I’m rarely one to get emotional about baseball players or athletes in general. While I would consider myself a rabid fan of the Phillies and the players that make up the team, I try not to get too attached to any one player, for fear that they might sign elsewhere, or get traded, or say something so incredibly dumb that my own personal opinion of that player would drop from its lofty pedestal.
However, there are three players that have managed to earn that place in my heart as favorites of mine, ones I would never go against, no matter what team they played for or post retirement path they chose.
One of them was Roy Halladay.
I can still remember when I heard that Halladay had been acquired by the Phillies. We all knew that he was Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s “white whale”, the one player he wanted more than any other, the one he was willing to give almost anything for. As a Phillies fan, it seemed impossible. Philadelphia never got athletes that were still in their prime. Nevermind that, Philadelphia never got athletes that were still in their prime that actively wanted to come to the city to play. The fact that Halladay campaigned to join the team, waiving his no trade clause to play in a city that always had to settle for “the other brother” made his coming here all the more exciting.
Even with all the hype that surrounded him, there was still that hesitation I had on my part where the doubt still lingered. In my head, it wasn’t a question of if something would go horribly wrong with the plan, it was a matter of when. That’s how we as fans of Philadelphia sports teams have been conditioned. The names of players who were bad or ineffective or worse upon arrival is long. Gregg Jefferies. Danny Tartabull. Pelle Lindbergh (for you Flyers fans). Ricky Watters. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Every time we get something nice, the sports gods violently rip it away. I was fully prepared to get a lesser version of Roy Halladay.
And then 2010 happened.
Specifically, May 29, 2010.
October 6, 2010.
These are dates we’ll all remember. Yes, Halladay had been pretty dominant during the entire season. 21 game winner. 2.44 ERA. Cy Young award winner. To watch his starts was to watch an artist at work, painting corners, befuddling hitters. Yet those two games are the games he will be remembered for. He was perfect. A simple walk in the playoffs prevented him from joining Don Larsen as the only pitchers to throw playoff perfect games. It doesn’t matter. The performances he gave showed what an amazing force he was on the mound. The intensity, the intimidation were trademarks that endeared him to an entire organization and city. He had done the seemingly impossible: he had come here and performed. It was such a refreshing feeling. We finally had that guy, the one that we can legitimately say was the best in the game. It made fans sit up and take notice.
But to me, it was what happened in 2012 and 2013 that made me love Halladay even more. I think it can be summed up in one tweet, courtesy of Michael Young:
I’ll never forget Aug ‘13. Doc and I were two months away from retirement. He was hurt, clearly. He was still pitching tho. One day in Wrigley he was throwing 83, and all over the place. I go to the mound and he just said “everything hurts.”— Michael Young (@MikeyY626) November 7, 2017
He wouldnt come out. Always fighting.
You see, even when he was breaking down, even when that hardened shell of his was cracked, I had more respect for him as a man than ever before.
Too often, we get caught up in making athletes heroes. Personally, I have never done so. My wife, who lost two children, is my hero. My father is my hero. Athletes are just people that get my money when I got to games.
Roy Halladay was something more. He was clearly broken in those years, yet continued to try and perform, to try and justify his salary, calling Amaro after games in which he was bad to apologize. I’ll never forget that Cubs game Young is speaking about. He was pouring sweat, the commentators saying it was worse than usual (if you watched Roy, you know he sweat more than most). You could see his anguish with every pitch. It was painful to watch, knowing a once all-time great could no longer live up to the standards we had come to set for him. Yet he continued to try and be the best, to attain that lofty status he earned among Phillies fans, even though we all knew it was over.
Lots of professional athletes these days tend to blame others for their failures. Watch any NFL game in which a cornerback gets beat for a touchdown in a man-to-man coverage and he’ll be standing with his hands out stretched, blaming the safety who “blew his assignment”. We’ve seen pitcher reaction shots on TV, exasperated at an outfielder not making a catch on a ball that was crushed 400 feet. Roy Halladay was not one of these guys. He blamed himself for failure. You could almost feel the disappointment he felt in the dugout after each of those starts in those two years, the feeling that he had let us down. If you didn’t want to reach into the TV, put your arm around his shoulders and tell him “It’s ok, Roy,” well then I just don’t know what to tell you. I never blamed him for the end. In fact, the sense of respect I had for him grew. I don’t know why. I’ll probably never know why. It just.....did.
There was nothing more that I would have liked than to see Halladay hold the World Series trophy. It something that is being mentioned, repeatedly, by executives, players and fans alike. Yet I personally love how Halladay’s career went. He’s a surefire Hall of Famer, winning 200 games and multiple Cy Young awards. A ring would have been nice, but his career is untarnished just the same. He showed us all what it means to compete, to dominate, then to accept that it was no longer there. It happens, even to the best of them. How he handled himself during that low point makes me even happier to know that I got to witness his career.
Rest easy, Roy.