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MLB: Roy Halladay was a Philly kind of player

Halladay immediately burrowed into the hearts of Phillies fans. His loss will sting for a long time.


To baseball at large, Roy Halladay will mostly be remembered as a Toronto Blue Jay. But his untimely death will hit the city of Philadelphia just as hard as Toronto.

He only spent four years of his 16-year career with the Philadelphia Phillies. Only two of those years saw him at the height of his power, but he is firmly entrenched in the lore of this team. He gave us so many incredible memories in that brief time that it’s not a stretch to say he belongs in the pantheon of the ultimate Phillies greats, both because of the memories he provided and because of the way he went about his work.

Halladay arrived in 2010 in a three-team trade that sent prospects to the Blue Jays and another ace pitcher, Cliff Lee, to the Seattle Mariners. That end of the trade puzzled fans, but the main feeling was one of euphoria. The city still wasn’t used to the success that the Phillies had had in the previous three years, and now the best pitcher in baseball was ours! It was the start of something big.

The memories started early. Within a month Halladay had thrown a pair of shutouts—then delivered one of the greatest moments in Phillies history.

Perfection

I remember it well. As a Phillies fan growing up in New York, watching the team was difficult, but MLB Network was making things easier. I was eating in the kitchen when I turned on the channel and saw they were running bonus coverage: with the Phillies leading 1-0, Roy Halladay was pitching in the seventh inning and hadn’t allowed a baserunner. I immediately called my father, who was having dinner at a family friend’s apartment.

“Dad,” I said into the phone, “Do you have access to MLB Network over there? Roy Halladay is pitching a thingy.”

Thingy is the code my father and I, both respectful of baseball superstition, use when we talk about no-hitters in progress. I immediately clarified: "Actually it's a big thingy" - further code for perfect game.

My dad had watched Jim Bunning pitch his perfect game for the Phillies with his grandfather in 1964. There was no way he would miss this. With the blessing of our friend, who was immediately intrigued himself, my dad turned on the game, and we stayed on the phone together as we watched him complete the second perfect game in team history and the 20th in the history of baseball.

True grit

The 2010 season would be incredible even by Halladay's standards. He went 21-10, the first Phillie to win 20 games in a season since Steve Carlton in 1982. He threw nine complete games and four shutouts, winning the NL Cy Young Award with ease before he put an exclamation mark on the season by throwing the second no-hitter in playoff history in his postseason debut against the Cincinnati Reds, another huge moment in the history of the team crammed into a single year. He arguably pitched even better than he had in his perfect game.

Halladay got out-dueled by Tim Lincecum in the first game of the NLCS that year and took the mound in Game 5 with the Phillies facing elimination. As if the legend of his season could not go any deeper, Halladay suffered a groin injury in the second inning but gutted through six innings to win the game and extend the series. In a blue-collar town like Philadelphia, that kind of grit means something.

Then came 2011, the return of Cliff Lee, the R2C2 rotation, 19 more wins, eight more complete games, and two sparkling performances in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals: eight innings in a Game 1 win and eight more in the heartbreaking Game 5 pitcher's duel with Chris Carpenter when the Phillies were eliminated.

No one thought the window would close on the Phillies or Halladay so soon. Injuries sapped Halladay's effectiveness in 2012 and by the end of 2013, after making only 13 starts, he was out of baseball. The Phillies faded in a similar fashion as injury diminished core players like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. By 2014 they were the worst team in baseball.

Behind the scenes

The memories the man called "Doc" gave Phillies fans will be remembered forever, but we loved him for so much more than that. In a hard-nosed town like Philly, Halladay's work ethic endeared him to fans almost more than what he did when he took the mound. It rubbed off on every player he ever played with, and players like Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley never saw the success they did after their career paths took them away from Doc's example.

His work ethic couldn't be summed up better than in this Instagram post made by Utley shortly after the announcement of his death:

My heart hurts writing this. I can still remember the first day we met. It was 5:45am on the first day of spring training when I arrived. 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. Thank you Roy for allowing us to witness what it takes to be the best. We will all miss you.

That work ethic was backed up by an incredible humility. Perhaps born of his experience being demoted all the way back to Class A early in his career, Halladay never thought of his success as his work alone. After his perfect game, he ordered Swiss watches for 60 of his teammates, clubhouse staff, and front office personnel. Each watch was engraved with the line score of the game, the recipient's name, and the words, "We did it together."

He never hesitated to credit his teammates for his achievements. He called Carlos Ruiz "the best catcher I've ever thrown to" last August, and when he won the Cy Young in 2010, he had a replica of the award made and presented it to his catcher. After being named the cover athlete for MLB 2K11, he made a hysterical commercial that saw him taking signs from a pillow with Ruiz's picture on it to make everyday life decisions like which lunch meat to use.

But there is perhaps no better example of his team-first philosophy than how he responded to the formation of the historic 2011 starting rotation. In the run-up to the season, when Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Roy Oswalt were being presented as the Four Aces, Halladay took exception to the fact that #5 starter Joe Blanton was being overlooked. To Doc, there were not four aces.  There were five.

Why we truly love him

All these things brought Roy Halladay close to the hearts of Phillies fans. But there is one other thing—perhaps the most important. Something that no one outside of Philadelphia will really be able to understand.

Philadelphia has often lived in the shadow of more glamorous sports cities like Los Angeles and, especially, New York, which is just 94 miles away. Combined with the fact that the Phillies are, by record, the losingest franchise in baseball history, big-time players often pass over the Phils for teams like the Yankees or Mets.

That's why the trade that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia in the 2009-10 offseason really struck a chord with Philadelphia fans. Roy Halladay had a no-trade clause in his contract with the Blue Jays. He had his pick where he would go if he moved on from the only team he had ever known. It's why the Mariners pursued Lee as part of that three-way deal, because Halladay had turned Seattle down.

It's this last point that is the foundation that holds up all the other reasons that Doc will be revered by Phillies fans for generations to come despite having such a brief peak in Philadelphia. It's the same reason that Jim Thome and Cliff Lee are treated with similar adoration despite their relatively short careers with the Phillies.

Roy Halladay, the best pitcher of his time, at the peak of his powers, could have gone anywhere he wanted.

And he chose us.



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Sam Lopresti

Baseball fanatic and die-hard Phillies Phan since age 5.  Sportswriter since 2012 at outlets like Bleacher Report.  To see my columns and game reports about Juventus FC, check out Black and White and Read All Over on SB Nation.

MLB: Roy Halladay was a Philly kind of player

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