On Tuesday, 11/7/17, Roy Halladay died when the plane he was flying, crashed. His wife and two sons were not on board. He had retired from baseball in 2013 after a 16 year career. He was 40 years old.
Chase Utley, former Philadelphia Phillies’ second baseman and Halladay’s teammate: “My heart hurts writing this. I can still remember the first day we met. It was 5:45 AM on the first day of Spring Training when I arrived. (The official starting time for players was 10:00 AM. Some arrive earlier.) He was finishing his breakfast but his clothes were soaking wet. I asked if it was raining when he got in. He laughed and said: “No. I just finished my workout.’ I knew right then he was the real deal.”
Utley is a fine ballplayer and a legendary hard worker with an eye for detail. A good base runner, but not the fastest man on the team, his career record for stolen bases is 151 steals in 172 attempts: a success rate of 88%. In 2009, he attempted 23 steals and was never caught. He had a good base running coach and took instruction well. He seldom made mistakes. In February of 2010, he met a man who worked harder than he did.
Success did not come immediately or easily for Halladay. After parts of 3 seasons in the major leagues, the Blue Jays returned him to the minors to rebuild his confidence and master a new pitching motion. He changed from an overhand, 4-seam fastball pitcher to a three-quarter arm motion, 2-seam fastball pitcher. In addition, later, Mariano Rivera taught him to throw a cut fastball. Later, back in the major leagues, his fastball slowed a bit. His response: use his off-speed pitches more often and improve his pitch control. The result was his continued effectiveness as a top notch pitcher.
Halladay’s work ethic was well known, but did his effort bring forth good results? Here are some statistics. His career spanned 16 years: 12 with the Toronto Blue Jays, 4 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He won 203 games and lost 105: a winning percentage of .659. He threw 67 complete games, leading the league 7 times. By comparison, the most complete games by a pitcher in the National League in 2017 was 2. Roy had 5 years in which he had over 200 strikeouts –but fewer than 40 walks. The most times any other pitcher did that was 3. He was one of 6 pitchers to win a Cy Young award in both leagues. For over a decade, he wondered how well he would pitch if he had a chance to pitch in Post-Season play. In 2010, he pitched the first game of the playoffs. He threw a no-hitter. It was only the second time anyone had done that.
In May of 2010, he pitched the 20th perfect game in MLB history; he allowed no runs, no hits, no walks. Three months later, he commemorated the achievement by giving 60 Phillies teammates, coaches, the training staff and other support personnel engraved Baume & Mercier watches in boxes with the inscription: “We did it together. Thanks, Roy Halladay”
For his efforts, he was respected by opponents, revered by teammates, adored by fans, and loved by friends and family. Cole Hamels (teammate): “He made everybody better. Everyone rose to the best of their ability because of his effort.” Shane Victorino (teammate): “Blessed to have shared the field with you as a teammate, competitor, friend, and more importantly a brother.” Brad Lidge (teammate): “I think people really feel good when someone who works that hard gets rewarded. To see the success he had, it makes you feel like everything was right with the baseball world.” Dan Haren (pitching opponent): I wanted to be Roy Halladay.” The Phillies issued a statement that said: “There are no words to describe the sadness that the entire Phillies family is feeling over the loss of one of the most respected human beings to ever play for us.”
While he was playing in the big leagues, Halladay was a multiple time nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award given annually to a baseball player for work in his community. The organizations he supported provided food for Philadelphia’s poor and (along with Chase Utley) helped secure homes for rescue dogs.
When his playing career ended, he spent the Spring and Summer part-time in the Phillies organization mentoring young minor league pitchers. Also, he was the pitching coach at Calvary Christian High School, down the road from the Phillies’ Spring Training facility, as well as another team of young men. His 2 sons were on the teams with whom he worked.
After baseball’s 2018 season (ie, the necessary 5 years after he retired from baseball), the Hall of Fame voters will be permitted to consider including him in the Hall. The decision should be an easy one.
Some other athletes who died in an airplane crash: Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, Rocky Marciano, Knute Rockne, the entire United States’ Figure Skating Team (1961), 14 members of the United States’ Amateur Boxing team (1980), Marshall University’s Football Team (1970).