I was in Philadelphia this week, having flown there from Toronto, when I heard Roy Halladay had died. This seems appropriate, as Halladay fled Toronto to Philadelphia later in his career.
Roy Halladay was just 40. He was the greatest pitcher the Toronto Blue Jays ever produced. If you follow baseball, you do not need me to provide the highlights of his career. Well, okay, I will; two Cy Young Awards (and a couple of years he should have won but did not) a perfect game, a no-hitter in the playoffs, one of the highest winning percentages of all time. If you don’t follow baseball, trust me; he’ll be in the Hall of Fame once he is eligible. He just won’t be there to accept it.
I did a write up on Jose Bautista a few weeks ago when it became apparent he wasn’t going to play for the Jays anymore. Halladay was, personality-wise, quite a bit different; he was a quiet, reserved, private man. He seemed nervous in interviews. By all accounts he inspired his teammates with his work ethic and example, but not his words; he had little to say. Where Bautista was (and is) outspoken, brash, sharply intellectual and seemed to play baseball pissed off at all times, Halladay was quiet, introspective, contemplative.
Where they share a similarity, aside from being great ballplayers, was that their careers were in jeopardy.
Roy Halladay was a first round draft pick, a highly regarded young prospect. Major league scouts were dreaming of his potential when he was 14. He debuted for the Blue Jays in 1998, nearly pitching a no hitter, and then pitched okay in 1999 at the tender age of 22. There were a few warning signs but everyone figured he’d be okay.
In 2000, Roy Halladay was the worst pitcher in the major leagues. Actually, he was probably the worst player at any position. His ERA (the number of not-because-of-a-fielder’s-error runs he gave up every nine innings) was 10.64, which is the worst ERA in the entire history of baseball, ever, not counting guys who only pitched in one game or something.
He was a disaster. He might actually have cost the Blue Jays the division. So in 2001 they sent him all the way down to single-A ball to work with old Mel Queen, a longtime coach. Queen observed that Halladay threw very, very hard, but that his fastball were also very straight, which in the major leagues is a recipe for them being hit very far. He had Halladay adjust his throwing motion to make his pitches curve, and Halladay was back in the major leagues in four months. Upon arriving, he was the best pitcher in the American League.
For the next ten years Halladay was flat out awesome. The awards, the perfect game, and all that. He worked harder, pitched longer, and won more games than anyone. In 2005 his leg was broken by a line drive. He came back the next year and kept winning. Methodically, almost ruthlessly, Roy Halladay chewed up batters and spit them out.
You can Youtube his perfect game or his playoff no hitter, but I would rather remember June 1, 2003, when he gave up seven runs and it was the greatest game I’ve ever seen pitched. I was there.
The Red Sox were in town, and they and the Jays were neck and neck in the standings so it was a big game. The Sox came out and absolutely stomped him. (That Red Sox team was awesome.) They scored two runs in the first inning and four runs in the third, and it was 6-0 and it looked totally over. The home crowd was silent.
Most pitchers would have come out, or given up and asked to be taken out. Roy Halladay insisted in staying in. He trudged out to the mound in the fourth inning and gave the Red Sox nothing. The Blue Jays started to come back. He went out in the fifth and gave up nothing. Sixth innings, he gave up nothing and by this time the Jays were winning. He went into the seventh and the Sox finally got another run off him but he’d gone far enough, the Jays were well ahead, and they would win the game.
It was astounding. No other starter would even have lasted another inning past the third. He went out there as if nothing was wrong and stopped the bleeding and worked his team to victory. No other starting pitcher in the major leagues would have won that game.
He was 40, and had two young children. I’m still shocked. He was a hell of a pitcher, though, and amazing to watch.