Some baseball fans never get the privilege of seeing a future Hall of Famer perform in person. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve seen several, including Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Mays. But when I heard the Phillies had acquired Roy Halladay in a trade in December, 2009, I knew I would be seeing another one.
The Phillies were still reeling from their World Series defeat to the New York Yankees. We needed a reason to cheer. After twelve years in Toronto, Halladay had been hoping to come to Philadelphia for a chance to win the World Series. He was about to get that opportunity.
His first season in Philadelphia could not have been scripted any better. Halladay was 32-years-old when he won his first game in a Phillies uniform on Opening Day against the Nationals, striking out nine.
Then on April 11, he registered his first complete game of the season and 50th of his big-league career. It was a stunning performance in which he struck out eight, walked none, and only gave up one unearned run. How fitting that this was also his 150th career victory. Phillies fans everywhere could be seen wearing his #34 jersey proudly. This was going to be another great year!
By now, most of us can recite the rest. Roy Halladay was intense. He never varied his pitching routine. Watching (and rewatching) the perfect game against the Florida Marlins from May 29, 2010, I can only imagine what emotions were going through his head. The shots from the camera into the dugout were hilarious. No one was near him. Ever. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel looked like he hadn’t moved for the last four innings, for fear of jinxing it.
At home, we were holding our breath (as if it would help), until the final out. When “Doc” broke into that beautiful smile, you knew it was finally over. He had struck out eleven batters. The Phillies fans who had come to the game in Miami were treated to the gift of a lifetime.
Roy Halladay was given the nickname “Doc” by Toronto Blue Jays announcer Tom Cheek, as a reference to the Wild West gunslinger Doc Holliday. He certainly pitched with the precision of a surgeon, ending the season with a 21-10 record and a 2.44 ERA. The right-hander set a career high of 219 strikeouts and only 30 walks, and led the National League in wins, innings pitched, and complete games. Halladay was the first to pitch 250+ innings with 30 or fewer walks since Phillies Wall of Famer and Baseball Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander did it with the Cubs in 1923.
Yet, he still wasn’t finished making history that year. On October 6, 2010, Roy Halladay became only the second pitcher in major league history to throw a post season no-hitter. In the first game of the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds he pitched the Phillies to a 4-0 victory in front of the home crowd at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed just one walk in the 5th inning to, current Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce.
When that 2010 season was over, Halladay was honored with the National League Cy Young Award. This was the second time he had won, having previously done so while in the American League with Toronto back in 2003.
Unfortunately, Doc was never able to get the award he really wanted. He pitched another four years for the Phillies, winning one more NL East Division crown in 2011. But the dream of winning a World Series was not to be. Halladay retired after the 2013 season, a nagging shoulder injury finally taking its toll.
On November 7, 2017, the baseball world was rocked by the sudden news that a small aircraft had crashed off the coast of New Port Richey, Florida, reportedly piloted by Halladay.
I saw the report on my phone and showed it to my daughter. We sat there in stunned disbelief. It was true. At only 40 years old, the anchor of one of the best Phillies teams in recent years was gone.
Over the next hours and days, writers and players began to provide their tributes, listing all of Halladay’s many accomplishments with the Phillies. It was heartbreaking.
My first memory of Halladay was of a Phillies game against Toronto. It was May 18, 2008, a miserable, rainy, Sunday. My daughter, Dani, and I had taken cover in Harry the K’s restaurant, as our regular seats were out in left field. We were waiting through a two hour, 43 minute rain delay in the 6th inning and it was about 66 degrees. We were losing, 6-4.
When they finally decided to play ball, who should come out to pitch for the Blue Jays but ROY HALLADAY…..in relief! Dani and I just looked at each other. We couldn’t believe it. He was a starter! Why now? Halladay knew the bullpen was pretty thin and was willing to help his club any way he could. It was his first (and last) relief appearance since 2001. He earned a hold as Toronto won, 6-5.
Then I remember his last year in the majors. The game that stands out was on May 5, 2013, as Halladay valiantly tried to overcome the shoulder injury that would ultimately end his playing days. We watched as he surrendered a record nine runs in 2+ innings that afternoon against the lowly Miami Marlins.
As Manuel patted him on the back and waved him off the mound, the Sunday crowd stood as one and gave Halladay a standing ovation, fully aware that he might be coming to the end of a brilliant career. He did come back and pitch a few games later in the season, ending with an uncharacteristic 4-5 record and a 6.82 ERA. We saw him pitch 6 innings against the Diamondbacks on August 25, 2013 in a 9-5 win, and again the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he left the mound. It was a privilege and an honor to see him one last time.
Harry Leroy “Roy” Halladay was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019 on his first ballot with 85% of the votes. At the ceremony in Cooperstown, his wife Brandy Halladay delivered the emotional acceptance speech. His plaque does not have a team representation, out of respect for both the Philadelphia and Toronto organizations. Doc was elected to the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2018. The Toronto Blue Jays have also retired his number “32” jersey.
The Phillies had planned to retire his number “34” and unveil a statue this year on the 10th anniversary of his perfect game on May 29th. Although that ceremony may not take place on that date because of the COVID-19 restrictions, it will take place at some future point. But the sentiment is clear. Roy Halladay will forever be remembered by Phillies fans as a tenacious pitcher who loved the game of baseball. All he wanted to do was win.