TORONTO – Some free advice for the Toronto Blue Jays, should they happen to want it: Don’t wait for an entire tribute package to be prepared, just retire Roy Halladay’s No. 32, immediately.
No matter how they end up celebrating his memory, and internal discussions on how to fittingly honour the franchise icon killed Tuesday in a plane crash are already underway, the removal of 32 from circulation has to be a part of it.
The Blue Jays were probably going to wait until his induction to the Hall of Fame – he won’t be eligible until the 2019 ballot – to retire his number. That’s what they did with Roberto Alomar’s No. 12. But now that Halladay is gone there’s no point in waiting.
Deciding on the right time for his addition the club’s Level of Excellence, perhaps even placing a statue, among other honours requires planning and nuance. Consultation with the Halladay family will be important and quite obviously they’re dealing with far more important things right now.
But it’s obvious that no Blue Jays player should wear 32 again. Formalize it now, sort out the details later, and give a grieving fan base something small to smile about amid the lingering heartache.
To be fair, this is uncharted territory for the Blue Jays, who because of their youth as a franchise hadn’t lost any iconic players before Halladay. Of the 10 people the team’s recognized on the Level of Excellence, only beloved radio broadcaster Tom Cheek, who died from cancer in 2005, is gone.
How to do the right thing in an instant-judgment age is incredibly difficult, particularly when the grief is so raw, so caution is warranted.
“We’ve spent time talking about it and brainstorming and researching what is optimal and we’ll do that in conjunction with his family,” general manager Ross Atkins said Thursday. “And we’ll want to do everything possible to ensure he’s celebrated and honoured.”
The 2018 schedule affords two opportunities to jointly remember Halladay with the Philadelphia Phillies, the ace right-hander’s other club, as the Blue Jays visit Citizens Bank Park from May 25-27 with a return engagement at Rogers Centre on Aug. 24-26.
Both teams deserve the time to work through their sorrow and explore the possibilities.
The Blue Jays did well in subtly ensuring Jose Bautista was feted during the final homestand of the season, but the outpouring of emotion since Halladay’s death makes getting things right all the more important.
Few players have meant as much to Blue Jays fans as Halladay.
“You just think about the impact of his career on baseball, it’s significant,” said Atkins. “A remarkable story from having to go back to the minor-leagues, it might be too strong a word to say re-invent himself, but certainly make significant adjustments and persevere through a great deal to become one of the best pitchers in franchise history and one of the best pitchers in baseball. The reputation he had from a distance, one I knew very well, from being drafted in 1995 and watching his career closely, was as one of the hardest working guys and best teammates in baseball. It’s a devastating loss for his family, it’s a devastating loss for the Toronto Blue Jays and his extended family here, and certainly for Major League Baseball.”
With their next home game set for next opening day, March 29, 2018, it’s going to be a while before the Blue Jays can pay tribute to Halladay in a large public forum with their fans. Announcing that No. 32 is retired, as of now, is one way to hold the fort between now and then.