By Karen Soutar
Harry Leroy Halladay. He went by Roy and was affectionately nicknamed Doc. The Toronto Blue Jays drafted him with their first pick in the 1995 draft. He would become the face of their franchise for the better part of a decade. This is a look back on the Halladay's Jays career highlights.
September 20, 1998 - I was fortunate enough to be in Florida for the Jays series against the Rays September 18-20. The Jays found themselves in the hunt for the AL wild card spot that September. Talk around the team was that if they thought they still had a realistic shot at the wild card, the more experienced Chris Carpenter would get the start on the Sunday but if not, it would go to highly touted prospect Roy Halladay. Once the Jays lost the Friday and Saturday games, Doc got the nod for his major league debut. As hard as it was to deal with losses in the previous two games when the Jays had a legitimate shot to go back to the postseason, Roy's debut was very exciting to be able to attend. There was something about his demeanor right from the beginning that signaled to teammates, opponents and fans that he belonged there. Unlike some rookies, he wasn’t the least bit intimidated by being in “The Show”. The result for Halladay was 5 innings pitched, 3 runs, 2 earned runs in a game the Jays ultimately won in 12 innings. Not a bad MLB debut, but the best was yet to come for Doc.
September 27, 1998 - Back in Toronto, the final day of the regular season. In only his second career major league start, Halladay demonstrated his dominant potential in taking a no hitter in to the 9th inning vs the Detroit Tigers. With two outs in the top of the 9th, Bobby Higginson, who hit .284/.355/.480 that year, pinch hit and hit his 25th home run that season, ending the no hitter and the shut out with one swing of the bat. Still, Halladay would get the first complete game victory of his career, 2-1. The Jays and their fans went in to the off season full of hope for the future.
Unfortunately for Halladay and the Jays, the next two seasons weren’t as successful. His 8-7 record and 3.92 era in 1999 weren’t terrible for his first full season in the majors, but the club knew he was capable of much more. His career went south in 2000, finishing the season with a 4-7 record and an ugly era of 10.64, the worst era in MLB history for any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched in a season. Ultimately Halladay himself went south, beginning the 2001 season with the Jays’ single A affiliate in Dunedin, Florida. There, he worked with former Jays’ pitching coach Mel Queen and accepted his recommendations. In order to get major league hitters out, he couldn’t just rely on throwing in the mid to high 90s, up in the strike zone, with the same delivery. Queen rebuilt Halladay’s delivery, taught him new grips for the pitches as well as a new mental approach to the game. (https://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/al/bluejays/2008-05-08-jayshalladay_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip)
It is very much to Halladay’s credit that he accepted Queen’s recommendations. Many professional ball players think that they have everything figured out especially once they have played in MLB, in spite of results to the contrary and refuse to be coached. Halladay on the other hand was going to do whatever it took to improve which he definitely did. He worked his way back up through the Jays’ minor league system and rejoined the Jays mid way through the 2001 season. Once he was back up, there was no more looking back.
For a span of 10 years from 2002-2011, Halladay was one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. In 2002 he earned his first of 8 All Star selections on the way to a 19-7 record and a 2.93 era. In 2003, his dominance reached another level, going 22-7 with a 3.25 era and his first of two career Cy Young awards. Doc led the American League that year in wins (22), games started (36), complete games (9), shutouts (2), innings pitched (266) and strikeout to walk ratio (6.38). His 2003 season was highlighted by one extra special outing.
September 6, 2003. Halladay pitched one of the best games of his career, a 1-0, ten inning shut out victory over the Detroit Tigers. I’m not sure what is more impressive, the fact that he only needed 99 pitches over 10 innings, 70 of which were strikes or the fact that the game took only 2 hours and 3 minutes to play. Through most of his career, Halladay was known for working deep in to games while maintaining the ability to get hitters out, working quickly and throwing strikes all of which were demonstrated on that day.
On January 22, 2004 - Halladay signed a 4 year, $42 million contract with Toronto, his first of two contract extensions with the club that drafted and developed him. As one of the top pitchers in baseball coming off of a Cy Young award winning season, he could have waited for free agency and almost certainly gotten even more money elsewhere but Doc was loyal. He wanted to stay in Toronto and win a championship in Toronto. The 2004 season itself was a down year by Halladay standards, going 8-8 with a 4.20 era and two disabled list stints, both due to right shoulder problems. In 2005 he was back to him dominant self, going 12-4 with a 2.41 era before the all star break. Halladay was not only chosen to the AL all star team in 2005, he had been chosen as the starting pitcher for the AL but on July 8, Texas Rangers’ Kevin Mench hit a ball that hit Halladay in the leg and broke his leg and the hearts of Jays fans, ending Halladay’s season.
March 16, 2006 - Halladay signed his second multi-year contract with the Blue Jays, a 3 year deal through the 2010 season. From 2006-2009, Halladay continued to excel for the Blue Jays, posting a 69-33 record over that span. He was an All Star in three of those four years including July 14, 2009 when he was the starting pitcher for the American League. He finished in the top 5 in Cy Young voting in all four years. Still, the Jays couldn’t secure that elusive postseason birth, but not for lack of trying. On November 25, 2005, they signed free agent closer BJ Ryan to a 5 year contract and on December 6 of that same year, they signed one of the better free agent starting pitchers that year AJ Burnett to a 5 year deal. Adding those arms to an already talented team which included Halladay, they Jays thought they finally had a team that could contend for a championship. They did manage a second place finish in 2006 but it wasn’t enough for the wild card spot. In 2007 they finished 3rd, and in 2008 and 2009 they could only manage a 4th place finish in the AL East division.
Meanwhile Halladay had become increasingly frustrated. The Jays were clearly going in the wrong direction in terms of winning and making the postseason. He had remained loyal to the Blue Jays as long as he felt that he could. At age 32 in 2009 and with zero career postseason appearances, he knew it was time for a change. Halladay was very candid with Toronto’s front office after the 2009 season. (www.espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=4702760) He would not be signing any more contract extensions with Toronto after his current deal expired following the 2010 season. He wanted to play for a contending team so the Jays had two choices – they could grant his request for a trade to a contender and get as much as they could in return or lose him to free agency a year later. They ultimately traded Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies for prospects Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Taylor, all of whom had big upside. None ever lived up to expectations at the major league level.
It was bittersweet for Jays fans to hear of Halladay’s perfect game for the Phillies on May 29, 2010, or to watch him throw a no hitter on October 6, 2010 in his first ever postseason appearance, which he'd been waiting for his whole career. It was kind of like watching an ex-boyfriend move on and find the life he'd always wanted with another woman. I found myself cheering for the Phillies that postseason (in yet another year when the Jays weren’t there), only so that Doc could finally get his championship ring. It was not to be. The Phillies lost the 2010 NLCS in 6 games to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
2010 also saw Halladay win his second career Cy Young award, this one for the National League. He led the league that year in wins (21), complete games (9), shutouts (4), innings pitched (250.2), batters faced (993), walks per 9 innings (1.1) and strikeout to walk ratio (7.30) while posting a very fine era of 2.44.
2011 saw Halladay start his second All Star game on July 12, 2011 for the National League, finish second in Cy Young voting to Clayton Kershaw and once again reach MLB’s postseason with the Phillies. The team however didn’t go as deep in to the postseason as they did in 2010, losing the Division Series in 5 games to the eventual World Series champion St Louis Cardinals. Halladay started the deciding game 5 for Philadelphia vs his friend and former Blue Jays teammate Chris Carpenter for the Cards. Doc pitched a high quality game, going 8 innings and only giving up one run on six hits but unfortunately for the Phillies, Carpenter was that much better, pitching a complete game shutout.
In 2012-2013, things went downhill for both Halladay and the Phillies. The team hasn’t been back to the postseason since 2011 and as for Doc, it appeared that his age (35 in 2012), all the innings pitched (2,531 prior to 2012) as well as the well documented hard work that he put in between starts had finally caught up to him. He went 11-8 with a 4.49 era in 2012 and 4-5 with a 6.82 era in 2013 with disabled list stints in both years due to shoulder trouble. On December 9, 2013, Halladay signed a one-day contract with Toronto in order to retire as a Blue Jay. He'd come full circle.
Halladay will be eligible for MLB’s Hall of Fame in 2019. For me, looking at his career statistics it is a matter of when, not if he is inducted. 203-105 win/loss record, 3.38 era, 67 complete games, 20 shutouts, 2,749.1 innings pitched, and maybe most impressive, career win/loss percentage of .659, the eighth highest in MLB history.
In an interview on August 14, 2016 with Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star, Halladay said he would enter the Hall of Fame as a Blue Jay if he is inducted. I very much look forward to seeing his time come. It is tragic that he won’t be present to accept the honor due to his untimely death on November 7, 2017 at age 40, in a plane he was piloting. He was flying solo.
Karen Soutar is a lifelong resident of Toronto, Canada, baseball aficionado and die hard Toronto Blue Jays fan. Twitter: @KarenSoutar1