CHICAGO - Greatness brought to its knees is one of the most difficult things to watch in professional sports. It can be especially cruel when it happens with a swiftness that makes you wonder how yesterday got so far behind us.
Visions of Roy Halladay's perfect game down in Miami and his postseason no-hitter against the Reds at Citizens Bank Park are still fresh in our memories. The mystical arm that provided those unforgettable moments, however, appears to be gone forever.
The Phillies will spend September observing Halladay's work as he attempts to return from the mid-May shoulder surgery that he said his surgeon told him "could turn back the clock two or three years." After two minor-league rehab starts and two big-league starts, there is no indication that the hour and minute hands are headed counterclockwise.
Because of Halladay's stature as one of the best at his profession, the Phillies have always treated the two-time Cy Young Award winner with a delicate respect. They recognize and appreciate that he is a workaholic who is sure to give maximum effort as he attempts to manipulate time.
"Doc obviously was not as effective as he was his first time out," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said after Halladay pitched five messy innings Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. "We'll just continue to monitor his progress and hopefully he gets stronger every time out and he continues to build his pitch count and his arm strength."
In a couple of months, the observations will be over, the respect factor will be irrelevant, and a difficult decision will be at hand.
Do you re-sign Roy Halladay?
Of course you keep watching him in September. If he does not miss a turn, he has five starts remaining. That's five starts to prove he's worth keeping around. Five starts to prove he can consistently light up a radar gun with a reading in the 90s. Based on what we've seen so far, nothing short of a visit from the velocity fairy is likely to get him there.
If it doesn't happen in September, the Phillies need to move in another direction and let Halladay attempt his comeback bid in some other uniform.
They gave themselves another reason to lean that way Friday by signing 26-year-old Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a three-year deal worth a guaranteed $12 million. There's no guarantee, of course, that he's going to be an effective big-league pitcher. Amaro admitted that Gonzalez comes with some risk because of his past surgery to remove bone chips, his light workload over the last two years, and just the unknown that accompanies any player from a closed society like Cuba.
Risks vary by degrees, however, and the fact that the Phillies have recently watched the 26-year-old Gonzalez throw in the mid-90s with an arsenal of other pitches makes him far more attractive than Halladay, who is 10 years older and 10 miles slower in the velocity department.
Besides, Amaro has taken too many risks - health and talent-wise - in recent years that did not work.
Jose Contreras' second contract? Didn't work.
We could go on, but the point is that the Phillies should not keep another risky proposition like Halladay around even if the price seems right. They're already counting on good health and strong production from aging veterans Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, and we've seen what a risk that can be.
If the Phillies want to take a risk on a free-agent pitcher to bolster the starting rotation this offseason, they should go after somebody younger, such as Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, or Tim Lincecum.
Halladay described his outing against the Cubs as being perspiration-impaired, saying he struggled to grip the baseball in the latter innings on a sweltering day. That could explain away the two walks, the two hit batters, and the wild pitch that appeared on his untidy pitching line, but it doesn't change the fact that his velocity sat between 85 and 87 m.p.h. with a couple of pitches hitting 88.
He said he was encouraged because he felt fine, but that didn't change the discouraging type of result that we've seen far too often from Halladay over the last two seasons.
Maybe Halladay will go home to Florida this offseason and reinvent himself as Doc Lite. We all know he has the drive to do it. But the Phillies would be better off letting some other team roll the dice.