As was everyone I know, I was stunned and devastated by the sudden death of former Major League Baseball all-star Roy Halladay. My youth as a Phillies fan is as tied to Doc as any of the rest of those teams. I have a signed, framed, and matted picture and ticket from his perfect game in Miami in May of 2010. As cliché as this is going to sound, I can remember as if it were yesterday his first playoff appearance. To the surprise of no one who watched him before, it was also the first post-season no-hitter in Phillies history, and the first in Major League Baseball since 1956.
I also remember as if it were yesterday his final postseason start, a night remembered for so much more than Doc’s performance. In my opinion, he was equally brilliant on both nights. One resulted in one of the greatest nights in Phillies history, the other in one of the worst. His no-hitter in 2010 helped catapult the team to a sweep of Cincinnati in the Division series, and sent the Phillies to their third straight League Championship Series, a feat the franchise had only accomplished once before. In his final postseason start in 2011, Game Five of the NLDS against St. Louis, I’ve never seen a gutsier performance on the mound. He battled, and fought, and scratched his way through eight innings, 126 pitches. He fought off the Cardinals at every turn to give the Phillies a chance to win. But it wouldn’t come to be, as the night is best remembered for Ryan Howard’s Achilles injury.
What struck me as remarkable then is the same that knocks me back now. Halladay’s reaction was the same. Humble, soft-spoken and gracious; giving the credit for success to others, and keeping the blame of failure to himself. “Give Chooch (Carlos Ruiz) credit, he called a heck of a game back there”, said Halladay after the no-hitter. “I didn’t do enough to let our hitters do their thing, they were the reason we were here in the first place”, he said following the loss in 2011 (he gave up one run). He even called the most amazing, pointless, selfless press conference ever, to apologize. In his final days with the Phillies in 2013, he called the media over during batting practice to “apologize to the fans.” In his words:
I’ve been thinking just the last couple of days. I just felt like I should address the fans… So, one, I just wanted to thank them for their support. And my heart goes out to all of the people who spend all of their money and go out to the games and don’t get to see what they want to see. I know I’m not the whole team. There are still a lot of guys out there and it’s a fun team to watch. But I feel bad that I’m missing the time that I am. I feel bad for the fans that I’m missing the time.
A future hall-of-fame pitcher, in his final days, thinking of everyone but himself—that will be Roy Halladay’s legacy. He embodied selflessness. As big of a personality as he was, he had time for everyone. Even in my two brief encounters with him, he made you feel as if you were the most important person he’d talked to that day. His kindness and caring for others is the biggest attribute most of us would like our children to have. When he was playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, Roy and his wife invited children and their families from the Hospital for Sick Children into “Doc’s Box” at the Rogers Centre during Jays games. The re-construction of the suite to be more “kid-friendly” was documented in an episode of Design Inc. As part of Halladay’s agreement with the Blue Jays, he also donated $100,000 each year to the Jays Care Foundation. In Philadelphia he continued his work with disadvantaged children, and expanded it to help with the Pennsylvania SPCA, along with teammate Chase Utley. He would continue to push for community programs that benefited children and helped improve baseball fields used by children in the cities he played in. He did all of this largely under the radar, without any of the attention-seeking many athletes display when they perform charity work. Halladay was the Blue Jays’ nominee numerous times for the Roberto Clemente Award for his work with underprivileged children. For the same reason, he was also the Blue Jays’ nominee in 2008 for the Players Choice Awards Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. As one 2006 MLB.com story about his nomination for the Roberto Clemente award notes: “Help is what Roy Halladay has given. Attention isn’t what he’s wanted to receive in return.”
Even more than that, his dedication to his craft and preparation are things that set him apart from others in his game. In 2000, Doc posted the worst start to a season of any Major League pitcher in history, prompting Toronto to send him all the way down to class-A Dunedin of the Florida State League to re-invent himself. His story of redemption is well documented, but it was his preparation and attention to detail that fueled his ascent to become one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. His virtues as a person and as a player are precisely the ones we all should value in our own lives: a good work ethic, precision, kindness and humility. Anyone who’s spent time on Twitter knows these things are difficult to find.
After his retirement in 2013, Halladay lived with his wife Brandy and two boys, Ryan and Brayden, in Tarpon Springs, Florida. It is there he adopted full-time his hobby of flying. Time gets the best of everyone, and Doc’s shoulder and back were no exception. His social media engagement with fans and his laidback lifestyle became his trademarks in recent years. It was his new hobby that ultimately took him from us, but what should not be lost in those Gulf waters is his legacy. Roy Halladay was a great man, the kind of person that we should strive to be. He was a person about whom you told your kids, “Watch him, that’s how you do that,” both on and off the field. To say he’ll be missed is an understatement.
Image: Roy Halladay – (Left – By SD Dirk on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as “D7K_4966”) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Right – Twitter/Roy Halladay)