RIP to Chuck Schilling, a slick-fielding second baseman who played for five seasons in the 1960s. He died on March 30 at the age of 83. He was living in West Chester, Pa., at the time of his death. Schilling played for the Boston Red Sox from 1961 until 1965.
Charles Thomas Schilling was born in October 25, 1937, in Brooklyn. After attending St. Mary’s High School and Manhattan College, Schilling signed as an amateur free agent with the Boston Red Sox in late 1958. Red Sox scout Frank “Bots” Nekola signed Schilling after his junior year at Manhattan College, when he was selected to the New York Metropolitan All-Star Team.
The Sox beat several other teams to the punch, and after his rookie season in 1959, it was easy to see why they were all interested in him. In 95 games with the Class-D Alpine (Texas) Cowboys of the Sophomore League, Schilling demolished pitching, to the tune of a .340/.443/.572 slash line. He homered 13 times and knocked 34 doubles as well, driving in 90 runs. Schilling played at three different minor-league levels for the Red Sox that year, advancing all the way up to AAA Minneapolis by the end of the season. He played 4 games for the Millers as an audition to see if he would join the playoff-bound team for its postseason run.
“[Alpine manager] Eddie Popowski tells me Chuck can play Triple A ball right now,” said Minneapolis manager Gene Mauch, “and I trust Eddie’s word. I know the kid is a good enough fielder. We’ll pop him right into the lineup.” Schilling hit .200 in his audition and didn’t make the postseason roster, but he joined the Millers in 1960 as their starting second baseman. The Millers, managed by Popowski, finished at 82-72, but there was a lot of rookie talent on that team. There was Carl Yastrzemski in left field, hard-hitting catchers in Bob Tillman and Don Gile, and a pitching staff that included Tracy Stallard, Galen Cisco and Dick Radatz. Schilling was one of the top infield prospects in the Boston organization, and he hit as well in Minneapolis as he did in the lower minors. His power largely disappeared, but he batted .314 with 30 doubles and 86 runs scored. His fielding at second base was very advanced for a 22-year-old in his second season of pro ball, too.
The Red Sox utilized some of that rookie talent to start a youth movement in 1961, with two young Long Islanders ending up in the Opening Day lineup. Yastrzemski was named the starting left fielder, and Schilling was the leadoff hitter and second basemen. “When they announced the official lineups and I heard my name, I sort of shivered and it wasn’t part of the cold weather,” he said. “I knew I was going to start, but the public announcer made it official. Ever since we arrived in Boston Sunday night I’ve been in sort of a dream world. The loudspeaker let me know it wasn’t a dream, but a fact.”
(Yastrzemski and Schilling were minor-league roommates and good friends during their playing careers, and Yaz is the godfather of Schilling’s daughter, Kristen.)
Schilling went 2-for-4 with a walk in his major-league debut, beating out a bunt against Kansas City Athletics pitcher Ray Herbert for his first hit. Schilling held tight to his spot all season long, playing in 158 games and leading all of baseball with 738 plate appearances. He made a strong run at the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and performances like an August 2 doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels didn’t hurt. He only had 2 hits in 8 appearances that day, but one hit started an eighth-inning rally that led to a 7-2 Red Sox win. The other hit was a home run — one of 5 he hit on the season — in the nightcap that broke a tie and gave the Red Sox an 8-7 victory.
For the year, Schilling slashed .259/.340/.327 and scored 87 times while driving in 62 runs. He walked 78 times and struck out 77, and his fielding at second base was well above average — he committed just 8 errors for a .991 fielding percentage and turned 121 double plays. The Rookie of the Year Award did go to a Red Sox player, but it was pitcher Don Schwall, who won 15 games. Schilling finished in a tie for third place. However, the Boston Baseball Writers Association named him the team’s MVP. He was the first rookie to ever receive the honor.
Schilling’s play at second base made a believer out of manager Mike Higgins. The first time he saw Schilling in 1960, the rookie had just gotten out of a stint in the Army was was still recovering from a nasty flu. “When I first saw Schilling last year I was sick,” Higgins said. “He looked like something the cat dragged in and I went to sleep that night feeling terrible. That’s my second baseman, I thought.
“Bobby Doerr in his best day could not make a double play like Schilling,” the manager continued. “There aren’t any who could or can, make it like he does.”
Schilling continued to be a whiz at second base, but his hitting took a step backward. He hit 7 home runs, but his batting average dropped to .230. He also lost his patience at the plate, with a .286 on-base percentage. He broke his hand after being hit by a pitch in June and missed about a month’s worth of games. He was healthy in 1963, but his hitting didn’t improve much. He batted .234 while hitting a career-best 8 home runs and 25 doubles.
Schilling graduated from Manhattan College in June of 1963 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He missed his graduation ceremony on June 11 but celebrated by scoring the go-ahead run in the 15th inning, as the Red Sox beat Detroit 7-3. He also doubled and scored the first Red Sox run in the game. At the time, Schilling was flirting with a .300 batting average and at one point had been among the league leaders in hitting. From August 22 through September 22 however, Schilling had just 10 hits for a .120 batting average, sinking what had been a fine season otherwise.
Red Sox manager Johnny Pesky (Higgins had been moved to the general manager role) grew tired of a lack of offense at second base and moved Schilling to a backup role in 1964. Dalton Jones didn’t have Schilling’s ability at second base, but he hit slightly better. Schilling hit .196 in a bench role that season and .240 in 1965. He played in 71 games in ’65, with 31 of the appearances as a pinch-hitter. Felix Mantilla took over the second baseman’s job, and while he couldn’t field well, he had much better power.
Schilling and Russ Nixon were traded to the Minnesota Twins on April 6, 1966, for Dick Stigman and Jose Calero. Schilling had played well in the past in Minneapolis with the Millers, and he was glad to be away from Boston. “When you sit on the bench for three seasons it’s natural that your feelings toward the manager and the front office aren’t what they should be,” he said. “Sitting on the bench doesn’t do much for your confidence. The solution was for me to either play every day or get traded.”
Schilling never played a major-league game with the Twins, despite being on their roster for the first few weeks of the season. He was optioned to AAA Denver when the rosters were trimmed to 25 players. Instead, Schilling elected to retire from baseball and pursue a job outside of the game at the age of 27.
In 5 seasons, Schilling had a slash line of .239/.304/.317, with 470 hits that included 76 doubles, 1 triple and 23 RBIs. He had 146 RBIs and scored 230 runs. He also had a .985 fielding percentage at second base and took part in 322 double plays.
Schilling worked as an engineer before becoming a math teacher at Selden Jr. High School on Long Island. He didn’t hold any regrets from his decision to walk away from the game. “I didn’t have to play ball like a lot of players,” he said in a 1983 interview. “It was a tough decision, perhaps the toughest I ever had to make, but I didn’t want to knock around the minor leagues. I… didn’t want to put my family through the hopping around of minor leagues.”
Schilling taught middle school math for 20 years before his retirement. He was an avid gardener and golfer in the years since. He was husband to Katherine Schilling and the father of six children.
For more information: Donohue Funeral Home