By Danny Boyce
RIP, Doc Halladay
Tragedy affects us in so many ways. It leaves us looking for answers – and usually finding none, at least not the ones we want. Sunday’s shooting in a Texas church left many angry, whether it be about mental health, gun control, what have you. The effects will linger.
When an athlete dies I think the first thing that happens to a sports fan is that memories are triggered. When Mickey Mantle lost his battle with cancer in 1995 my dad’s first reaction to the news was to talk about the mammoth homeruns and how he flew around the bases and how “The Mick” was the best he ever saw. When Roberto Clemente died on New Year’s Eve of 1972 the enduring images everyone remembered was the look of ire and aggression on his face as he ran the bases, swung the bat, or uncorked a throw from right field. The image I had today of Roy Halladay was on October 6, 2010.
A few days earlier Pat and I discussed some playoff baseball with Joe Hannum and Jimmy Cecconi. Pat spoke of Roy Halladay’s lack of postseason experience (go to the 41-minute mark), and one could probably make a point. People love to question toughness, and grit and how one handles pressure.
Halladay started Game 1 of the NLDS against Dusty Baker’s Cincinnati Reds. The Reds’ lineup featured a strong lineup Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, a still breathing Brandon Phillips, and a young Jay Bruce. Halladay was making his postseason debut. Didn’t matter. Halladay dominated the Reds. Don’t believe me? See for yourself. Four balls reached the outfield. Nothing was hit hard. In his postseason debut, Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter. He even added an RBI single and a run scored to boot. I called Pat and he had nothing. This wasn’t a first for Halladay. Earlier that season he threw the most anti-climactic perfect game in baseball history, blanking the Marlins in Miami. But this isn’t to point out Pat’s miss; it’s to point out just how dominant Doc Halladay could be on the mound.
Halladay was the 17th overall pick by the Blue Jays in the 1995 draft* out of Arvada West High School in Colorado and came up as a late September call-up in 1998. After a solid debut (5.0 IP, 2 ER, 5 SO, 2 BB), he threw a complete game against the Tigers, striking out 8 without a walk. He would jump between the minors and the Jays for a couple more years before coming into his own in 2002.
*-Other players of note in that draft: Darin Erstad (1st), Jose Cruz, Jr. (3rd), Kerry Wood (4th), Todd Helton (8th), Geoff Jenkins (9th), and Matt Morris (12th). Carlos Beltran was a second round pick for the Royals as well.
That season he had a league-high 239.1 innings, a 2.93 ERA and 168 strikeouts. The next season he upped that performance, pitching 266.0 innings with 204 strikeouts, a 6.38 K/BB ratio, and NINE complete games. He won his first Cy Young Award that year, taking 26 of the 28 first place votes. The next season his ERA jumped to 4.20 and there was talk about him having a dead arm from all of the innings logged the previous two years. After pitching only 141.2 innings in 2005 (though leading the league with five complete games) he was back to 220 innings in 2006 and 2007. In 2008 his strikeout rate jumped to a then career high 7.5 K/9 as he pitched 246.0 innings with nine more complete games and finishing second to Cliff Lee in the Cy Young voting.
Those complete games. Seven times he led the league in finishing what he started. Four times he threw nine of them. From 2007 through 2011 he complete 42 games. His 67 are the most of any pitcher since 1998, when his career started. He logged 230 innings six times, led the league in IP four times. His 20 shutouts are tied for first since 1998 with Randy Johnson. These numbers may not sound astounding, but as complete games become relics, Doc was keeping them alive.
He threw nine more complete games the following year and then in a blockbuster move the defending National League champion Phillies traded Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor for Doc.
In his first two seasons in Philly he threw 17 more complete games and logged 484.1 innings as the Phillies won the NL East both years. In Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals Rafael Furcal led off with a triple off of Halladay and Skip Schumaker doubled to make the score 1-0. That was all the scoring in the whole game. Halladay went eight innings but was outdueled by Chris Carpenter, who went the distance with a three hit shutout. The game is most remembered for the game’s final play, when Ryan Howard collapsed after hitting a grounder to second. Little did we know what endings we were starting to see.
After a strong April Halladay was shelled for eight runs against the Braves. After that there were glimpses of greatness, but just glimpses. In 2013 he struggled early and went on the DL in May with shoulder struggles. In his final game he faced three hitters and walked two of them. He went one-third of an inning, throwing only 16 pitches. In December of that year he retired.
I remember writing about how much can change in such a short time. Just two years earlier he was arguably the best pitcher on planet Earth. Now he was hanging up the spikes for good. Next year will be his first on the Hall of Fame ballot and by my HOFR his 72.27 more than qualifies him for that honor.
The career numbers (203-105, 3.38 ERA, 2117 SO, 3.39 FIP, 2749.1 IP, 131 ERA+, 67 CG, 2-time CYA, 8-time All-Star) speak for themselves, but he is also a charitable man. As a part of his contract with the Blue Jays, he donated $100,000 each year to the Jays Care Foundation and had “Doc’s Box”, a kid-friendly suite where children and their families from the Hospital for Sick Children were invited for games.
Today, Halladay was apparently flying a recently acquired ICON A5 plane solo just off of the coast of St. Petersburg, Fla. The plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico, killing the former pitching ace. He leaves behind a wife and two children. We here at TalkBackFans can only imagine the grief his family is going through and offer our deepest thoughts, prayers, and condolences. For them they are left remembering a husband, a father, a son, and a good man. It seems a twisted bit of fate, the way he died; he was often nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award given for work in the community.
For former teammates they lose a great friend, a fierce competitor, a relentless worker, a perfectionist. Those of us that have played sports know the importance of comradery and why this loss is great for them.
And for fans, there are those images. For this particular fan, there will always be that October day in Philadelphia. At least that will give me a smile and possibly keep my mind off of yet another tragic loss.
RIP, Roy, “Doc” Halladay. I know you’ll have a plaque in Cooperstown soon. I just wish you were here to enjoy that moment with us.