By Rob Longley
Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay was beloved by the Blue Jays and the team’s fans but perhaps the truest measure of the late, great starting pitcher came from those who faced him at the plate.
The eight-time all-star, two-time Cy Young Award winner and one of the greatest athletes ever to play in Toronto died tragically on Tuesday when the private plane he owns crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.
The death prompted an outpouring of grief and respectful memories from both those who knew and worked with him and some of baseball’s brightest stars.
“Regardless of how good he was as a player, he was just a good guy,” Jays manager John Gibbons told Postmedia from his off-season home in Texas. “You come across a lot of guys in your career but he just stood out.”
“He was a big presence, one of the elites in the game and he was one of the top dogs of his era,” added Gibbons, who was Halladay’s manager from 2004 to 2008.
The platitudes were mixed with grief over the loss of Halladay under such tragic circumstances. The Doc, as he was known by fans and teammates alike, was 40. He is survived by his wife Brandy and sons Ryan and Braden.
The plane, which Halladay had owned for less than a month, crashed in shallow water and his body was identified near the vessel. According to police reports, Halladay was the only person on the two-seater plane that went down off Holiday, Fla., just north of Tampa.
The sheriff’s office said a 911 call reporting the crash of a small plane came at 12:06 p.m. The single-engine plane, an Icon A5, was found upside down.
Halladay’s death was announced shortly after 4 p.m. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.
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Posted by Pasco Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, November 7, 2017
The Jays released a statement expressing the grief felt throughout the organization.
“The Blue Jays organization is overcome by grief with the tragic loss of one of the franchises greatest and most respected players, but even better human being,” the statement read. “It is impossible to express what he has meant to this franchise, the city and it’s fans.”
Like many of his former Jays teammates, Vernon Wells reached out on Twitter, saying “one of the best to ever do it. I had a front row seat to watch his greatness. RIP Doc.”
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred offered his condolences as well.
“All of us in baseball are shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of Roy Halladay,” Manfred said in a league statement. “A well-respected figure throughout the game, Roy was a fierce competitor during his 16-year career.”
Known for his tenacity and unrelenting work ethic, Halladay was nicknamed ‘Doc’ by former Jays radio analyst Tom Cheek. He was one of the most accomplished pitchers to take the mound for the Jays.
Drafted by the team in the first round of the 1995 draft, he made his major league debut in 1998.
He was a work in progress from there, however, until he broke out with a 19-win season in 2002. From then on, he was the must-watch star on often mediocre teams, the one good reason to go to the ballpark every fifth day.
He won his first Cy Young as the American League’s best pitcher in 2003 after a terrific season that included a 22-7 win-loss record and a 3.25 ERA. His second Cy Young came with the Phillies in 2010. By retirement, he had a career record of 203 wins and 105 losses.
“Shocked and saddened … gone way too soon,” 2017 World Series champ Justin Verlander wrote on his Twitter account. “One of the best ever.”
Verlander’s reaction was typical of that shared by big-name hitters who recognized the challenge of facing an arm like Halladay’s.
“One of the toughest competitors I ever faced,” New York Yankees star Bernie Williams wrote on his Twitter account. “Don’t think his greatness was truly appreciated.”
His love of flying and of family defined Halladay’s post-baseball life, as his Twitter account poignantly shows. The picture with his son Ryan’s baseball team (which he coached) winning the recent Florida under-13 state championship is now heart-wrenching.
After his early struggles with the Jays, Halladay spent some time in the minors, rebuilding and reworking his delivery. He came back better than ever, getting his first 20-win season at age 25.
Halladay worked fast and efficient, which wasn’t always good for beer sales, but made the SkyDome the place to be when it was his turn on the mound. Halladay led the AL in complete games for six consecutive seasons, defining his role as the ace.
“He had a great arm but he had to reinvent himself,” Gibbons said. “He went down to (single A ball) and worked hard at it. He would have told you that once he mastered the mental side of pitching, it really set him off.”
This past summer, Halladay was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. He’ll be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.
Though he finished his career with the Phillies, where he was equally beloved, Halladay signed a one-day contract with Toronto in December 2013 so he could retire as a Jay. He’s prominent in the team’s record book, ranking second all-time in wins (148) shutouts (15) and strikeouts (1,495).
“I felt like everything the organization had done for me, the player they allowed me to become, I felt like it was really important to acknowledge that,” Halladay said at the time. “Had I not had those chances, I would have never been able to play for the Phillies.”
This article appeared in today’s issue of the Toronto Sun.