I wanted to be Roy Halladay.
From the hand over the head windup to the arsenal of nasty pitches, from the work ethic to the care for the greater community.
That’s why the sudden passing of star right-hander Roy “Doc” Halladay, who died in a plane crash on Tuesday at the age of 40, hurts so bad.
“The Toronto Blue Jays organization is overcome by grief with the tragic loss of one of the franchise’s greatest and most respected players, but even better human being,” the Toronto Blue Jays official statement read. “It is impossible to express what he has meant to this franchise, the city and its fans.”
I will now try to express what they couldn’t immediately following the tragedy.
I fell in love with baseball after playing in peewee league during my childhood in Toronto, Ontario. Naturally, I had started following the Toronto Blue Jays. My first season following them was 2009 and let me tell you – the Blue Jays of the 2000s were not good.
Although they were buried in the dump of the AL East by powerhouses in Boston and New York, there were 32 games that year where I had a world’s confidence that the Jays were going to win. Those 32 games were when Doc was on the mound.
He made pitching look so easy and hitters so off balance. He’d be in a mess of a jam and wiggle his way out of it, doing so with the calmest presence in the center of the diamond. He’d start a game and then finish it.
I especially remember his one-hitter against the Yankees late in the year. New York, who boasted the number one offense in the majors in 2009, who were 25.5 games ahead of Toronto at the time, went into Rogers Centre and put up a 10-spot the night before. That night, they would muster just one hit off of Halladay. I watched in awe in what was a typical Doc performance.
All four of his pitches were working that night. A devastating sinker that could either be used to get ahead of the batter or as a finishing pitch that veered back into the strike zone just when it was about to reach the plate. A cutter – perfected with the help of the great Mariano Rivera, no less – that went the exact opposite direction at essentially the same speed. A curveball that had the top fall off of it as if gravity suddenly decided to double in magnitude right before the ball reached home plate. Add in a changeup for good measure, and what’s left is frustrated batter after frustrated batter.
They say that against the great pitchers, you probably only have one chance in the game to beat them. The Yankees had their chance in the sixth, drawing rare back-to-back walks off Halladay to load the bases, with 3-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez coming to the plate. Halladay looked no different, facial expression as determined as ever.
Foul, ball, foul, called strike on the inside corner. Inning over. Threat erased. The next nine Yankees were retired in order. He needed only 111 pitches to dispatch the best offense in the major leagues in a brisk 2 hour 37 minute affair. Just another day at work for Doc.
That was one of 67 complete games in his career, including 20 shutouts, both the most in the last two decades. He was one of the few in this century who could be expected to go the distance every time he took the mound.
That was also the second one-hitter of his career. The first came in his second major league start.
There were high expectations for the 6’6 right hander out taken in the first round from Arvada, Colorado. He did not disappoint in that start against Detroit, where he no-hit the Tigers for 8 and 2/3 before giving up a pinch-hit home run. He followed up that start, his last of 1998, with a solid rookie campaign in 1999.
Then the real story starts. I don’t care how many times this part is told because it never gets old. In 2000, the baseball gods seemingly stole his powers, and he had literally the worst season in major league history in terms of ERA among pitchers with at least 50 innings with a mark of 10.64.
He was sent down to Single-A Dunedin the following year, and essentially had to learn how to throw a baseball again. Turns out, all he needed to change was his arm slot and swap the four-seamer for the two-seamer.
As they say, the rest is history. Two hundred wins. Two Cy Young awards. Eight All-Star nominations. A 98-pitch, 10-inning shutout, a postseason no-hitter, and a perfect game. One of six to win a Cy Young in both leagues. The go-to man every fifth day for first the city north of the border then the city of brotherly love.
Behind the on-field brilliance of the workhorse ace was a dedicated, hardworking individual. Two accounts come to mind.
The first took place after a spring training game in 2012 between the Tigers and Phillies. Opposing Halladay was ace-to-be Max Scherzer. The result of the game was insignificant, but the moments after were not.
“We each threw a few innings and I had gone into the clubhouse, ate lunch, and showered up,” Scherzer wrote in a tweet in mourning on Tuesday. “I was walking out to my car behind and saw Roy drenched in sweat running poles on the back fields. I’ve never forgotten that day as it was clear he never needed the cameras or coaches around to push himself and no matter what he was going to get his work done. ”
This came from someone who is also on that short list of six pitchers with Cy Young awards in both leagues, a testament to Doc’s work ethic.
The second also featured a sweaty Halladay, this time before a September game in Baltimore. He was midway through his almost “legendary” workout routine, when a teammate yelled, “Roy, you’re done!” His teammate’s remark makes sense, considering it was the final day of the regular season. Doc’s next start would have been Opening Day half a year later, but all Halladay did was glare back at his teammate and continue with his routine.
That’s just a glimpse of the man he was behind the lights. It also makes it easy to understand the mastery of his craft. Halladay was a soft spoken but undoubted leader in the clubhouse.
Halladay was a philanthropist off the field, too. He purchased a luxury suite at Rogers Centre and hosted kids from Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto 6-10 times a year in “Doc’s Box”. He was nominated multiple times for the Roberto Clemente Award, Major League Baseball’s annual award for sportsmanship and community involvement. He founded the Halladay Family Foundation, which has done work with children’s charities, hunger relief and animal rescue. He was a model citizen whose work impacted the lives of many.
Maybe in compensation for all the ground balls he induced, he had a penchant for flying. Son to a corporate pilot, Halladay had always wanted a pilot’s license, but could not get one until after retirement due to baseball contract regulations. You couldn’t help but feel joy when he finally purchased his own Icon A5 aircraft this last October, like a teenager finally escaping the restrictions of childhood.
Halladay’s Twitter biography writes “courage is not being fearless but rather acting in spite of the existence of fear!”
Doc had to face many feared hitters from the mound. Doc met many who feared. Doc himself probably feared when he tumbled to Single-A. There was more than enough fear that existed in his life.
But in every one of those scenarios, Doc acted. And he acted with the conviction in which every one of his pitches were thrown with
It’s been years since he’s thrown a big league pitch, and I had changed from a young kid imitating his combination of impeccable control and unrelenting aggression in the backyard to a college student writing about him today. The dedication to his craft, composure under duress, care for others and the love for passion in life will stick with me forever.
After all these years:
I still want to be Roy Halladay.