(Photo via the Wiki Creative Commons, seen here)
As Toronto’s major sports teams see an upsurge in success, with the young Leafs considered contenders, the Raptors a consistent top-three seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Blue Jays going on back-to-back playoff runs, it’s easy to forget the not so distant, dark past. A past where Toronto’s major sports teams had an embarrassingly long irrelevant streak where not one of them were considered contenders for the entirety of the 2000s. A past where Canadians stopped watching Toronto sports for team success, but instead for the individual superstars that still brought entertainment to the sport. In the early 2000s the Maple Leafs had the big Swede Mats Sundin. The Raptors had Vince Carter and then Chris Bosh. And Toronto’s professional baseball team? They had the biggest, most intoxicating superstar of them all. The one guy that could entice people who didn’t even follow baseball to watch an entire game and casual fans to pick their trips to the Sky Dome around his start days. The Blue Jays had the Doc, the one and only Roy Halladay.
As a Blue Jay, Roy Halladay blossomed into an a family man with a wife and two boys, a humanitarian, a renowned and respected professional, and the best pitcher in baseball, one who other baseball players wanted to be. In his 16-year career with the Jays and Phillies, Halladay was an ace in every sense of the word. He had the cool nickname (Doc), the imposing 6-foot-6, 225 pound frame and ferocious windup, the unmatchable work ethic, and the Hall-of-Fame worthy career. On Tuesday, November 7th, when the plane he was piloting alone crashed in the Gulf of Mexico, Roy Halladay died far too soon at the age of 40.
To speak of Roy Halladay and not mention his off-field accomplishments would be a dishonour to the great person he was. Despite the money, fame, and respect he garnered from his actions as an athlete, Halladay was always humble and working to improve as a person.
“I really believe if you lead a good life and always try to do the right things I think you’re always impacting someone,” Halladay once told Tom Verducci about what he wants out of life. “That’s what we’ve tried to instill in our kids. For us it’s more important to try to be a good person, all around, especially with other people.”
As a father, a husband, a volunteer with his son’s baseball team, and a humanitarian helping underprivileged kids, Halladay made it his goal to help others during and after his career. Because something was instilled in Halladay at a very young age that stayed with him until his shocking death: work ethic, on and off the mound. A work ethic that brought Halladay to workouts before anyone at 5 a.m. A work ethic that drove Halladay to study game film for his next opponent directly after a start. A work ethic that pushed Halladay to work out while his teammates would play cards before a game. A work ethic that led Halladay to work out so hard in the off-season that he consumed 7,000 calories a day just in order to maintain his weight. A work ethic that teammates would try, and subsequently fail, to copy. And a determination to win so strong that Halladay never spoke to teammates on game day.
As Ben Lindeberg put it, “Plenty of professional athletes are admired for their dedication and intensity; fewer of those are also well-liked.” Roy Halladay managed to be both and more. Not only was he liked, he was also the best pitcher in baseball.
Drafted by the Jays in 1995, Halladay was an eight-time All-Star, a two-time Cy Young award winner (and was top-three in voting five times), and his 65.6 career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is higher than any other pitcher during that time. Halladay went 175-78 with a 2.98 ERA in his career, and in that span nobody had a better winning percentage (.692), nobody threw more shutouts (19) and nobody came close to throwing so many complete games (64).His 61 complete games between 2003 and 2011 are 30 more than any other pitcher during that time and more than several teams. Halladay should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
(Video courtesy of DownAndRound, YouTube)
“It’s definitely by choice,” Halladay said about how he became the best pitcher in baseball. “For me the satisfaction is always the competition, and the self-gratification knowing you did something to the best of your ability and I think that’s all it will ever be for me. It’s not ever going to be who knows me and what do they think about me. It’s ultimately going to come down to how I went about doing my job.”
For Doc, the most important thing was how he went about doing his job, and the results followed. For Toronto, the most important thing was Doc.
I was young when Halladay was at the prime of his career in Toronto in the early 2000s (before he was traded to the Phillies), but I remember it well. As a Torontonian sports fan with nothing but mediocre teams to cheer for, I remember the pitcher’s omnipresence in every sports conversation (or every conversation period if he had pitched the night prior). I remember how intoxicating it was to watch Doc pitch because out of everyone in the world, he was the best at what he did. No matter what other cities had on Toronto (sports-wise), we had the best pitcher in baseball. We had the guy every other team wanted and admired. And to this day, as much as Toronto’s major sports teams have improved, fans in the city are yet to get another opportunity to cheer for someone nearly as dominant as Doc.
Following his departure from the Blue Jays in 2009, Halladay thanked the city of Toronto saying, “Toronto will forever hold a special place in my heart. The memories will last a lifetime and so will my gratitude.”
RIP Doc, the memories will last a lifetime and so will our gratitude.