Chuck Schilling liked to joke that he was in the baseball Hall of Fame, and he was partially right. Schilling, a New Hyde Park native and graduate of St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, was playing second base for the Boston Red Sox when Yankees great Roger Maris hit his 61st home run of the 1961 season — then (and some believe, still) a major-league record for homers in a season.
Pictures of that home run are displayed in the famous Cooperstown museum and Schilling was in them, he’d tell friends.
"He was a great guy," said Schilling’s friend and former softball teammate Rod Aurigemma, 73, of Garden City. "You couldn’t ask for a better teammate . . . He was smooth turning the double play and knew what to do [on the field] ahead of time."
Schilling, a father of six who played five seasons for the Red Sox and spent 20 years as a math teacher at Selden Middle School after his baseball career ended, died March 30 from complications of Parkinson’s disease at his home in West Chester, Pennsylvania, his family said. He was 83.
"I idolized him," said sister Ginny DiSpaltro of Saint James. "He was a gentle giant. He was sweet and very kind."
1961 was a banner year for Schilling, who lived in Smithtown from 1961-1986 and then Miller Place until the mid-2000’s. After an unusually brief stint in the minor leagues, the Manhattan College product was called up to the majors and made the most of it. The slick-fielding 23-year old hit .259 with 62 RBIs, 25 doubles and five home runs, led the major leagues in plate appearances, and tied for third with Floyd Robinson of the White Sox and Lee Thomas of the Yankees and Angels in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Only Dick Howser of the Kansas City Athletics and winner Don Schwall, also of the Red Sox, got more votes than Schilling.
"I was a very impressionable teenager when he made the majors and so this was glory for me," DiSpaltro said. "I loved seeing him gain all this prestige because he deserved it so much. He was so humble about it. It didn’t go to his head like it did with some of the other players. He was just himself."
Prior to his rookie season, Schilling served briefly in the Army. After the season, Schilling was voted team MVP by Boston baseball writers, the first time a rookie had won that honor, according to sabr.org. Not only did he beat out Schwall for the honor, but also fellow Long Islander and Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. Yastrzemski and Schilling were roommates and close friends in both the minor and major leagues, son Tom Schilling said.
"You could only imagine what the Red Sox thought of [my dad] at the time and the aspirations that he had for himself going into the next season," said Tom Schilling, 52, of Sayville.
Chuck Schilling’s production never quite returned to the level of his 1961 season. He played in 47 games in 1964, 71 in 1965, and was traded to the Minnesota Twins in April 1966, along with teammate Russ Nixon, for pitcher Dick Stigman and a player to be named (minor leaguer Jose Calero).
When the Twins wanted to send Schilling to their minor-league affiliate in Denver, he opted for retirement, not wanting to expose his family to the rigors and uncertainty of minor-league life. All told, he hit .239 with 23 home runs and 146 RBIs in five seasons in Boston.
"It was just a typical dad move — family first," Tom Schilling said of his father’s retirement. "He had a good education already. There was no free agency back then, so players weren’t getting paid anywhere near what they get paid today. He made a pretty quick decision."
Said DiSpaltro: "Charlie never had regrets and he never had complaints. He just went on with his life. There was a new chapter to be had and he pursued that."
Upon moving back to Long Island full time, Chuck Schilling got a job as a machinist at E&M Machine Co. in Farmingdale, where his father was a partner. Seeking another career change, he attended Adelphi University and earned enough credits to become a math teacher. He taught at Selden Middle School for close to 20 years.
"He was always good with numbers," DiSpaltro said.
Chuck Schilling never lost his love of baseball. He played competitive softball until he was 69 years old and coached at the Smithtown Recreation Baseball Camp for 10 years. He rooted for the Red Sox and Mets and went back to Fenway Park once a year with family to sign autographs, catch a game at his old stomping grounds, and reminisce about all the good times.
He played in the 1989 Red Sox old-timer’s game, Tom Schilling said.
"Him being on the field and us being close to the players was very special," Tom Schilling said. "He definitely enjoyed that, seeing his family there. He was probably 50 [years old] and was a lot more fit than a lot of the players out there."
In addition to Tom Schilling and DiSpaltro, Chuck Schilling is survived by Kathy Schilling, his wife of 34 years, daughters Karla Tobin of Texas, Kristen Rate of California, and Claire Daramala of Pennsylvania, sons Chuck C. Schilling of Manhattan, and Richard Corcoran of Pennsylvania, brother Bob Schilling of Sayville and 15 grandchildren. Chuck Schilling was buried at St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Cemetery in Pennsylvania, Tom Schilling said.