This is a repost from a series we did back when we were called BlueJays Plus, a Blue Jays focused blog. Each writer picked a player and argued for their case as the Greatest Blue Jay of All-Time (or GBOAT). This was Greg’s entry. On the day following his tragic death, this is a good look back at just how much he meant to the Blue Jays and their fans.
Harry Leroy Halladay III is the Greatest Blue Jay of All Time. Strap yourself in and we will find out why.
Let us first dispense with the notion that “greatness” can only be found on the pages of Baseball Reference or measured with a spreadsheet downloaded from Brooks Baseball data. Greatness is much more than the measure of a player’s statistics, and though there may have been better moments on the field from others wearing the Blue Jay uniform, no player embodies the highest level of everything that a Blue Jay can be the way Roy Halladay does.
We look at many facets of a player, indeed of a person, when deciding if they are worthy of our admiration. We seek humility in our heros, and Roy has that. We teach our children to show drive and discipline for what they love. Roy has that. We want our heroes to have great skill and abilities, and Roy has that. We hope that we can show those around us the sacrifices and the generosity of those we admire. Roy has that. We often evaluate those in sport on their ability to perform at the most critical times. Roy has that ability. After it all ends, though, we want our heroes to be human beings too, and somehow carry their greatness off the playing field. Incredibly Doc Halladay manages to do this too.
The early career of Roy Halladay is often looked at as an incredibly unusual path to stardom. In 1995, he was a first round pick. In 1998, he was a September call-up and on the final day of the season, he was one out away from a no-hitter in only his second career start. And then in 1999 it started coming apart at the seams. It has been talked about many times before, but Roy’s 10.64 ERA was the worst ever for a pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched in a season. So, what is so great about that?
The greatness is born from what happened next. Demoted to Single A, Roy could have chosen to say or do a lot of things to defend himself. The methods that got him drafted, got him to the majors in only three years after being drafted, those would have been tempting to hold on to. He didn’t hang on to any of that, he humbly took advice from Mel Queen to alter his pitching mechanics. Halladay, a young, first round draft pick, swallowed his pride. He literally trusted someone else to take the only thing that he had ever had success with, and change it to make it better.
There are many, many stories of players demoted to the minor leagues, then to return with something more. Halladay’s rebuilt delivery, his new pitching philosophy, and his incredible results afterwards, are one of the greatest. Without his willingness to accept his faults and begin again, the story would not have continued as it did.
The next part of Halladay’s rise to greatness is the natural result of rebuilding his pitching mechanics and thinking on the mound. By honing his delivery, and focusing his skills he became one of the most feared pitchers in baseball. These years, from 2002-2011, represent the greatness of “Doc” Halladay as he would be dubbed by the legendary Tom Cheek. Roy was not only a workhorse, leading his league in innings pitched four times, but he was efficient beyond belief. He managed the lowest walks per nine innings total in his league three times. He became known for his ability to resolve at-bats in a minimum number of pitches. Over the course of a season, there was nobody you wanted on the mound every fifth day more that Roy Halladay. He worked quickly, efficiently, and with pinpoint control. He always wanted the ball in his hands, and he deserved it.
Later, I will discuss the two greatest games of Halladay’s career, but first, I would direct you to the most Roy Halladay start of all time. In September of 2006, Halladay took the mound in this game. When it was finished, he had thrown a complete game shutout… in 10 innings. No Tiger baserunners made it to third base, and he did it all in just 99 pitches. His incredible consistency and resiliency, as well as his stoic game face made it seem more like Toronto had put a cyborg on the mound. The Blue Jays have had nothing like it since he left.
That stoicism on the field made it seem as if Halladay might be an angry person, or somehow conceited. Instead, the things he did when he wasn’t pitching always indicated both his tremendous dedication and his kind heart. His commitment to his job was highlighted by tales of him running the stadium stairs as part of his workout regimen, regardless of what ballpark the Jays were at on any given day. His focus was undeniable, even borderline crazy. Spring training stories would come out as other players would talk about trying to get to the ballpark earlier than Doc, but being unable to set their clocks for an hour that early. Around the clubhouse, Halladay was all business. His single mindedness on the playing field might make you think he was selfish or greedy, but Doc’s behaviour off the field demonstrated a much more generous side.
Halladay twice signed contract extensions with the Blue Jays, and did so for well under his market value. There were much more than dollar signs on his mind when he thought about where he wanted to play. Those contracts also included a $100,000 donation to the Jays Care Charity every year on his behalf, again speaking to something more significant than baseball games on Roy’s agenda. The personal side of Halladay was rarely on display, but every year, Doc and his wife Brandi arranged for a luxury suite at the Rogers Centre to be “Doc’s Box” and help sick children experience a day at the ballpark. Being both a focused competitor and a generous human being off the field is an undeniable sign of greatness.
When it comes down to measuring athletes against one another, the reputation away from the team is like icing on the cake. In the overall discussion, however, a generous and selfless player without great accomplishments on the field is like having no cake at all. The players who survive a long time in the game all have their opportunities to shine. Every player will find himself in the spotlight once in a while, so when measuring them against one another, we often come down to how they performed “when it mattered”. For all the regular, quality work he gave the fans in Toronto, we never got to see Halladay in blue and white during the month of October. In fact, he hardly ever needed to feel any additional pressure in September. And those lacklustre teams were not his fault.
To find out whether Halladay had ‘it’ under pressure, we have to move to his time with the Philadelphia Philles. This is when the playoffs finally came calling in 2010. Let me, as an aside, mention that Roy had already turned heads in 2010 by throwing the 20th perfect game in MLB history, a 1-0 victory over the Florida Marlins. When asked to give his best for game one of the NLDS, Roy Halladay answered with indisputably one of the greatest performances in playoff history. Clutch? How about only the second no-hitter thrown in the postseason. Ever. Halladay was one walk away from a perfect game. The walk came on a 3-2 pitch. Roy Halladay came within one pitch of throwing two perfect games in the same calendar year. How great is that? It’s all time great. There’s no denying that.
Eventually, as with all athletes, the physical greatness fades. As it does in the late stage of Roy Halladay’s career. He finished with 203 wins, only 105 losses. 67 complete games, 20 shutouts. Eight All-Star games. Two no-hitters, including one perfect game. Two Cy Young awards. In a Blue Jay uniform he was second all time in wins, strikeouts and shutouts, and third in innings, ERA and starts. He was fantastic, and he kept it up until his body gave out. And that might be the end. That might be enough to put him up on the pedestal of Greatest of All Time. Only it with Doc, it isn’t the end.
We can keep building his case because Roy Halladay signed one more contract at the end of his career, for one day only. And when he signed that one day contract, he put on a Blue Jays jersey, so that he could retire with the team that drafted him. That means that in his retirement, all of the wonderful things we’ve learned about Roy are things he’s done as a Blue Jay. And to learn about all these things, we only have to drop by Roy’s constantly smiling face on his twitter account.
He began by clearly having no idea how to use twitter, joked about his ineptness, and now shares all kinds of wonderful moments. He flies planes, rides unicycles, rescues puppies, cheers on the Jays with his 15-year-old son, takes selfies when he gets traffic tickets, and, once in a while, pulls off an epic troll job.
Oopps you missed me! Walked right by me! Hope he gets to see his pic with me on Twitter, he doesn't know we took this pic.twitter.com/1GuOTpcdi8
— Roy Halladay (@RoyHalladay) July 1, 2015
Seriously great. And the topper on the post-baseball greatness that is Roy Halladay comes from a strange little blog called Zoo With Roy. When he first arrived in Philadelphia in 2010, a Philles fan started a blog, setting a goal of going to the zoo with Roy Halladay. Because wouldn’t we all like to spend a day at the zoo with Doc? After retiring in 2014, Harry Leroy Halladay III actually sought out the blogger, and took a trip to the zoo with him. Yes, Roy Halladay, the man, might just be more fun than Roy Halladay, the Blue Jay.
When talking about the Greatest Blue Jay of All Time, that’s a lot to consider. There can be but a single GBOAT. Halladay in his time had the humility to rebuild himself after reaching the Show and falling on his face. He demonstrated focus and drive and a commitment to excellence. He has shown us great skill and ability on the baseball field. We have learned about his generosity, selflessness, and caring nature. We have seen him come up big in the clutch. And even now, as we learn more about him in his life after baseball, there is a positivity and humour to him that only increases our admiration for him.
If the World Series were on the line, and I could grab any player from any Blue Jay team and drop them on to the roster, I would snatch 2003 Roy Halladay from the club house, and give him the ball to start the most important game in franchise history. No doubt or hesitation in my mind.
Greatest Blue Jay of All Time.
Lead Photo © Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports