You hear it all the time. Philly likes its heroes dirty. We like our idols to wear their hearts on their sleeves, to show some emotion, tell a funny tale afterward, maybe even make an incendiary comment now and then. Do a face-plant into a wall as Aaron Rowand once did; play on two bad knees the way Dutch Daulton did; spit a wad of who-knows-what between your cheek and gum as you round third as Lenny Dykstra once did, and we'll understand when you bypass the autograph line on your way to the dugout every day. Take your beatings with no complaint or regret the way Michael Vick has, we might even work harder to forget your past.
So how do we explain how 40 voters from the Daily News sports staff (plus a select panel of others) chose Roy Halladay as our Sportsperson of the Year? Again, for the second consecutive year? How do you explain it after a season in which Cliff Lee returned, entertained and - for months at a time - dazzled and dominated? How do you explain it in a year in which Doug Collins acted as a civic high priest while resurrecting the Sixers? How do you explain it after Shady McCoy finally answered those prayers for an Eagles ground game? How do you explain in a year in which flashy Claude Giroux not only emerged as an NHL superstar, but supplanted Mike Richards as the face of the Flyers? How did we end up with this stoic sports hermit, a guy who finished on the wrong end of our latest baseball agony, that 1-0 defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5?
Even Roy Halladay is wondering. "As competitive as all the teams are?" Halladay says. "And as competitive as our team is? Yeah, absolutely I'm surprised. We won 102 games, and we obviously have some good players on our team. And then you look around and all the other sports teams. It obviously was a tremendous thrill the first time. But coming from such a good sports demographic, I never would have thought it would happen twice."
Since being traded here in December 2010, Halladay has started 65 games for the Phillies, completed 17 of them, and finished first and then second in the National League Cy Young Award voting. In 2010, he went 21-10 and threw two no-hitters - one a perfect game - with the backdrop of Lee as exiled son. He finished second to the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young voting last year, the season in which the prodigal son returned. Halladay finished 19-6 with a 2.35 earned run average.
So the numbers are there. What's missing, or often seems to be, is the warm and fuzzies of Collins, the flair of Giroux, the ever-present, made-for-ESPN smile of McCoy. "My thought process about Philly is that it's about guys who punch a clock," says Halladay's longtime agent, Greg Landry. "And then bust their ass while on the clock."
That's Harry LeRoy Halladay. Game 1, Game 80, Game 162, Halladay has been as consistent as a Zurich clock and as accurate, too. But sports in Philly is not a numbers game. If so, the Linc would have been renamed for Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid would be Eagles coach for life. Sports in Philly is about titles, yes, but also coming up big on big stages. It's about slamming the door on your best days and gutting it on your worst ones. In that sense, whether it's the no-hitter he threw in his very first postseason appearance or that near-masterpiece in his latest excruciating outing, Halladay has been as Philly as they come.
And yet there is that other part of him, which is Philly in the way that Princess Grace is Philly. Cliff Lee sprints from the mound as if he were Pete Rose's son. Halladay's stoical gait is more in line with Steve Carlton's. Now and then he will glare at an umpire, curse himself and his fate, bristle at a reporter's question. But for most of his two seasons in a Philadelphia uniform, he has conducted himself with all the fieriness of a CPA, his emotions tucked so tightly under his sleeve that it's a wonder his arm gets proper circulation.
"He's very protective, as well he should be," says Landry. "He's been characterized as robotic, which I can assure you is completely false. I know that's based on how he goes about his business on the baseball field, and it's a compliment, but really he's two separate people. One is that when he is on the field nothing matters to him but winning. When he's off the field, he still thinks about winning. But he's about friendship and family, too."
"I've always been that way," Halladay says. "I'm at the field, there's one thing I'm there for. I've never been real good at, when I go to do something, to show all these different qualities. I go there to do that one thing. It's the same thing even with the media. When you're talking to them and you're talking to them about baseball, it's just straight ahead. There's not a lot of personality involved in that. I think you give honest answers to what you're trying to do, and then that's it."
That's it? In Philly?
And then he said something that implied so much more.
"I do think I have a better grasp of the fans and the city," he said, "than they do of me."
To most, it is hard to understand. Lose a deciding game to your best friend one month. And then take not one, but two vacations with him in the ensuing ones. One to Hawaii with the families. Another, a long-anticipated fishing trip to Brazil. "It wasn't planned out that way," Roy Halladay was saying. "If I had known the way things were going to go, I would have canceled both of them."
That he could go through with it may be as hard for us to comprehend as his Spock-like approach on the mound. Imagine Brian Dawkins fishing with Tom Brady in March 2005; Eric Lindros casting with Scott Stevens in July 2000; Mitch Williams on a boat with Joe Carter in November 1993. You can't. It goes against our civic DNA. But we are not Roy Halladay. We admire him, respect him, vote for him.
But do we get him?
For you, for me, for the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the raw, tortured emotions left from that 1-0 Game 5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at the hands of Halladay's best friend, Chris Carpenter, would preclude a resumption of that relationship so soon, regardless of what had previously been arranged. It was odd to many, in fact, to hear both players excitedly anticipating that Game 5 matchup, their first-ever, as if it were a golf outing or fishing trip, as if the fates of their teams and fandom were not riding on the outcome.
Afterward, only Carpenter deemed the experience "fun."
Halladay? "It's hard to have it end like that," he said after allowing the game's only run against the game's first two batters. "It won't sit well this winter."
And it hasn't. He couldn't watch his buddy pitch the Cardinals to another world championship. "Too painful," he says. He was disconsolate, depressed even, for a good 3 weeks. "Eventually, though, you have to accept the results and continue to move on with your life," he says. "You have your baseball life. And you have your personal life. And it's easy for me to separate that."
I told him it wasn't so easy for those of us with one life, or in the case of some Philly sports fans, no life. "Absolutely I understand that," he says. "And being with him [Carpenter] was definitely weird at first. And to be honest, what I know now, if I had a chance to pitch against somebody I hated over somebody I liked, I'd take somebody I hated. That's just the way things happen sometimes. And surely there's some circumstances in everyday life like it, where you're competing against a best friend for a job or something like that."
So, who won the fishing?
"I don't know,"Halladay says. "We caught a lot of fish, though."
"Let me tell you a story about Roy," Landry says from his Louisiana home. It goes back 4 years, when Halladay was still pitching for Toronto and Landry's daughter was only 4. Halladay hung a curve, and the ball was hit so hard it nearly hit the Rogers Centre roof. Landry launched some profanity-laced shots of his own at the television. The following day, amid a conversation with her father's biggest client, Marseille Landry badgered her father for the phone until he relented. "Hey, Uncle Roy, how come you threw that bad pitch last night?" she asked.
"I don't know," said Uncle Roy. "It wasn't very smart . . . Uncle Roy's going to work on that, because he doesn't like throwing bad pitches."
Satisfied, the little girl passed the phone back to her father.
"I guess you were talking a lot of [bleep] about me last night," Halladay said to his agent.
Landry is still his agent. And still his friend.
There will be a time, I suspect, when Halladay is done playing, that those who meet him at that point of his life will be amazed to hear and read about the compartmentalized approach to his craft, and his life, he uses now. He will be then who he was for this interview: less guarded, humorous, soulful even.
But don't expect any change in the immediate future, because it isn't coming. Halladay's intensity will continue to be imparted through his pitching, not from sharp insights or from the color of his uniform after a game. He will hang in there on his worst days and humiliate on his best, a merge of craft and grit we will undoubtedly bore our grandchildren describing someday.
Do we love Roy Halladay? Sure, but it's more than that.
We revere him.
"Honestly, I do think I'm a Philly-type athlete," he said. "I think it's a different feeling being here. And that's the feeling I wanted so badly in Toronto. I wanted the fans to care. I wanted our players to care. I wanted it to be as meaningful as it could be, like it is here. The people here are so passionate, and I think also about the players who have come through here recently. The Chase Utleys and the Jim Thomes - all the hard-nosed and hard workers. That's always what I wanted to be. I couldn't find a better place to play."
For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.