A SHOULDER like the one that Roy Halladay described to reporters yesterday does not just occur over the course of a month or 2. What we have witnessed over the last year is the culmination of years of abuse, and if you think that is not the appropriate word for it, spend a few minutes studying the physiology of a pitcher's delivery.
Delivering a ball in an overhand motion at 90-plus mph is not a task the human body was meant to perform, and over the last decade few pitchers have performed it as often as Halladay. The conversation that the soon-to-be 36-year-old righthander had with Dr. Neal ElAttrache is one that plenty of the great ones have endured. His response to it - unabashed optimism - is just the latest reminder that his mind is wired differently from yours or mine.
Make no mistake - we may have seen the last of Roy Halladay. If that ends up being the case, it will be a damn shame. You can't help but wonder what kind of legacy we would assign him if his career arc had crossed Citizens Bank Park a few years before it did, when he would have been backed by one of the most powerful lineups in National League history and a new generation of fans that was starting to discover how much fun baseball could be. Instead, Halladay finds himself facing the most difficult opponent of his career, an arthroscopic procedure that, in a best-case scenario, will get him back on the field for the stretch run.
That, of course, presumes there will be a stretch run for these Phillies, who have yet to put together more than 3 consecutive days of baseball solid enough to make you believe they are the team they contend to be. Last May, Halladay said many of the same things that filled the notebooks and gigabytes yesterday only to return to a team that was preparing to dismantle itself in advance of the July 31 trade deadline. A couple of wins over the Giants in San Francisco offered some hope, but the real test will take place in the coming weeks, as the Phillies continue to face a long line of contenders who feel equally optimistic about their prospects for October.
The month of May could decide not only the Phillies' future, but Halladay's as well. If they make it to June with a realistic shot at the postseason, then we might start talking about the moves that can be made to replace a player who the front office thought would be giving them 200 innings of very good baseball. But if May looks like April, the Phillies will be forced to look toward a future that almost certainly would not include Halladay. Sure, he said the right thing yesterday when asked if he would consider returning to the Phillies on a cut-rate deal for 2014.
"I'm going to focus on the here and now and this process," he said. "I've always told you guys I love Philadelphia, love playing here, it's a great place to be. But there's a lot to be determined. I want to be effective and I want to be a part of the team. I don't want to be a hindrance."
But he also wants a ring. Halladay mentioned the World Series three or four times during the news briefing, and the unfortunate truth is that his best chance of reaching that stage might not exist in Philadelphia. He already served his time with a rebuilding team in Toronto. If 2013 ends with guys like Cliff Lee and Chase Utley playing somewhere other than Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies will struggle to make their case that Halladay should return. In such a scenario, Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee likely would be gone, and Carlos Ruiz would be a free agent, and the long-struggling lineup would be even further from a fix.
If Halladay's current optimism is rewarded and doctors are able to, as he put it, "turn back the clock 2 or 3 years," then there will be plenty of teams willing to offer a modest guaranteed salary for the chance to see what one of the greatest pitchers of this generation has left. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox - heck, even the Mets - could wind up with a more compelling argument for the World Series as a potential fringe benefit. While we are spinning scenarios, a return to that revamped Blue Jays team is an interesting one to consider.
As Halladay and Ruben Amaro Jr. both said yesterday, the future possibilities are too dizzying to focus on anything other than the present. Halladay could be back on the mound in August. Or doctors could tell him that the damage is far worse than the arthrogram suggested, that one of the greatest careers of the last 20 years is better off closed.
One thing is certain: For any of it to matter to the Phillies and their fans, they must take care of their own business over the next month. For Halladay, the best-case scenario is another chance to pitch in 2013. For the Phillies, it's a reason for him to do so.