Roy Halladay impacted many major-leaguers during his 16-year career, even those he didn’t share the dugout with for all that long.
I talked to a candid and reflective Ricky Romero about what it was like to follow Doc’s footsteps as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays and what he learned from him when they shared the same clubhouse during Romero’s rookie season in 2009. What I learned was that Halladay had a philosophical and sensitive side that he revealed when he thought his teammates needed it.
A still-somber Romero gave me a window into his personal relationship with Halladay and what he thinks young kids can learn from his legacy…
Sportsnet – How did you find out that he passed?
Ricky Romero– Scott Richmond and Casey Janssen. I just got back from a workout and I said ‘I’m going to shower and take a nap.’ And my phone kept going off with all these text messages and I thought ‘I don’t normally get this many text messages.’ So, I looked and one of them said ‘Doc just passed away.’
I put the TV on MLB Network. My wife walked in and I was in tears. She said ‘what happened?’ I said ‘just look at the TV.’ Automatically I just started reading his text messages and I just keep reading them. This guy cared about me. Someone who I idolized when I first got to the Blue Jays and he’s gone.
It’s just a shame that something like that happened to a guy who we all thought was invincible. I feel for his wife and his two boys. Those three are the first things that came to mind.
SN – Do you remember the first time you met Roy?
RR – Yeah, I actually do. When I got drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2005, I didn’t really know anything about Toronto or Canada. The first time you hear your name ‘the Toronto Blue Jays select, Ricky Romero’ you’re like ‘what the….’
The one thing you knew about the Toronto Blue Jays is their franchise players at the time were Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay. After I got drafted the team flew me and my family up to Toronto. When we were being shown around, Roy ran in from a bullpen session and shook my hand and shook my parents’ hands and my brother’s and sisters’ hands. I was like ‘whoa, I can’t believe he did that.’ He didn’t stay long. Just like that he was gone, but the fact he took the time and knew it would mean a lot to me was something special.
SN – What are the memories that come back when you think of him?
RR – There are so many. I’ve been telling my wife stories about him non-stop. I remember when it came out that he was going to get traded we were on the (team) plane. And nobody sat beside Doc. He always had two seats. I went right beside him and I begged him to stay. I pleaded with him, promising I would work as hard as I could and we could make things work here and win here.
He just looked at me like I was crazy and was like ‘what are you doing, man?’ I was just a young and naive ballplayer at the time but he really was a hero to all of us and we didn’t want to see him go although deep down we all understood.
We were in Baltimore for the last series of the year in 2009. We sort of knew his days were numbered as a Blue Jay. I got a text from him saying we were going out for beers. I was like ‘what I didn’t even think you drank beer.’ I never once saw him with a beer. It was Brad Arnsberg, our pitching coach, because they were really close and a few other guys. Nothing fancy, not a club, just a bar, with a couple guys talking about life and everything. We were there for hours and it is one of my best memories of being in the big-leagues because you were so honoured to be let in that inner circle so to speak.
In spring training of 2012 I faced him in Clearwater. I thought it was so cool and an honour. Here I am going up against the guy that was the face of the franchise. The guy I wanted to be like. Even in spring training he was so intense and I was trying to get his attention and looking at him. Trying to get him to break and laugh. Finally, he broke and I got him to crack a smile and I was like ‘there it is.’ And he was like ‘what are you doing, man’ and I was just laughing. And I remember when the game got rained out we saw each other in the tunnel and we embraced and he told me how proud he was of me. We were in the all-star game in 2011 the year before when he was with the Phillies and he told me then also how proud of me he was. It was pretty awesome.
SN – Did you remain close after he left?
RR – Yeah, he was good at keeping tabs on his guys. The year that was really tough for me in 2012, I remember another cool moment that we shared is that we were playing the Yankees in New York and they (Philadelphia) were playing the New York Mets and we happened to be staying at the same hotel and he called my room and told me to come down to his room.
We probably talked for two to three hours in his room about everything that was going on. At that time, he was struggling too with injuries and it wasn’t going very well for him. I just remember him giving me as much advice as he could and telling me to keep my head up. It speaks to the man that he was. That year in 2012 when I was struggling I still have two text messages saved that he sent me. I re-read those messages when he passed and caught myself in tears. Every word that he wrote in those messages he meant and they made even more sense now. I was lucky to have that connection with him.
SN – Is there a specific part of the message that resonated with you?
RR – The messages are so long. It is crazy that he took the time but he didn’t do anything 50 per cent. He sent me a couple messages when I got sent down in 2013 that really helped my spirits. One thing I remembered that sticks out to me is a quote where he says ‘You don’t regret failure. You regret effort.’
I re-read that a couple days ago and I was like ‘wow, that makes perfect sense.’ You don’t regret failing but you will regret not putting in the right amount of effort in trying not to fail. That defines him. He put all his effort in to everything. And if he failed he could deal with it and move on. He was a master of his craft. He had the mental game down to a tee. Young kids could learn a lot from a guy like that.
SN – What is the best piece of baseball advice he gave you?
RR – He pulled me aside one day and he said ‘if I could give you any advice as a starter, finish what you start. It doesn’t matter if you go six innings or seven innings, or nine innings, you don’t want to leave your runs out there. You never want to leave your runs out there for somebody else to clean up. You start something, finish it.’
And it really is so true. I truly believe that to this day. Not just in baseball but in life. It is not that he didn’t trust his teammates or didn’t want to do what’s best for the team but he wanted to take ownership for what he was doing and no matter what walk of life you’re in, that’s admirable.
SN – I was listening to our baseball podcast At the Letters and I heard a stat that I couldn’t believe. Halladay had nine complete games in three consecutive seasons. For someone who has taken the mound every fifth day, put that in perspective.
RR – That’s just crazy. I’ve never seen a bullpen just relax and put their feet up like the days he was pitching because you knew what you were going to get out of him. To me that’s something I tried to embody as a starter as a young rookie. I want to go out there and get complete games and be there in in the ninth inning. Twenty-seven complete games in three years, that’s something you won’t see in baseball for a while. The game has changed. It’s not even like he played that long ago, but you won’t see that again.
SN – What do you want the fans to remember about him?
RR – Doc was one of a kind. I don’t think there will ever be a duplicate of him. A gentle giant. Big guy, well put together, so ferocious on the mound but when you caught him off the field and he was away from baseball he was into flying and fishing and he had his passions. What I want people to remember is he cared about the community in Toronto. That had a big influence on me when he left, I wanted to be involved in the community as much as I could.
A lot of the stuff I did after he left was because of him. He’s definitely not going to be forgotten by me. His jersey hangs here in my man cave and it forever will. I will be sure to tell my son about who Doc Halladay was.
Devastated and heartbroken. Doc, thank you so much for all of your advice and for teaching me how to be a pro. I Will never forget you and I will make damn sure Sebastian grows up understanding what kind of player and man his daddy got to play alongside. You will be missed my friend, may you rest in paradise my heart goes out to your family.
2,722 Likes, 47 Comments – Ricky Romero (@rickyro24) on Instagram: “Devastated and heartbroken. Doc, thank you so much for all of your advice and for teaching me how…”