Blue Jays fans awoke Monday with the feeling that Christmas had come early. Roy Halladay was returning to Toronto. The good doctor was coming home. Sadly for those same Blue Jays fans, the news was bittersweet. Halladay was only signing a one day contract with the Blue Jays. The Doctor was calling it a career in the city where it all started over fifteen years ago.
Harry Leroy Halladay, better known as Roy, was drafted by the Blue Jays in the First round of the 1995 MLB Amateur Draft. Halladay made his professional debut as a September call-up in 1998 and in his second career start took a no-hitter into the 9th inning with two outs against the Tigers. Unfortunately for Roy, the no-hit bid was ended by a solo home run off the bat of Bobby Higginson. The Blue Jays still won the game 2-1, and Roy notched his first win in the Major Leagues. Halladay’s early career with the Blue Jays is most often remembered for his historically bad 2000 season that saw him demoted to Class A Dunedin. Halladay’s ERA of 10.64 is still an MLB record for pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched. He also finished with a 2.20 WHIP and nearly as many walks (42) as strikeouts (44).
Upon his demotion, Halladay begin working with former Blue Jays pitching coach Mel Queen in an attempt to alter his delivery and keep his fastball in the lower third of the strike zone. At 6’6, 220 lbs, throwing the ball hard was not a complicated task for the young Halladay. The problem with his “over the top” delivery was that it prevented him from being able to routinely locate his fastball, as well as create any movement on it. It didn’t matter if his fastball was regularly clocked at 95 mph, his inability to regularly keep his fastball out of the upper third of the plate, and it coming in straight as an arrow, allowed big league batters to pound Halladay.
Queen and Halladay worked on transforming the Doc’s delivery from his “over the top” to a 3/4 style. Although the altering of the delivery resulted in Halladay losing a bit of zip on his fastball, what he gained from it was more “sinking” movement, and much more control. In just under half a season Halladay had gone from a prototypical power pitcher who relied on blowing his fastball past batters, to more of a control artist, painting corners and relying on movement and location. The new and improved Roy Halladay was recalled around mid season 2001 and posted a winning record, to go along with a 3.16 ERA, for the remainder of the season. It would be the following season (2002) that saw Roy transform into the Doctor.
Halladay finished the 2002 season with a record of 19-7 to go along with a 2.93 ERA. He logged more than 239 innings for the Blue Jays that season and finished with 168 strikeouts. The 2002 season also saw him make his first of eight All-Star appearances. If 2002 was to be considered a “breakout season,” than 2003 should be considered a “career year.” Halladay went 22-7 and became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win 20 games since Jabba the Wells (David) won 20 games for them in 2000. He also added career highs in Games Started (36), Innings Pitched (266), and Batters Faced (1071); he also surrendered a career high 253 hits. Not only did Halladay receive another invite to the Mid Season Classic, he also was the recipient of the 2003 American League Cy Young Award.
The next two years were basically forgettable as Halladay was plagued by injuries. A “tired” arm limited him to a measly 8-8 record, in only 133 innings, in 2004. 2005 started out with incredible promise as the Doc jumped out to an impressive 12-4 record in only 19 starts. Halladay was named not only to the All-Star team, but named the starting pitcher; he looked like a lock to win the Cy Young. Unfortunately for the Doc, the Blue Jays, and their fans, a line drive off the bat of Rangers OF Kevin Mench broke Halladay’s leg. Halladay subsequently missed the All-Star game, and was effectively shut down for the season once the Blue Jays were out of post season contention.
In 2006, the Blue Jays and Halladay agreed to a 3 year/$40 million dollar contract extension that would see Halladay play in Toronto until at least 2010. Over the next four seasons (2006-2009), Halladay would compile a 69-33 record for the Blue Jays and be named an All-Star another three times. However the one thing that kept eluding Halladay was the chance to pitch in the post season. In his eleven seasons in Toronto, the Blue Jays had only finished higher than 3rd once (2nd in 2006), and it didn’t appear that they would be contending anytime soon.
In 2009, with Halladay poised to take the mound as the starting pitcher in the All-Star game, then-Jays GM JP Ricciardi announced that he would start listening to trade offers for the big right hander. Following another lack luster 2009 campaign, the Blue Jays fired Ricciardi and named Canadian born Alex Anthopolous as the “Interim GM.” Anthopolous’ first line of business was to trade Roy Halladay. It was no secret that Halladay longed to play October baseball, and with him likely not re-signing in Toronto following the expiration of his contract at the end of the 2010 season, Anthopolous made the decision to move the face of the Blue Jays.
Roy Halladay was officially traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on December 15th, 2009 for three minor league prospects – Kyle Drabek, Travis D’Arnaud, and Michael Taylor (Taylor was later traded to the A’s for Brett Wallace, who was then traded to the Astros for Anthony Gose). In Toronto it felt like a verse from the Don McLean ballad “American Pie”:
“And in the streets, the children screamed, The lovers cried and the poets dreamed. But not a word was spoken, The church bells all were broken…”
Despite receiving a reasonably attractive haul of minor league talent, nothing could fill the void of losing your teams heart and soul. It was hard not to be emotionally gutted at losing arguably the best pitcher in the game.
Opening Day 2010 saw Roy Halladay pitch his first game as a member of the Phillies, and his first in a jersey other than that of a Blue Jay. He promptly struck out nine Washington Nationals through seven innings, surrendered one earned run on six hits, and got his first win as a Philadelphia Phillie. Halladay followed up that performance with a complete game victory over the Houston Astros. On May 29th, 2010, Roy Halladay struck out eleven Florida Marlins on the way to becoming the 20th pitcher in MLB history to throw a Perfect Game. Surprisingly the Perfect Game would not be the only highlight of Roy’s 2010 season.
Halladay finished the regular season with a 21-10 and a 2.44 ERA becoming the first Phillie pitcher since Steve Carlton in 1982 to win 20 games, and the first Phillie lefty since Robin Roberts in 1955 to win 20. Roy also became the seventh pitcher, in the history of the MLB, to pitch 250 or more innings with 30 or fewer walks, and the first since the legendary Grover Cleveland Alexander did in 1923. More importantly, with the Phillies winning the NL East, Roy finally had his opportunity to pitch in the MLB Post Season. His debut would help cement his legacy as one of the best in the game.
Halladay made his post season debut against the Cincinnati Reds on October 6th, 2010. Halladay would face one batter over the minimum 27 on his way to pitching the first no hitter in MLB history since Don Larsen pulled the feat off in 1956. Halladay struck out eight Reds and the only blemish in the box score was a two out walk to Jay Bruce in the 5th inning. Despite beating the Reds in the NLDS and advancing to the NLCS, the Phillies and Halladay were bounced from the post season by the eventual World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants, in six games. Following the World Series, Halladay was named the winner of the NL Cy Young Award, becoming the 5th player in MLB history to win the award in both the NL and the AL.
The 2011 season saw more success for both Halladay and the Phillies. Halladay was named to his eighth (and last) All-Star game where he was the starting pitcher for the National League squad. With the Phillies narrowly edging the Braves for the NL East title on the last day of the regular season, Halladay was set to make his second consecutive appearance in the post season. Unfortunately for Roy and the Phillies, they were once again eliminated from the post season by the eventual World Series Champions; the St. Louis Cardinals.
Halladay pitched the Phillies to a victory over Kyle Lohse and the Cardinals in Game One. With the NLDS tied two games apiece, Game Five saw Halladay square off against good friend, and former Blue Jays teammate Chris Carpenter. In a true pitching battle Carpenter and the Cardinals prevailed 1-0 over Halladay and the Phillies, giving the Cards the win in the series 3-2. Halladay’s terrific regular season would see him finish second in NL Cy Young voting, behind the eventual winner Clayton Kershaw.
The 2011 season would ultimately be the last great hurrah for the career of the Doc. Although he did not fall completely off the rails in 2012, Halladay did begin to show some wear and tear. On May 29th, 2012, exactly two years after throwing his Perfect Game, Roy Halladay was placed on the Disabled List for the first time since 2009 with a sore right shoulder. With concern over the extent of his injury, Halladay assured the Philadelphia media that his full commitment was to getting healthy and winning in Philadelphia:
“Ultimately, my goal is to finish my career with the Phillies and win a World Series here. Some of those things are not fully in my control, but my intent is to play here and finish my career here and be here as long as I can.”
Sadly Halladay would never get to fulfill on his commitment. The 2013 season was a complete nightmare for the now 35 year old Halladay. The sole highlight from a season void of them came against the Marlins on April 14th when Halladay notched his 200th career victory in a 2-1 win. Halladay only pitched in thirteen games for the Phillies in 2013 and his stats reflect the struggles he had. In those thirteen games, Halladay went 4-5 with a 6.82 ERA in 62 innings pitched. The shoulder that had been causing him problems since mid 2012 was the main culprit for his 2013 struggles. Despite having surgery in May 2013 to clean up his shoulder and prevent further fraying of the Rotator Cuff, Halladay was far from the same pitcher. His last performance as a Phillie came in late September against Arizona. Halladay lasted just 16 pitches. He faced three batters and walked two. His last fastball was recorded at 83 mph on the radar gun. Halladay was shut down for the season after the game. When asked about his futur, Halladay reponded:
“I don’t know what the future is going to hold, but I want to go somewhere that wants me and somewhere that is going to have a shot. Like I’ve always told you guys, I hope that’s here. Worst-case scenario I start throwing and things aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to, then I’m going to be honest with whoever is interested and make a decision from there. But if things go the way I’ve been told they’re going to go and the way I expect them to go, I’m going to be able to be competitive next year. I’ve never given up the hope that I could pitch here again.”
Entering the 2013 offseason there was much speculation on what fate awaited the once great Roy Halladay. The Phillies held a vesting option on Halladay for 2014 at the sum of $20 million. Now in 2009, $20 million would have been a bargain, but for a 35 year old right hander who couldn’t hit 85 mph, it was an albatross at best. To almost no ones surprise the Phillies declined the option on Halladay. The former two time Cy Young winner was a Free Agent for the first time in his career. But instead of deciding on where to play, Halladay had to decide if he should play. With his former team, the Blue Jays, starving for help in the starting pitching department, every Jays fan and their grandmother longed and hoped that a reunion may be on the horizon.
And then it happened…. Just not the way we wanted it to. It never works out that way.
The Good Doctor is finally checking out for good, and above all he is doing it on his own terms. During the news conference today, Halladay stated on multiple occasions that his arm felt fine, but it was his back that was ultimately the reason for his decision. He added, “I’ve been throwing to my boys and my shoulder feels as good as it ever has. Unfortunately I can’t get them out.” The way he saw it, he’d rather live his life and avoid surgery, then attempt to regain what injuries had taken from him.
Halladay may have found post season success in Philadelphia, but he was always a Blue Jay at heart. Doc was one of the loan bright spots on Blue Jays teams that so often disappointed, fell short, or settled into the basement of the AL East. Getting to see the Doctor take the mound was worth having to put up with some terrible Blue Jays campaigns. It didn’t matter if the Blue Jays were trotting out the Jesse Litsch’s, Josh Towers’, and Gustavo Chacin’s of the world, because as fans we knew the Doc would be back in five days. The only problem with Roy pitching was the fact that you had to get double up on your beer consumption, as an average Halladay start was just over two hours in length.
Toronto sports fans have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with their “star” players going back to the days of the Maple Leafs and Dave Keon. Blue Jays fans have seen star players like Shawn Green, Roger Clemons, and David Wells demand trades out of Toronto. Maple Leafs fans felt betrayed when Curtis Joseph signed with the Red Wings because he felt he had a better chance of winning a Stanley Cup with them. Even Mats Sundin felt the wrath from the Maple Leaf faithful when he refused to waive his no-trade clause in order to net the Maple Leafs a hearty bounty in return. Raptors fans have been gutted on multiple occasions – Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, Vince (Wince) Carter, and most recently Chris Bosh. It’s hard not to loathe and feel betrayed when someone you’ve cheered for decides they don’t want anything to do with you anymore.
But it never felt like that with the Doc. Even when it was no secret that he was looking for a trade to a contender, Blue Jays fans didn’t hate him. In fact, it was the complete opposite. Fans poured into the Dome to see the Doc weave his magic one last time for Jays, they made signs proclaiming their love for him, and BEGGING him to stay.
It seemed like they had failed to appreciate what they had for all those years. Cliche as it is, you really do only realize what you have once it’s gone, and that’s how it felt with Roy Halladay. Roy seemed to have a Teflon coating that allowed him to avoid the usual hate and anger that is bestowed a player once they want to leave. In fact, most Blue Jays fans openly cheered for Roy and the Phillies during their post season runs.
Roy Halladay was a once in a lifetime player. He was dominant on the field and a pure class act off the field. After his trade to the Phillies, Roy took out a full newspaper ad to thank the Toronto Blue Jays fans and organization for all they did in his career.
Although, like CuJo, he felt his best chance at winning was with another team not named Toronto, Roy never received the backlash that Joseph did. Even when he publicly came out and said he would welcome a trade to a contender, fans didn’t boo. How can you boo and jeer a guy like Roy Halladay? Despite the injuries and loss of velocity, I’m sure every Jays fan would GLADLY WELCOME Roy as our Opening Day starter in 2014. His 85 mph fastball is faster than both R.A Dickey’s and Mark Buehrle’s, his current age (37) is younger than both Buehrle and Dickey, he’s still (probably) healthier than Brandon Morrow, he’s more mentally stable than Ricky Romero, and he is more known than all the Todd Redmond’s, Esmil Roger’s, and Ramon Ortiz’s of the world. Are you telling me you wouldn’t welcome him with open arms on Opening Day?
The argument now is whether or not Roy Halladay belongs in Cooperstown with the other greats of the game. The Hall of Fame argument is one that will be decided in the next 5+ years. Although Roy was arguably the best and most dominant pitcher in the past decade, his career stats fall short of what GUARANTEES entry into the Hall of Fame. For years the mindset was if a pitcher had 300+ wins or 3000+ strikeouts then they would eventually hear their name called to Cooperstown. In the case of Bert Blylevlin despite having the 3000+ strikeouts, it still took him nearly 20 years to get enshrined. The bigger issue with pitchers hitting those numbers in this day and age is the fact that pitchers workloads have decreased since the days of the Maddux’s, Clemmons, and Johnson’s. The average pitcher now only makes around 30 starts and throws between 170-200 innings a year. Roy Halladay had eight seasons of 220+ innings. Grantland writer Jonah Keri made the argument on Twitter that Halladay is “this generation’s Sandy Koufax.” As flattering of a comment as that is, Roy is far from the dominant force that Koufax was. The only real similarities are the Cy Youngs, No-Hitter’s, and workload, and even then, Koufax runs circles around Roy.
The Hall of Fame argument is far from over, but should begin to heat up as more and more players from our generation come up for induction. It will be interesting to see what Hall of Fame voters decide to do when Roy’s name comes up in the next five years or so. For me (bias included), Roy Halladay belongs in Cooperstown, not as a first ballot Hall of Famer, but as an eventual inductee. I find it hard that voters see past how dominant a pitcher was in their generation/era/decade when it comes to inductions. The fact that Jack Morris is still left out in the cold makes me worry that Roy might meet the same fate.
For now, I’m just thankful that I had the chance to fully appreciate the great career of the Good Doctor. Drew Fairservice of thescore.ca may have said it best in his article today:
“Thanks, Roy. You big goofy Mormon control freak. You made all the afternoons stuck in a concrete toilet bowl with green-painted carpet worthwhile. Every damn one.”
I couldn’t agree more…