In today’s Sunday Business section of the New York Times, Matt Bai writes a great article about Curt Schilling and his failed video game company. What is made clear in the piece is how blinded those who were involved in this failed entrepreneurship/business partnership were to the obvious realities behind it.
The issues that surrounded Schilling throughout his career have extended to his post-career endeavors. The main difference is, back then, it didn’t really affect anyone other than himself and it didn’t harm his teams all that much. He was a great pitcher and if he pitched, the other stuff was shrugged away.
Schilling played for five teams in his career and took a long time to establish himself. In every stop, there was eye-rolling at head-shaking at Schilling the person and his overt theatrics even as he accumulated respect for his abilities, post-season success and willingness to pitch through pain. When he played with the Diamondbacks, there was an uncomfortableness bordering on hate between Schilling and his fellow ace and Cy Young Award contender Randy Johnson. With most teams, it would be construed as jealousy, but with Schilling it wasn’t a unique phenomenon. It was obvious why Schilling would clash with Johnson when Johnson never hid who he really was: a curmudgeonly star who would be happiest if the media never came near him. Schilling, on the other hand, was almost chameleon-like in his personality.
This was a hallmark for his career.
The teammates who considered themselves “real people” like Mitch Williams, thought Schilling was a phony and relentless self-promoter doing things to garner attention. There was a “Will this be cool?” aspect to Schilling that’s indicative of a lack of definition in who he was and what he believed. Like a teenager whose brain hasn’t fully grown and is fighting through puberty, Schilling’s personality was flexible and he never appeared to have evolved into a complete person on its own merit. There’s a constant concern about perception and eventually the line becomes blurred with the cause of something a person is doing and the effect.
“Oh, not many people are willing to be open, hard-core conservatives? I’ll stump for Republican candidates and make clear my political affiliation.”
“What? Nobody pitches complete games anymore? Watch me pitch complete games.”
“Ballplayers are unable to make the transition from athlete to business without losing all their money? I’ll become Bill Gates-rich.”
Most of the quotes are designed to encapsulate my view of Schilling’s thinking except for the words, “Bill Gates-rich.” He actually said that.
It’s a window into his mind that he really believed that his video game company could achieve that level of inexplicable wealth when, for 99.9% of the world’s population, the money Schilling had accumulated as a player as well as the extras ballplayers get for endorsements, broadcasting, autograph shows and whatever would have been more than enough to support them and several generations after them. It’s an egotistical need that was being fed and, in turn, wound up devouring him, his money, and his reputation.
Was there an intentional decision on Schilling’s part to take the loans from Rhode Island and blow it all with nothing to show for it but lawsuits, contretemps and humiliation? Doubtful. But it’s disturbing and telling that he felt the state should have given him more money to prop up the business.
In a similar vein, I don’t think there was any intention on the part of former governor of Rhode Island Donald Carcieri to waste that money by giving it to Schilling. Schilling has accused the current governor, Lincoln Chafee, of intentionally sabotaging his video game business. I don’t think it was any of that. I think that each party was using what benefited himself and his vision for what would further his own interests. Schilling had absurdly ambitious plans and the belief that he’d bull his way through to achieve them without the experience and ability to do so; Carcieri wanted to create jobs to help the flagging economy in his state; Chafee jammed the spigot into the money flow before the investment grew more red than it already was.
What led to this were the mistakes made due to political calculations, desperate agendas, and a starstruck reaction to Schilling’s enthusiasm and name-recognition.
Schilling’s intentions were legitimate, but who would think it’s a good idea to hand him $75 million based on a vague business plan and grandiose statements backed up by his status as a borderline Hall of Fame baseball player? If Jimmy O’Brien from Boston showed up and tried to extract that money from the governor of Rhode Island, he wouldn’t even receive a reply. That’s how ridiculous it was. Since it was Schilling, he got the money.
Had Schilling chosen to lure a series of professionals—CEOs, CFOs, gaming executives—to assist him in allocating that money and creating a viable company, it could have worked with Schilling lending that same star power he used to get the money to selling it rather than running it. But Schilling decided to play big businessman and lost everything he had as well as a massive chunk of Rhode Island’s dwindling cash.
Because his intentions weren’t nefarious doesn’t make it much better than if he just walked in, scammed them, took the money and left because it’s the exact same result.