Tao of Stieb: Let’s embrace everything Halladay meant to Blue Jays

Jamie Campbell takes a look at the career and life of former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay who passed away tragically at the age of 40.

It was always hard to talk about Roy Halladay without a tinge of sadness creeping into the conversation.

Even before yesterday’s tragic events, and in spite of his achievements for the franchise, fans were left wistful at what could have been – or should have been – for arguably the greatest player in the Blue Jays history.

The Blue Jays were never as good as he was over the peak seasons of his career. He was the likely All-Star Game starter and Cy Young Award favourite in 2005 before a comebacker off the bat of Kevin Mench ended his season. The team won 88 games in the season where he had his first cup of coffee – losing a no-hitter in the ninth with two out – and never won as many games in the rest of his tenure in Toronto. And when Halladay painted his greatest masterpieces – a perfect game, a no-hitter in the playoffs – they were as a Philadelphia Phillie.

In recent years, that melancholy was gradually giving way to gratitude, as we approached with anticipation the possibility of Halladay’s great career achieving its true culmination: a spot among the immortals in Cooperstown.

Seeing Doc inducted into the Hall of Fame, with a Blue Jays cap on his plaque, would be one of the truly touching moments for Canadian baseball fans. It would have been a salve to heal the pain of the past. The thought that it may still happen, but without him standing at the centre of baseball history for that moment, is heartache that will take much time to subside.

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It’s impossible to proceed talking about the player we all admired without acknowledging that Roy Halladay will be missed most profoundly as a father and husband to his family.

Where Halladay was known as a fiercely focused and intense competitor in his playing days, his post-career social media posts showed a loving and adorably goofy dad who was more readily smiling with those he loved, and laughing at himself.

His wife, Brandy, was a presence at his side through both the lean years and his rise to becoming one of the best pitchers of his generation. It was Brandy who, hearing Roy give voice to his frustrations, purchased for him Harvey Dorfman’s book The Mental ABC’s of Baseball, a tome which became an authoritative doctrine for him. The mantra of “one pitch at a time” that Dorfman preached helped Halladay develop into a methodical, measured and reliably excellent pitcher, drawing from a deep reserve of fierce intelligence and determination.

As the trade deadline approached in 2009, and it became clearer that the Blue Jays could soon deal Halladay, Brandy sat in with the radio booth during a weekend game to help promote the Lady Jays’ charity drive. As the discussion quickly turned from the philanthropy to the state of Halladay family’s hearts and minds, an emotional Brandy memorably held herself together on air, while clearly demonstrating the love they held for the city and franchise, and the complex feelings of closing that chapter in their lives. That she held it together as well as she did stands out as one of the more poignant moments of the conclusion of Halladay’s time in Toronto.

For all the love and admiration we as fans have for Roy Halladay, we owe equal measures of love and support to his family, now and in the years to come.

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In the 2000 season, Roy Halladay posted a 10.64 ERA, a mark which still stands as the worst for any pitcher throwing more than 50 innings in a season.

The story of Halladay’s return to Dunedin to work with Mel Queen and remake himself into the pitcher he became is well-established by now. But it would have been easy for that story to turn out very differently.

Halladay could have become another cautionary tale of the physically gifted first-rounder who flamed out once he reached the majors. Every team has a story like it.

That Halladay persevered, through hard work, determination and surgical focus on his craft was a gift to fans, in Canada, Philadelphia and around the baseball world.

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Every fan will have their own remembrances of the moments that stood out in Halladay’s career. One of the more memorably joyous occasions as a Blue Jays fan was in 2003, as Halladay was tooth-and-nail down the stretch to solidify his case for his first Cy Young Award against former Blue Jay Esteban Loaiza.

In his second-to-last start of the season, Halladay was unjustifiably tossed out of the game by home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi after hitting the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ Rocco Baldelli with a pitch in the sixth. Emergency replacement Dan Reichert immediately allowed two inherited runners to score on Doc’s ledger. Those extra earned runs and the subsequent loss suggested that the Cy might be slipping away.

In his final start of the season, Halladay threw a complete game for a narrow 5-4 victory over Cleveland, and celebrated demonstrably with catcher Kevin Cash after inducing a groundout to end the game. In 2003, staying one pitcher win ahead of your closest competition for the Cy Young Award was a meaningful occurrence. It may have been the closest feeling to a clincher that we had in a decade.

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Roy Halladay’s last game as a Blue Jay was on September 30th, 2009, a brilliant complete game, three-hit shutout against the Boston Red Sox.

Aside from his dominance of a still-potent lineup, the moment that stands out from that game was a hit batsman. After Jonathan Papelbon hit Adam Lind in the previous game, baseball’s codes dictated that retaliation was in order.

In the bottom of the second inning, Roy Halladay took on this duty as only he could. Rather than a defiantly wild pitch into the ribs, Halladay threw a perfectly precise pitch directly into the hard plastic of David Ortiz’s arm guard. And with a hollow “plink”, it was over and done with. Dutiful, and civil, and dignified.

And, as was ever the case with Roy Halladay, on to the next pitch.

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There is no sadder thought in these hours after the tragic news set in than the fact that Roy Halladay is no longer a living legend.

If a hue a sadness coloured our thoughts on Halladay through the conclusion of his career, let us now look back warmly on his achievements, his excellence, and his dignity. Let’s honour his memory, and re-embrace everything that he meant to us as baseball fans.

Let’s never stop loving Roy Halladay.