Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 9, 2017

Remembering Roy Halladay

The time you won your town the race,
We chaired you through the marketplace;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
As home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

A.E. Housman, 1896

The outpouring of tributes by present and former players and a multitude of sportswriters on Tuesday, when the news came that Roy Halladay had been killed in the crash of a single-engine recreational aircraft in the Gulf of Mexico, spoke volumes to the respect and admiration those closest to the Great Game felt for the retired right-hander. It was also a reminder of the aching loss we as humans feel when death comes calling far too soon.

Taken by the Toronto Blue Jays with their first pick in the 1995 Major League Draft, Halladay was a September call-up three years later and made his big league debut as a 21-year old with a week remaining in the 1998 season. His second career start came in Toronto’s final game that year. In it Halladay held the Detroit Tigers hitless through 8 2/3 innings, until Bobby Higginson hit his 93rd pitch over the left field fence at the SkyDome. Two pitches later Halladay had a complete game one-hitter for a 2-1 win, his first victory in the majors. It was an effort that presaged the career that followed. When he retired sixteen seasons and an additional 202 wins later, he led active major league hurlers with 67 complete games. With the increasing reliance on sabermetric matchups and the specialization of relief roles, that is more complete games than the entire starting rotation of any team has recorded so far this decade.

Yet success was not automatic. Two seasons later he sported an unsightly 10.64 ERA, and began 2001 all the way back in Single-A. There he worked with former Blue Jays pitching coach Mel Queen, who had been coaxed out of retirement to salvage Halladay’s career. Queen altered his student’s delivery, changing the arm angle and release point. The alterations gave new movement to all four pitches in Halladay’s repertoire. By midseason he was back with the big league club, his career about to take off.

For the next decade Halladay was as dominant as any starting pitcher in baseball. Whether it was a two-seam or four-seam fastball, a devastating cutter, or a sweeping curve, he threw all with precision. In that early one-hitter he not only didn’t walk a batter, he never went to a three-ball count. In 2003 Halladay started 36 games, and issued only 32 bases on balls. Seven years later, in 2010, he duplicated that remarkable feat, walking just 30 batters in 33 starts. Only nine big league pitchers have ever managed to walk less than one batter per start over a season. Only Halladay and Cy Young did it twice.

Those two seasons were perhaps his finest. He won 22 games in 2003 and 21 in 2010, most in the majors in the former and tied with C.C. Sabathia for the major league lead in the latter. Those were also the years of his two Cy Young Awards, the American League honor with the Blue Jays in ’03, and the National League trophy with the Phillies seven seasons later. But those were not his only accomplishments. Four times he led his league in innings pitched, five times in strikeout to walk ratio, and he won sixteen or more games in eight years, including six in a row. Halladay was named an American League All-Star six times, and to the National League squad for the Midsummer Classic twice.

What he didn’t do with Toronto was pitch in the postseason. In those years there was only one Wild Card team, and the AL East was regularly dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox. It wasn’t until 2010, after he agreed to a trade to Philadelphia, that Halladay got a taste of October baseball. In that first year in the National League he three nine complete games, including four shutouts. One of those, on May 29th, was a perfect game.

The Phillies topped the NL East that year, and Halladay was given the ball for the first game of the NLDS against Cincinnati. In 104 pitches he spun the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Only a 5th inning walk to the Reds’ Jay Bruce kept Halladay from matching Larsen’s feat.

At the Phillies training camp in Clearwater during this year’s Spring Training, Halladay told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times that while in Toronto, he always wondered how he would do if he ever got the chance to pitch in the playoffs. “How would I stand up? Would it be everything that I thought it was? And it was.” Odds are that when Baseball Hall of Fame voters see his name on the ballot for the first time in 2019, most will remember that October night in Philadelphia, when Roy Halladay stood up just fine, as well as all the many other dominating days and nights he had on the mound.

He was done after the 2013 season, succumbing not to a broken-down arm, but to a bad back. But while he may have been old in baseball years when he retired at 36, we were reminded this week, reading the obituary of a 40-year old, that Halladay was still a young man.

Most of every fan’s heroes are young, because our games are largely played by young men and women. We in the stands marvel at their ability, and roar our approval of their achievements. When at last they leave the stage, we wish for each of them a long and grand retirement, filled with appearances at training camps and celebrations of bygone days, hair gradually going gray, the old uniform eventually traded in for a larger size. Then comes a week like this, with news like that which Tuesday brought us. Our simple wish is vanquished and we are left adrift, clinging to memories and the old mournful paen to an athlete, dying young.

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Responses

  1. A fine tribute, Mike. In our hearts he will remain forever young, and perhaps that is the ultimate reward to living a youthful life to its fullest.
    Ω

    • Well put Allan, so we will. Thanks as always for reading.

      M-

      Michael Cornelius
      603.498.527
      http://www.onsportsandlife.com


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