On Tuesday afternoon, baseball lost a giant, as Roy Halladay passed away following a tragic plane accident. The entire Baseball Prospectus Toronto team is passing on heartfelt condolences to Roy’s family.
Unlike many modern-day fans, Roy Halladay was not a part of my childhood introduction to Blue Jays baseball. I was around for the two World Series wins. I saw multiple future Hall of Famers pass through the city and plenty of big name pitchers make their way onto the Skydome mound. So by the time Mr. Halladay arrived, coming at the end of the second straight pitching Triple Crown season from Roger Clemens, I was a precocious 14 year old who was tough to impress.
As the surprisingly decent 1998 season wound to a close, my parents decided to take me to the final home game of the year. I had heard of that day’s starter, a 6’6” Denver native, because he carried with him the pedigree of a first round pick and the small amounts of hype that came with it, but I really didn’t know much beyond that. And so as I settled into my seat to watch the Blue Jays play out the string against a terrible Tigers team, I had no idea I was going to see something magical.
For eight innings, Roy Halladay carved up Detroit in a way I had never seen. He was basically only throwing two pitches, a fourseam fastball and a curveball, but the quality and locations of those two offerings were so great that the Tigers could still do nothing with them. As the game entered the top of the 9th, the Tigers had no hits and no walks, and were it not for a fourth inning error by Felipe Crespo, they would have had no baserunners.
Halladay didn’t complete the no-hitter (thanks to a two out home run from Bobby “F#*&@” Higginson), but I, like so many others, was completely blown away. So when he followed that up with a strong sophomore campaign, I was convinced: Halladay was going to be the next great pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Then a funny thing happened. Halladay was terrible. In 2000, he set (and still holds) the MLB record for the worst ERA (10.64) of any pitcher to reach 50 innings pitched in a season. During the season he was sent to triple-A, where he struggled again. So to start the 2001 year, the “next big thing” was sent all the way back to Dunedin (high-A) and it seemed like the dream was over.
And it was. Because Roy Halladay came back stronger than ever to show us that we weren’t dreaming big enough. For the next nine years, the man we would come to know as Doc taught Blue Jays fans what greatness truly was.
The numbers over that stretch speak for themselves: a 145 ERA+, four top five Cy Young finishes (including a win in 2003), six seasons of 220+ IP, 47 complete games. I could go on forever if I wanted to. The man was untouchable.
However, Roy Halladay was more than just numbers. He was a star. When it came to big moments, nobody could top the Doc. Just ask any fan who was there for either of his 10-inning complete games or the outing when he took a no-hitter into the seventh while he out-dueled a returning A.J. Burnett in a supercharged atmosphere. He just knew how to rise to the occasion. He was the ultimate gamer.
That’s not all though, he was also a mentor to young pitchers, a big part of the local community, a philanthropist, and a beacon of light during some very dark times for the franchise. But most of all, he was ours.
Toronto sports fans have something of an inferiority complex. We have seen many players over the years head for greener pastures down south as soon as the opportunity presented itself, so we tend to fear the worst. As a result, when a player shows a true attachment to the city, we have always rallied around them. So when Roy Halladay, the very best pitcher in baseball, signed a below market, three year contract extension in March of 2006 to stay in Toronto; when he showed that he actually wanted to be here and win here, he graduated from superstar to hero. That may sound silly, but it’s hard to overstate the impact of a star player actually sticking it out with a losing team. Roy Halladay wanted to bring a title to Toronto and that meant everything to us.
For their part, the Blue Jays front office did everything they could do to help. They brought in Troy Glaus, Frank Thomas, Scott Rolen, B.J. Ryan, the aformentioned Burnett, Ted Lilly, Bengie Molina…but no matter what they tried, the team just couldn’t clear that hump and make it to the postseason. So when it became clear that the club was not going to win during Halladay’s contract, Alex Anthopoulos (in his first transaction as general manager) traded the face of the franchise to the Philadelphia Phillies. After the trade, in a final move as the ultimate class act that he was, Halladay took out a full page ad in the newspaper thanking the Blue Jays fans for all of their support over the years. He didn’t have to do that, but that’s just who he was.
Things then went great for Halladay in his first foray into the National League. He threw a perfect game against the Marlins, posted a career-best 7.3 K/BB rate, and went on to capture his second Cy Young Award. Then, in a moment of true perfection, upon finally making it beyond game 162, Roy Halladay threw the second no-hitter in postseason history in his first postseason start. It was magical.
And it was all wrong.
While I was happy for Halladay, I wasn’t happy overall. These moments were supposed to happen in Toronto, not Philadelphia. He was supposed to lead us to the promised land, not the Phillies. He was ours and then all of a sudden, he wasn’t. He was everybody’s and I didn’t like it.
I’d never felt that way about a former player before (or since). Not Jimmy Key, Shawn Green, Carlos Delgado, Devon White, etc. I even rooted for Roberto Alomar to win with the division-rival Baltimore Orioles. But not Doc. He was supposed to be the exception. He was only supposed to win here. He meant that much to us.
This confused reaction to Halladay’s Philadelphia success actually continued for me throughout his National League run, right up until the unfortunate, early end to his career. Even though I liked seeing him do well, I couldn’t properly enjoy it. However, as I have come to realize ever since his retirement (as a Blue Jay), I was just being selfish.
Roy Halladay was never meant to be enjoyed by just one city or one country. He was frankly too big, too good to keep in one place. Roy Halladay was baseball royalty. He belonged on the October stage. It didn’t matter who got him there as long as he made it and got to show the whole planet what he could do. He needed to reach as many people as possible, because he was just that special.
One need look no further than the tremendous outpouring of love and memories since Tuesday afternoon from all corners of the baseball world to see how he much he affected people’s lives.
He was a legend.
We love you, Roy. You reached out and touched us all and you will never be forgotten.
Thank you for everything.
R.I.P. Roy Halladay
Lead Photo: © Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports