A Farewell To Doc

Wednesday, November 08 2017 @ 12:21 PM EST

Contributed by: Eephus

It's hard to find the right words.

There are so many stories that should and probably will be written about Harry Leroy Halladay. I can't possibly do the man justice by trying to impart those facts within my limited knowledge.

Especially since many people know the story: how he was a top draft pick who rose to the major leagues with so much promise, coming within a single out of throwing a no-hitter in his second career start. Then the story shifted to one of a struggling young pitcher trying to make his way against the very best hitters in the world, during the tail end of an era where slugging batters dominated the sport no less. He turned in one of the worst seasons a qualified MLB pitcher has ever handed on the desk in 2000, and the team sent him down three levels the next year in a potentially vain hope he'd figure shit out.

The 2001 team stands out to me really because it was the genuine beginning of my infatuation/love affair with the Toronto Blue Jays. Which is objectively hilarious because what a truly forgettable team, despite how Carlos Delgado was freaking awesome, Vernon Wells gave us lots of hope for the future (ha!) and the Quantrill-Plesac bromance was only trumped by their awesome abilities to actually pitch good bullpen innings. Aside from that (and Jose Cruz Jr.'s 30-30 year), the most notable thing about this squad was how dreadful the starting pitching staff was, particularly early on. Steve Parris, Joey Hamilton, Chris Michalek, Esteban Loaiza (I mean, Tom Riddle), all stinking up the SkyDome mound on a regular basis. Finally this pitching-sad squad made a depth callup in the middle of June for an arm with anything resembling life.

I'm not lying, I actually remember this game somewhat: Halladay's 2001 debut in relief (a truly dreadful Loaiza start it turns out). Doc same in early and then surrendered six runs in two-plus innings to the Red Sox. I recall my thirteen year old self watching and thinking: "This guy is really awful. I never want to see him out there again.". Halladay's ERA on the season after that game was 23.14. The team gave him an actual start five days later and I thought they were completely insane. This is why MLB teams don't listen to the whims of 13 year olds.

I quickly changed my tune and fell in love with Halladay. He didn't walk anybody (25 in 105.1 IP), didn't give up home runs (3!) and was just 24 years old in 2001, yet clearly had the best composure on that staff. Nothing seemed to bother this guy now, not Billy Koch blowing his potential wins multiple times or even just playing on a team so forgettably mediocre as the 2001 Blue Jays. You could just tell he was potentially on a different level.

Indeed he was. Roy Halladay had clearly arrived. He was a lonely bright spot on a really bad 2002 Blue Jays team, a point of pride on a competitive 2003 team that scored a million runs thanks to simultaneous career years, and his injury/brief ineffectiveness was a major symptom of the Season From Hell (vol I) that was 2004.

2005 rolls in, I'm seventeen and now have fallen in love with pitching. I spent a lot of my after school time at my high school going out back to the sports field, finding a familiar square on the outer brick wall and just firing away. I learned quickly my fastball was pathetically slow (like barely breaking the speed limit in a school zone slow), but the appeal of it all was more in the art of pitching than just being able to blow heat past people. I wanted to carve corners, change speeds, make em think something else was coming. I 'd been watching a master at this in Doc Halladay for three-plus seasons now, and I wanted to emulate this master sculptor like a child desperate for just a single slab of marble. Everything he threw at hitters moved, but it moved in such unpredictable directions and was always in just a perfect spot where a hitter couldn't quite get it. Another weak ground ball. I watched every one of his starts, studied this impossible method and aspired to be capable of the same, even after an errant but heartbreaking line drive from Kevin Mench prematurely ended what could have been Doc's best season.

Halladay's brilliance as a Blue Jay became a yearly expectancy as his career continued. Once we knew he was fully healthy after an initially exciting 2006 season, Doc spent his remaining time as a Blue Jay spinning seasonal masterpieces for teams that either made ineffectual moves towards competing or just wanted to start over. After 2009, it was time for Doc to start over. It was a common secret Halladay wanted to play in Philadelphia, yet he never made a public request or complained on emerging social media, and the team made a deal that now basically results in getting a third of R.A. Dickey and all of Devon Travis. Conclusion jury is still out looking for conclusions on that one.

Losing Doc hurt every fan of the Blue Jays, despite how inevitable it felt near the end. And yet, many of us didn't harbor ill feelings towards him for wanting to get outta town. Many of us still rooted for him, and were ecstatic the night he threw his perfect game in Miami. I remember I was out on the town with some friends, heard about what he'd done and once I was free rushed home at three in the morning just to watch the highlights of another Halladay masterpiece. And he looked every bit the pitcher he had always been, except he was wearing the wrong uniform. But that didn't matter. He was still our guy.

Later that same season was the first game of the 2010 NLDS with the Phillies facing off against the Reds (before they became my adopted NL team). A friend of mine wanted to have a long hang out of beers, personal basketball/baseball rivalries and various other stuffs, but it was Roy Halladay's first ever playoff appearance for the Phillies and I just did not want to miss it, so I blew him off. My friend fired some snarky remarks my way, which I gladly accepted for the opportunity to watch live only the second no-hitter in MLB postseason history. A historically excellent performance tarnished only by the fact that Doc missed a perfect game by walking a single batter, on a borderline 3-2 pitch no less. The Phillies won that series against the Reds but lost frustratingly to a clearly inferior Giants squad in the NLCS, and that was the closest Halladay ever got to a championship he richly deserved. He had a couple more good years with Philadelphia (including that great Game Five playoff duel with Carpenter the next year) but shoulder problems slowly robbed him of velocity and he hung up the spikes after 2013 with 206 wins in the big leagues.

Roy Halladay was the kind of player you wanted to root for, to cheer for, to love, once you inhaled a single wiff of what he was about. He was an insanely hard working and well conditioned, but humble about his own personal successes. His greatest pitching skill was ruthless efficiency, yet he was incredibly enjoyable to watch when on his game. In retirement his obsessive dedication to his craft gave way to a man cheerful and relaxed with his accomplishments, whether it be trolling a fan with a Halladay jersey (who walked past Doc without recognizing him) in good social media fun, signing a theatrical one day contract so he could retire as a Blue Jay (with all the gushing that followed), or taking up an interest in aviation (which is exactly what has led to this tragedy).

All I can say is that I'm proud to be a fan of the Blue Jays, because Roy Halladay played for the Blue Jays. A great, classy ballplayer who by so many accounts was an even greater and classier human being. During those forgettable seasons when Doc took the mound I usually didn't care who the Jays were facing or what the sad W-L record of my team was, I was more excited to see a true master take the stage once more. I am truly saddened we will never get to see the man himself take to the precious stage of life again.