On November 7th, 2017- around 2 o’clock EST- news broke that former Phillies ace Roy Halladay‘s airplane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico. Even worse, the Pasco Police Department confirmed that the pilot of the aircraft had passed, but had not yet been identified.
The news took the baseball world by storm- to put it mildly. I received word shortly after I got off work and could feel my chest cave in. No way my childhood hero was gone. How could he be? He’s Doc freaking Halladay! ROY MOTHER LOVING HALLADAY! Thrower of no hitters and destroyer of batting averages. He was Superman with a kryptonite immunity on the mound and the aura of invincibility surrounding him made it seemingly impossible to believe he had suffered any harm.
Thousands of Philly sports fans mirrored my sorrow and disbelief. Many of us prayed. Many of us fell silent. Many of us refreshed our feed relentlessly waiting for some sort of clarity.
But we all worried.
The Pasco Police Department announced that a press conference would be held at 4:15 EST to identify the deceased pilot, and the dreaded waiting game was upon us. It would be nearly an hour before it was revealed if my, as well as countless others, hero was okay and all I could think about was how he became such a huge inspiration for me.
Halladay took no time emerging as a star in Philadelphia and cementing his status as one of my favorite players in 2010- his first campaign with the Phils. The sinker-baller concluded his first regular season month as a Phillie with a 5-1 record and a 1.80 ERA. The craziest part is that his ERA reached 1.80 AFTER allowing five runs against the Giants in his last outing of the month. I was amazed at his poise on the mound and his ability to locate pitches exactly where the catcher’s glove was. He was an absolute delight to watch and you just knew you had a good chance to win the ballgame every time #34 took the hill.
The hallmark of the 2010 season, of course, was Halladay’s perfect game against the then Florida Marlins. I remember following the play-by-play on my phone because it was an out of market game for me in Missouri. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as he escaped the fifth inning still flawless. It’s one thing to have a nice start to an outing, but once you make it out of the fifth inning with a no-hitter intact, you go for glory. And, man, did Halladay go for glory.
After he retired the side in the eighth inning MLB Network switched from the daily show “Hot Stove” to the Phillies game to see if he could finish off the no-no. Not only did The Doc maintain the no-hitter, he remained perfect. 27 batters faced. 27 batters retired by #34. I’ll never forget how excited I was when 3B Juan Castro fielded the ground ball for the final out. I feared the ball might sneak passed him but once he got a glove on it I knew that was ball game. I jumped and ran around my living room as the Phils huddled around Halladay in celebration. It was the performance of a lifetime, yet Halladay remained grounded.
The pitching ace lauded catcher Carlos Ruiz, saying, ”I can’t say enough about the job that Ruiz did tonight, really. I felt like he was calling a great game up until the fourth or fifth, and at that point, I just felt like I’d let him take over and go with him. He did a great job. Like I said, it was kind of a no-brainer for me.” Halladay had just pitched the 20th perfect game in the history of the MLB and took hardly any credit. He was a class act in every way and the fans loved him for it.
Fast forward to 4:00 EST on November 7th, 2017. Fifteen long, daunting minutes before the Pasco sheriff would identify the deceased pilot. My stomach was in knots as I read people’s speculation and assumptions about the plane crash online. It was odd feeling sad about something related to Roy Halladay, because he was such a bright spot during a difficult time in my life.
The year 2011 was a tough one for me. It was the year I moved from my hometown Saint Louis, MO to small town near Dallas, TX. I had to leave all the friends and family I’d ever known behind and start a new journey in a place I didn’t want to be. I lived in a one bedroom hotel with my family of three and three hearty meals a day was far from a sure thing. The one thing that distracted my middle school mind from all the change; however, was the Roy Halladay led 2011 Phillies. The Phils were scorching hot that season as they cruised their way to the best record in the MLB. I ate, slept, and breathed Phillies baseball and Halladay was the primary source of my passion. Pitching was always the most fascinating part of baseball in my opinion and Halladay was the best in all of baseball that season. Doc Halladay was absolutely surgical as he lead the star-studded “Phantastic Phour” pitching staff of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. Halladay finished with a 19-6 record- one season removed from a 21-10 campaign(!)- with an absurd 2.35 ERA over 233 ⅔ innings. He was flossing his teeth with the National League batters and I could hardly get through a day without thinking of him raising the World Series trophy over his head with all his teammates around him.
Fast forward ahead to 4:05 EST November 7th, 2017. Ten minutes before the big announcement. I can barely sit still as I await for the big announcement. I pray for Halladay to tweet out that he’s okay, but time is ticking and no such tweet materializes. I’m desperate for a relief and suddenly burst out in laughter as I recall one of my funniest Roy Halladay related events.
When I was in the seventh grade I spent every second of my spare time trying to emulate Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins on MLB the Show 11. Halladay’s command was excellent in the game, just as it was in reality, so I would paint the corners on my quest to in game perfection. Ironically, the only obstacle in my way was Roy Halladay’s MLB 2k11 cover.
Whenever I had a full count in the 6th or 7th inning of a perfect game in MLB the Show I would throw a pitch that had been called a strike all game long, but was erroneously ruled a ball. I was always baffled at the call before I noticed Eric Karros, one of the commentators in the game, states “Usually he’d get that call, but I think he’s on the cover of the wrong game.” I laughed my head off thinking of all the times I’d tried to throw a perfect game with the Doc, just to find out it was impossible because the game developers were salty about him choosing a different brand. I mean, come on. How salty do you have to be to program a Roy Halladay perfect game impossibility code into the game?
My smile was quickly stolen from me as the news finally broke. Roy Halladay, 40, passed away in the car crash. I punched the wall and yelled in anger/disbelief, feeling that bad things always happen to the best of humanity. My anger quickly turned into overwhelming sadness as I wept over my fallen childhood hero. Doc Halladay. 8x All-Star. 2x MLB Wins Leader. 2x Cy Young Award Winner. My hero.
Roy Halladay was an excellent ball player but an even greater man off the field. He taught humility and hard work to anyone who would listen and never had a negative thing to say. His absence is something I’m not sure I’ll ever fully recover from, but I’m incredibly thankful for the impact he made on my life, as well as countless others.
In the words of the great Babe Ruth, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Halladay will be remembered for his on field heroics, but the legacy he leaves behind will never fade. Rest in Power, Roy “Doc” Halladay.
Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports