Calvin Schiraldi: Sportsman

Frankly, MLB Network’s special 25th Anniversary commemoration of the 1986 World Series which premiered last night, could have been 7 long highlight “packages” with only my friend Bob Costas merely introducing them, and I would’ve enjoyed it.

But something unexpected happened. The players who joined Costas and Tom Verducci were Mookie Wilson of the Mets, and Bruce Hurst and Calvin Schiraldi of the Red Sox. Wilson has long been a source of reflective information on the dramatic series between the Mets and Red Sox.

Hurst proved himself erudite and frank – just as he was as a player, who was never an “easy” interview but always an insightful one. Several times he responded – reluctantly but bluntly – to particularly outlandish and unsupported comments about his teammates from 1986 Red Sox manager John McNamara, who seems to have settled in to an emeritus stage devoted to blaming the players for his erratic managing, especially during Game 6.

Costas, Wilson, Hurst, and Verducci were fine. But Schiraldi was a revelation.

He, of course, was the star-crossed Boston closer, former college teammate of Roger Clemens, and an ex-Met prospect all too familiar to his old teammates, who had struggled in the ’86 A.L. Championship Series and managed to help give back a World Series win though he retired the first two men, and had two strikes on the third, in the bottom of the final inning. It is nearly almost literally true that the last time Schiraldi was heard from publicly, he was staggering off the field at Shea Stadium, a 24-year old with his future behind him. He had seemed, at best, far from confident, and, at worst, shattered. Schiraldi would be exiled to the Cubs in 1988 and would be out of the majors in 1991.

For the first hour or so of the program Schiraldi, his once-boyish face now covered in a graying beard, wearing a strange sweatshirt and clashing with the impeccably dressed Hurst, seemed terse to the point of embarrassment. There was a kind of cringe factor growing as the game-by-game recollection of the Series moved inevitably towards his nightmare in Game 6.

But this time, Calvin Schiraldi starred.

He revealed that before Dave Henderson’s homer gave the Red Sox the lead in the top of the 10th Inning, he had been told that he had pitched to his last batter, that somebody else would throw the bottom of the presumably still-tied frame. He didn’t say it until provoked, but anybody who has ever played sports, or covered them closely, or just experienced a high-adrenaline environment, suddenly understood what happened. Having thrown two innings in the tensest environment possible, Schiraldi had been told to gear down, that he was “done.”

This is, of course, the moment during the horror film where you the viewer think the carnage is over and you’ve survived – the “placing the flowers on Carrie’s grave” moment, just before her hand shoots out of the ground to claim you. Physiologists will tell you it is not a purely psychological phenomenon. The energy and the adrenaline abate. And when it turns out Carrie is reaching out – or the manager says “Calvin, now we’ve got a two-run lead, go back out there and wrap this up” – when you reach for that energy, it’s not there – and you are on your own, and on your own against Carrie.

The show’s insight could’ve ended there with Schiraldi giving an explanation (but not an excuse) for what happened during the last 0.2 of the 2.2 innings he pitched that night. But then came something transcendent. He was asked how he felt now about the game and the series and he, presumably unknowingly, defined the true value of sports.

Schiraldi said he was obviously unhappy at the outcome of the game and the series, but he would not change the experience if it meant changing who that night made him become. That’s when Schiraldi revealed the meaning of his unusual sweatshirt. For more than a decade he’s been the baseball coach – and a teacher – at St Michael’s Catholic Academy in Austin. And the things he learned in the majors, particularly in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, have formed the core of his value and coaching systems.

He’s used that inning to teach kids about sports – and life.

Calvin Schiraldi (L) with Bruce Hurst on MLB Network's 1986 World Series Special

You have to hear him say it, to truly appreciate it. The MLB retrospective on the ’86 Series runs again tomorrow and Sunday afternoons at 1 PM ET. Find a way to watch, because 25 years later, Schiraldi has had an impact that merely getting the last out could never have afforded him.

13 Comments

This post is another reason why I miss getting MLB Network on my cable package. Sadly I just couldn’t afford it anymore. It was the only channel I watched from November to April and specials like this are the reason why. 1986 was the first year I became a baseball fan and back then my family didn’t even own a TV. But somehow Fate deemed that I was able to watch Game 6 of the 1986 World Series at my grandparents’. I was briefly a Red Sox fan (like Babe Ruth I switched teams– comparison ends there) and that night I broke the rule of no crying in baseball (in retrospect I was more of a Roger Clemens fan than Red Sox fan). But names like Schiraldi and Hurst and Oil Can Boyd sort of have a special meaning for me, like Vin Scully’s voice, all on account of 1986. And when I watch the Mets on SNY I do some major revisionist history of my life because Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling (along with Bobby Ojeda) are like childhood heroes. Though the game is great in 2011 (better than the steroids years right around the corner in 1986) there was something more essential about baseball in the mid-1980s. Everybody talked about Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Even in the one horse town (actually, plenty of horses– not enough humans) I grew up in, my elementary school library had a huge poster of Dwight Gooden next to the door. Anyhow, I had already watched the “Greatest Games” special with Buckner and Mookie, and it’s interesting how “goats” like Buckner, Pedro (2003) and Alex Gonzalez (2004) are willing to come on MLB Network and tell their story.

Oops, Alex Gonzalez– 2003 as well.

As a former player under Schiraldi at St. Michael’s I have to say he loves teaching the importance of education to all students. That was always his first priority. On the baseball field he is intense and passionate about playing the game of baseball the way it is supposed to be played. I am grateful that he was my coach.

I will find a repeat broadcast and watch it. Having taught Catholic school for many years, I know what kind of love one must have to do that. I started at $350. a month. I am very proud that there are great people being everything they were meant to be! Thanks for letting us know to watch. Sunny days!

Wow! Keith, it was everything you said and a bag of chips. I got the hell out of church as fast as I could, only to encounter an old pal I adore and a woman who chastised us for talking out loud after Mass. I must defect from the cathedral soon. I got home fifteen minutes into the broadcast…and fixed lunch during the commercials. I was so moved by all three of those guys interviewed. I had heard of Mookie…but what a joy to really hear him! Bruce was just grand too, still not wanting to step on any toes with the finger controversy. And boy, did Costas investigate that finger! I was thrilled to be able to attend the 1986 World Series, even though I was 25 years late and had to go via TV. It was still magic! I saw what you meant about Calvin…that you really had to hear him say it, to truly appreciate it. What humility and pause. What grace and dignity. What a life well lived…what a hero! Truly, it is not whether you win or lose…but this guy proves it is how one plays the game…a game that is a perfect metaphor for life. I see it clearly. I am so glad he wouldn’t trade it! St. Michael’s is truly blessed…and so is Calvin! I understood the whole program, all the sports terms, and have a new appreciation for how intricate emotions about baseball can get! I had to call my daughter to understand the ending of IT’S COMPLICATED, but did not have to call anyone to understand this show. Amazing. I wish my dad was still here, so he could have seen it. I also wish Meryl would have chosen Alec Baldwin. They were just meant to be together in that movie. But things can’t always turn out like we want. Thanks for suggesting this wonderful sunday afternoon treasure. I won’t forget it soon. Best!

Yeah my buddy Ben was an integral piece of putting this show together and I’ve never been more proud of him. The fact that he was the one who contacted Schiraldi, mixed with the show going so well that notable people like KO wrote excellent pieces like this is really unbelievable.

That production epitomized why I watch sports.

My 16 yr old son plays select baseball under Calvin Schiraldi, and has learned very valuable baseball and life lessons from him. He is a great coach, and we as parents appreciate him.
Keep up the great work Calvin

Oops. I forgot to capitalize Sunday. Sorry. Lucky Daniel Gabel! Man! Your son and you are so fortunate! All this makes me want to go to spring training! Maybe.

As the parent of a recent player at St. Michael’s, it is apparent to me that Calvin has found that trigger in kids that takes them from good to great. He knows how to help each player find that spot in their mind where they find the ability to do more than they think they can and along the way become a leader, a player, a teammate, an adult and most importantly understand that the joy of the game is critical – not so much the victory. He will not accept less than your best and keeps his values regarding consequences when substandard performances are delivered. Running after a lackluster effort galvanizes a team and helps to find out who really wants to be there and who is just going through the motions. He ‘saved’ my son from a hellish experience under another coach at a different school and made him appreciate the finer points of baseball while driving home the priority of academics. Calvin lives my a basic motto: ‘You better do your work at the top of the hill or you aren’t playing at the bottom.’ For those of you not familiar with the St. Michael’s campus – the classrooms are at the top of the hill and the baseball stadium is at the bottom of the hill. No doubt academics come first. My only regret is not sending my son to St. Michael’s for all 4 years of high school. What is even more amazing is that Calvin has this skill and yet he is so humble and quiet that unless you listen closely, you would swear he doesn’t speak. A class act and a great coach.

Calvin Schiraldi didn’t even look like Calvin Schiraldi.

He is much more beautiful with age and wisdom. I must admit, I hardly noticed his appearance. His goodness created a glare.

One of the most watchable sports shows I have seen. Par for the course on MLB Network. Makes you want to see more programs like this.
The only thing that would have made it better would be to have McNamara and Clemens in the studio at the same time.
Great to hear Calvin Schiraldi’s take on the series since we have not heard from him it seems since 1986.

I received an invitation, but I did not accept it.The child sobbed sadly.It doesn’t make sense.Great efforts ensure the success of our work.I’m on a diet.It took years of hard work to speak good EnglishIt took years of hard work to speak good EnglishWalt invented the steam engine.Why did you stay at home? He appears to be your friend but I doubt if he is.

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