Election into the Hall of Fame is the epitome of a baseball player’s career, the ultimate tribute reserved only for the game’s greatest players. That day, as we all knew it would, came for Roy Halladay early Tuesday night when the Baseball Writers Association of America announced that the former Phillies pitcher was headed to Cooperstown as part of the 2019 class.
The news undoubtedly brought back pleasant memories for those who coached, managed and played with Doc, a man who was nearly driven from the game by failure in his early 20s before rebounding to become one of the greatest starting pitchers of his generation. But this moment also had to serve as a jarring reminder that Halladay will not have the opportunity to stand on that sacred stage in a tiny upstate New York village this summer and thank all the people who meant so much to his career and life.
That possibility disappeared Nov. 7, 2017, when Halladay died after his Icon A5 light aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico not far from where the Phillies and his other team, the Toronto Blue Jays, hold spring training every year.
“This epitomizes bittersweet,” said former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the man most responsible for bringing Halladay to Philadelphia. “It still crushes me that he’s gone. I think about him every day not just because of the impact he had on the Phillies as an organization, but also because of the impact he had on me."
Instead of Halladay standing in front of his fellow Hall of Famers and finding his wife, Brandy, and teenage sons Braden and Ryan among the adoring crowd, it will likely be Brandy’s difficult task to talk about her husband’s 16-year career that started with Toronto at the age of 21 in 1998 and ended with Halladay trying to pitch through searing pain at the age of 36 in 2013.
There really is nothing quite like a baseball Hall of Fame weekend. The best players in the history of the game gather in the most relaxed of atmospheres and share stories about their careers. It is no secret that Halladay rarely relaxed during his playing career. His physical workouts started before dawn and his attention to detail was 24-7. He had stories to tell, but he was not going to tell them until his career was over.
We would have heard some of them Tuesday. We would have heard more of them during Hall of Fame weekend. He could have told us more about Harvey Dorfman, the mental sports guru who became Halladay’s muse after the 6-foot-6 righthander was exiled from the big leagues to the Florida State League by the Blue Jays in 2001.
He could have told us more about the 2010 perfect game against the Marlins in Miami and the no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in his first postseason start later that same season. He could have told us more about pitching against Brad Lidge as a high school kid in suburban Denver and his Amazon fishing trip with his close friend Chris Carpenter after the two faced each other in a classic playoff pitcher’s duel in 2011. Remember, that’s the one Halladay saved a man being attacked by an anaconda.
A relaxed Roy Halladay would have had a treasure trove of stories to tell.
Now, it is up to others to tell them and they certainly will.
Former Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee told a few of his favorites Tuesday by phone from his home in Sarasota, Fla.
“You have the perfect game, the no-hitter and so many other great games,” Dubee said.
Two other starts remained etched in Dubee’s memory. The first was Halladay’s debut with the Phillies down in Washington in 2010. The Phillies were ahead, 11-1, after seven innings and Dubee did not see any reason to ask Halladay for anything more that day.
“Seven innings, great way to start the season,” Dubee told Halladay in the visiting dugout during the top of the eighth inning.”
“You sure?” Halladay asked his pitching coach through piercing eyes.
“Yeah, I think I’m sure,” Dubee told his ace. “I’m sure we’ll have to ride you a little harder in some other outings.”
“You sure?” Halladay repeated through piercing eyes.
Halladay eventually shook Dubee’s hand and agreed to come out of the game, but the pitcher’s message was clear: He liked to finish what he started. Halladay completed 67 games in his career, leading his league seven different times. There were a total of 42 complete games in all of baseball last season.
Dubee’s postseason memory of Halladay came during the 2010 National League championship series. Halladay had lost Game 1 at Citizens Bank Park and in the first inning of Game 5, with the Phillies facing elimination, the pitcher strained his groin.
“He really scuffled through that first inning and when he came in he did not sit down in his normal spot in the dugout,” Dubee said. “He went to the tunnel and talked to the trainers. I checked on him and he told me he was sore but he was going back out.”
The third inning provided the worst-case scenario. Halladay was forced to cover first base on a grounder to Ryan Howard.
“Get somebody going down in the bullpen,” Dubee told manager Charlie Manuel.
Halladay escaped the inning, but Dubee was sure he was done.
“No,” Halladay insisted. “I can do this.”
Halladay covered six innings and allowed just two runs to send the series back to Philadelphia. He only had one message for Dubee at the team’s workout the following day at Citizens Bank Park.
“We’ve got to win the next two so I can start Game 1 of the World Series,” Dubee said. “He pitched on one leg. His determination was completely off the charts.”
Even though his Hall of Fame plaque will likely feature Halladay in a Blue Jays cap, the pitcher’s career ended with the Phillies and his allegiance remained with the team after his 2013 retirement. Just a day before his retirement he had spoken to a collection of Phillies minor-leaguers at the team’s spring-training facility in Clearwater, Fla.
“He wanted to become the next Harvey Dorfman,” Amaro said. “He wanted to make an impact on young players long after he was done playing. After he retired and he sat in some meetings with the coaching staff, it was just mesmerizing to listen to him talk. He just always talked about focusing and concentrating on the pitch you were making at that moment. You can’t change the pitch you made three innings ago or the one you’re going to make later in the inning. And as we all know he lived by that. He was laser focused and that’s what made him so great.”
Amaro said Halladay used to hand out Dorfman’s book – The Mental ABC’s of Pitching – after his discussions with minor-leaguers.
“He’d tell them to read it and then let’s talk about it,” Amaro said.
It was a chance to learn from a future Hall of Famer who is now officially a Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay’s family, friends, fans and former teammates, coaches and managers will all gather in Cooperstown this summer to salute the man for a job well done. It is sure to be a moment that is both wonderful and painful.