Halladay comes full circle with Blue Jays
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Roy Halladay said his goodbyes on Monday standing at a podium in a meeting room during baseball's Winter Meetings, his wife and two children seated directly in front of him, and the rest of the chairs filled by baseball media from North America and Japan.
Halladay had signed a contract with the Blue Jays, but it was just a one-day deal, designed so he could retire as a member of the franchise with which he began his career as a first-round Draft choice in 1995, the 17th player selected overall.
It didn't seem right.
Halladay was baseball's modern-day gladiator. He's the guy who would take on any challenge and never back down.
He wasn't human, was he? Unfortunately, he is.
Dang, reality can be tough.
As much as Halladay tried to lie to himself and convince himself that he still had quality innings left in his right arm, he had to face reality. His body can't handle the demands of pitching any longer.
"My back really became an issue for me," said Halladay. "I have two pars fractures, an eroded disk between the L4 and L5, and there is a significant setback in there where the nerves are being pinched. It made it hard to pitch with the mechanics I want to pitch with. Over the last two years, I've made some changes to be able to throw the ball, and unfortunately, that's led to some shoulder issues.
"Speaking with the doctors, they feel at this point, if I can step back and take some of the high-level pressure off [the back], it will allow me to do some regular things."
Regular things? Halladay? Puh-leeze.
He walks away with a 203-105 record, a .659 career winning percentage that ranks 17th all-time. Halladay was an eight-time All-Star and a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He won the honor with Toronto in 2003 and then in his first year with Philadelphia, 2010, joining Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens as the only pitchers to win the honor in the American League and the National League.
Not only did Halladay pitch a perfect game for the Phillies in a 1-0 win over the Marlins on May 29, 2010, but in Game 1 of the 2010 NL Division Series, he no-hit the Reds, just the second no-hitter in postseason history.
To understand Halladay, however, is to realize that he considers one of the games he enjoyed pitching the most was a 7-6 victory over the Tigers on June 2, 2002. He let a lead slip away in the middle innings but managed to battle through eight frames, and Kelvim Escobar closed it out in the ninth.
"That really stood out," Halladay said. "That's a game where you don't give up. You continue to drive. You continue to battle. You continue to work. And I took a lot of pride in the fact that even when things were bad and looked bleak, I was going to continue to give my best effort."
Never did things look bleaker for Halladay than in the spring of 2001. At the age of 23, and after spending all or part of the three previous seasons in the big leagues, he found himself back at high Class A Dunedin, having lost his ability to throw strikes and overpower hitters.
There were those who thought that the kid from Colorado was a flash in the pan and would soon become a footnote in Blue Jays history.
Those people, however, didn't know Halladay. He wasn't going to give up. He was going to find a way to succeed. The Blue Jays gave Halladay plenty of support, and the late Bus Campbell -- a Colorado pitching guru who started working with Halladay when the hurler was 12 and the Blue Jays scout who signed Halladay as a No. 1 pick -- provided help from afar.
It was as much a mental process as a physical one.
By July 2001, Halladay had made the journey back to the big leagues, moving quickly from Dunedin to Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Syracuse and, finally, back to Toronto. He made 17 appearances (16 starts) for the Blue Jays over the remainder of the season, going 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA, and he stepped to the big league forefront in 2002 with 19 wins.
From 2002-11, Halladay won 16 or more games eight times. He won those two Cy Young Awards. Halladay pitched 200-plus innings six times. He was an All-Star eight times.
It's an eight-year resume that will surely earn Halladay serious consideration five years from now, when he is eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame.
And that, as much as anything, is why Halladay wanted to return to Toronto to say goodbye to his playing career. Oh, he enjoyed his four years in Philadelphia, particularly those two postseason appearances. That, after all, is why Halladay was so willing to be traded to the Phillies after the 2009 season.
"Philadelphia was kind of the icing on the cake for me," said Halladay. "To have that chance to play there and get to the playoffs and play in that atmosphere was a blessing for my family."
But Toronto was Halladay's big league home, both at the beginning and at the end.
"The support of the people in the organization, from the front office to the coaches to the players, really turned my career around," he said. "So that's why I'm very fortunate to retire as a Blue Jay."
And the Blue Jays and baseball were fortunate to have been able to enjoy Halladay's competitive efforts.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.