Astros History

What the Houston Astros missed out on with Curt Schilling

SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 1991: Pitcher Curt Schilling #19 of the Houston Astros pitches during an MLB game in April 1991 against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 1991: Pitcher Curt Schilling #19 of the Houston Astros pitches during an MLB game in April 1991 against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /
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The Houston Astros traded Curt Schilling before he became a Hall of Fame-type player. Here is a trip down memory lane on how he was dealt.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the former Houston Astros on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 2021 induction. I failed to mention the short stint of ex-Astros pitcher Curt Schilling. The towering right-hander only played one season in Houston, but the trade that shipped him off to Philadelphia is something worth dissecting.

On Jan. 10, 1991, the Astros acquired Schilling along with Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch for former All-Star Glenn Davis. Davis would only play three more season in the majors, but Schilling was just getting started. While the ’91 starting rotation consisted of Jim Deshaies, Pete Harnisch, Jimmy Jones, Darryl Kile and Mark Portugal, Schilling was used in a set-up role out of the bullpen. Through 54 games, the right-hander went 3-5 with 34 games finished and eight saves through 75.2 innings. With a 3.81 ERA, the Astros didn’t see much value in their new set-up man and decided to trade Schilling to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jason Grimsley.

Philadelphia is where Schilling’s career took off. In his first season with the Phillies, Schilling moved from the bullpen to the rotation for the first time since 1989. The right=hander was in a new role as a starter and was dealing. Schilling found himself in his first year in the City of Brotherly Love, while having the lowest WHIP in baseball (0.990) along with the lowest hits per 9 innings (6.6).

Grimsley was a starting pitcher, which hints that the Astros weren’t seeing the potential in Schilling. The Astros traded a reliever with a 3.81 ERA for a starter who went 1–7 with a 4.87 ERA in 12 starts in ’91. Grimsley spent the ’92 season in the minors before his release in March 1993. The North Houston Native was gone, and while Schilling was succeeding in Philly, the Astros lost a massive part of their future starting rotation. The right-hander would play until 2006, while bouncing around for a few different teams after being released. Grimsley would finish his career with a 4.77 ERA and 2 World Series rings.

Schilling did hit some road bumps with management, teammates, and opposing players in his career, which many athletes do, but Schilling’s outspoken nature led to broken relationships with a Phillies front office along with issues within the media. His attitude was a defining issue in the clubhouses of Philadelphia, Arizona, and Boston. So, there is a possibility the Astros targeted these issues earlier and traded him away.

The understanding and finding a pitcher’s role will always be a hard issue to solve in baseball, but the earlier you attack and find the best place for a player, the faster production and success will happen. For Schilling, the Astros were not in the right space to rework a rotation and place the right-hander in it, and for all they knew, they probably didn’t see a high success rate in a starting capacity. It wasn’t until the ’97 season that Schilling would make an All-Star roster, and from there, he would make five more All-Star teams, win three World Series, World Series MVP and an ALCS MVP. Curt Schilling would finish second in Cy Young voting three times along with a fourth place finish. The Astros lost out on one of the best pitchers in the late ‘90s to the early 2000s, but if Schilling was never traded, then he might’ve never found his niche as an All-Star starter and possible Hall of Famer.

Schilling is on his ninth year on the ballot and holds the highest percentage of votes (70), while 75 percent gets you into the Hall of Fame.

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