When told of the death of Roy Halladay in a plane crash Tuesday, former Toronto Blue Jays GM Gord Ash remembered the former staff ace as “an intense competitor” and “a quiet family man.”
Ash was GM when Toronto selected Halladay out of Arvada West High School in the first round of the 1995 draft. Halladay was the first draft pick made by Ash at the helm.
“I remember speaking to Roy when we drafted him,” says Ash, who currently works in special projects for the Milwaukee Brewers. “He was a quiet young man. He was respectful but not much for small talk. As an executive, you remember better the players who were problems and Roy was never a problem. While I was there, as close as the front office could get to the players at the time, Roy was a quiet leader, someone who had the universal respect of his teammates.”
The start of Halladay’s career at the major-league level was marked by sensation followed by struggles: a no-hitter broken up with the 27th out of the last game of the 1998 season and then a demotion all the way down to A ball the following year.
“When Roy went back down to the minors, he didn’t leave it to others to tell him what was wrong or wait for them to fix him,” Ash says. “He helped himself. He took the burden on himself. And he believed in himself. He never gave up. He didn’t let the notoriety of being the first-rounder and the one-hitter distract him and he didn’t let his struggles discourage him.”
Ash said that when it came to make-up, Halladay was similar to Pat Hentgen and Chris Carpenter, the other arms in the Jays’ rotation.
“I think [Hentgen and Carpenter] found it a little easier to let go of that intensity away from the game than Roy did,” Ash says.
While Halladay was among the game’s best pitchers throughout his prime and a known quantity to people in the game and Jays fans, Ash says the pitcher has little interest in stardom and all that goes with it.
“He was a very private guy and family focused,” Ash says. “No one cared more about performing well but he didn’t have a larger-than-life persona. That was part of his intensity too — he cared about the stuff that made him a better pitcher, if it helped the team. He really didn’t pay much attention to all the other stuff.”
Ash said that he last spoke to Halladay when he announced his retirement in 2013.
“Roy was kind enough to invite me to the press conference when he made his announcement,” Ash says. “He made it clear that the years in [the Jays] organization meant a lot to him and he appreciated his teammates in Toronto.”