Over his 16-year career, Roy Halladay won 203 games and two Cy Young Awards. But what mattered most is what he meant to Toronto and Philadelphia.
The date was Sept. 27, 1998, the opponent the Detroit Tigers. And the pitcher on the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays was an unheralded 21-year-old rookie in just his second career game named Roy Halladay.
Halladay gave the 38,000 fans at Skydome that day, there to witness the Blue Jays final game of the season, a glimpse of what the future would look like. He held the Tigers lineup without a hit into the ninth inning, only an error preventing it from being a perfect game. Then, with two outs in the inning, Tigers pinch-hitter Bobby Higginson took the first pitch he saw to the opposite field for a home run, ruining the potential no-hitter.
Blue Jays fans might not have known much about Halladay before that day, but they sure came to know “Doc” over the next 11 years.
Halladay went on to make 287 starts for the Blue Jays, leaving the team in 2009 behind only Dave Stieb in wins for the franchise, shutouts and WAR. He won a Cy Young Award with the club and made six All-Star teams. But it wasn’t always that way.
Halladay followed up his near no-hitter with a solid 1999, finishing with a 3.92 ERA. The following year, though, everything came undone. Halladay had a disastrous 2000 season, giving up 80 earned runs in just 67.2 innings for a 10.64 ERA, last in the league among pitchers with at least 50 innings. In 2001, the pitcher who looked on the brink of stardom less than three years earlier was sent to Single-A Dunedin to begin the season.
Halladay made the most of his time in the Minors, refining his mechanics for the time when he would be back with the Blue Jays. That time came by July, and Halladay never looked back. In 2002 he was an All-Star for the first time, winning 19 games. The next year he won the Cy Young Award after leading the league with 22 wins. It was those months in the Minors that Halladay would remember years later as the time that made his career.
“I was very lucky to have a lot of people in the organization really develop and help me become the player I was able to become,” he said in 2013 after signing a one-day contract to retire as a Blue Jay. “And with the organization and the support of the organization … it really turned my career around and it made a big difference in my career.”
Halladay came to define what a workhorse pitcher looks like during his time in Toronto and, after 2009, Philadelphia. Between 2002 and 2011 he pitched 7.2 innings per start. Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner and a likely Hall of Famer himself, has never averaged more than 6.9 innings in any season of his career. Clayton Kershaw has only reached that figure twice. Halladay averaged that for an entire decade.
Halladay led either the AL or NL in complete games five years in a row between 2007-2011, with at least seven each year. No one has had more than six in a season since. He twice had four shutouts in a season; no one in the past two seasons has had more than one. He pitched at least 220 innings every year between 2006-2011, with only Scherzer reaching that number in the last three seasons. The 266 innings he pitched in 2003 is the most of any starter this century.
One thing Halladay never did do in Toronto, however, is reach the postseason. Finally, after 12 seasons in a Blue Jays uniform, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on Dec. 16, 2009, for Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor (d’Arnaud and Taylor never played a game for the Blue Jays; Drabek only made 30 starts for Toronto before his career was derailed by injuries).
Halladay made the most of his fresh start in Philadelphia, pitching a perfect game against the Florida Marlins on May 29. Making the playoffs for the first time in 2010, he threw another no-hitter in his first start against the Cincinnati Reds. The year, however, would not have a happy ending, as Halladay and the Phillies went on to lose the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants in six games. Halladay would go on to win his second Cy Young Award after leading the NL with 21 wins.
In 2011, the Phillies finished the season with a league-leading 102 wins and entered the postseason as the favorites to win the World Series. The NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals would go to a deciding fifth game, with Halladay taking the mound against Chris Carpenter, a player he came up with in Toronto. Halladay gave up just one first inning run; Carpenter, though, pitched a three-hit shutout and the Cardinals won 1-0. Halladay never again came close to playing for a title.
Halladay retired after the 2013 season, but for all he accomplished in Philadelphia, it was the years in Toronto that he admitted were the most special. “I want the Phillies organization to know, I want the fans to know how much I enjoyed my time there,” he said at his retirement press conference. “But to me, the biggest thing was had I not been fortunate enough to come up with the Blue Jays and have the people around me that I did and have the people develop me that I did, I would’ve never had that chance.”
After his retirement, Halladay returned home to Florida with his wife, Brandy, and two sons, Braden and Ryan. He took up flying as a hobby, and it was on Nov. 7, 2017, that tragedy struck the Blue Jays, Phillies and all of Major League Baseball. He was piloting his plane in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida when it crashed into the water. He was 40 years old.
The tributes poured in immediately. The Blue Jays retired his No. 32 the next year, only the second player so honored by the club. The Blue Jays also drafted Braden, fittingly, in the 32nd round of June’s draft (Braden is committed to Notre Dame and won’t pitch for the organization). And in January, he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Halladay will be inducted into Cooperstown on Sunday alongside Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez. His plague, though, won’t have a logo. His family insisted that he didn’t want to favor either Toronto or Philadelphia. But, as he made clear at the time of his retirement, it was the Blue Jays that made him into the pitcher he became, and, at least for Blue Jays fans, a Blue Jay he will remain forever.