from 200 and 442 strikeouts away from 3,000. This shortened season won’t do his career many favors and he’s likely three really good seasons away from pushing for a Hall of Fame candidacy.
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And unlike Hamels, Rollins, Utley, and Howard the Phillies haven’t kept Schilling’s number waiting for him. Five players (Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Bailey, Chad Billingsley, Kyle Kendrick, Tim Worrell) have worn it since Schilling left in 2000. They really didn’t put the number on ice or save it for a great player.
In all fairness to Schilling, his numbers in Philadelphia are better than Bunning and Halladay’s. Their times with the Phillies were short but they had memorable moments with no-hitters, perfect games, and postseason dominance. Schilling, to no fault of his own at times, did not. He blew game one of the 1993 World Series in an 8-5 loss that could have changed franchise history.
You can argue that Schilling had a very good career in Philadelphia, but he really didn’t become the Hall of Fame-caliber player he’s known to be until after he left. Is Schilling even remembered as a Phillie in baseball, or do people harken back to his time in Boston and Arizona where he won championships? Jim Thome had two great years with the Phillies and is more beloved than Schilling here, but his number wasn’t retired when he was elected to Cooperstown.
It’ll be one of the tougher decisions made by the team ownership and the toughest number retirement argument since Del Ennis when his family begged the team to retire his number before his death in 1996.
Schilling might have number retirement cases in Arizona and Boston as well, but when it comes to Philadelphia, Schilling might be left out.