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Friends, rivals remember Roy Halladay as fierce competitor

By Marc Topkin
FILE - In this March 9, 2017, file photo, guest instructor, former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay watches relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit throw live batting practice during a workout in Clearwater, Fla. Authorities have confirmed that former Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died in a small plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File) NYMV104

By the numbers

.659 Career winning percentage, the 19th best all time

1.938 Walks per nine innings, 79th best all time

2 No-hitters in one season: a perfect game on May 29, 2010, against the Marlins; and a no-hitter on Oct. 6, 2010, against the Reds in Game 1 of the NL Division Series

2 Cy Young Awards (2003, AL; 2010, NL)

4 Times leading league in innings pitched

4 Times leading league in pitching wins above replacement, via baseball-reference.com

7 Times leading league in complete games

8 All-Star appearances (six with Blue Jays, two with Phillies)


Rays manager Kevin Cash was at a youth league game in Oldsmar on Sunday watching his neighbor’s kid play when he saw Roy Halladay coaching his team on the adjacent field. Cash thought of going over to say hello to his former Blue Jays teammate but decided not to interrupt because he saw how into the game Halladay was.

"He was pretty passionate about it," Cash said. "Just watching him, you could tell he loved his kids."

No surprise, really, because Halladay was that way about everything he did in baseball.

As former teammates, coaches, opponents and officials from around the game reflected on Halladay — who died Tuesday when the plane he was piloting crashed off the Pasco County coast — two things were abundantly clear:

He was one of the best starters of his era, highlighted by a 10-year stretch when he won 170 games (vs. 75 losses) and two Cy Young Awards for the Blue Jays and Phillies.

And the old school pitcher with the Old West nickname of Doc was one of the fiercest competitors and hardest workers of all time.

"The cliche of being just a great competitor, it’s so true and fitting. You hate to say it because it’s tossed around so much, but there’s so much more appreciation when you talk about it for Roy," Cash said.

"The intensity and the way he came and worked every day, for a young player to sit there and watch that this is how you go about your business in a professional way, that was pretty inspiring."

Halladay, 40, pitched 16 seasons, compiling a 203-105, 3.38 mark with 2,117 strikeouts that seems likely to earn him a place in Cooperstown, though it will be immensely sad that he is inducted posthumously.

"Words cannot describe what it feels like to lose a friend like Roy," former Phillies teammate Chase Utley said. "He was the ultimate teammate with a passion for being the best. I’m honored to have had the chance to compete with you, Roy."

Though Halladay, a 1995 first-round pick, made it quickly to the majors, debuting in 1998, his real breakthrough didn’t come until he was sent back to Class A Dunedin at the start of the 2001 season to refine his delivery and simplify his repertoire.

"As a competitor, there are few peers. He was focused and always wanting to be the best," former Blue Jays manager and longtime broadcaster Buck Martinez recalled Tuesday. "We sent him to the minor leagues in 2001, and he wasn’t too pleased with it. But he went down there and worked hard and became a Cy Young Award winner.

"He had the talent. He made some adjustments, he made the commitment and put in the work. And he made himself a hell of a pitcher."

Halladay was better when he returned to the majors in July 2001, but it was in 2002 when he pushed himself into the elite category, posting a 19-7, 2.93 mark.

Halladay won his first Cy Young for his 22-7, 3.25 performance in 2003 in Toronto, then his second after he signed with the Phillies in 2010, going 21-10, 2.44. That 2010 season turned out to be quite memorable, as Halladay threw a perfect game on May 29 against the Marlins, then in his first postseason start a no-hitter against the Reds in the Division Series opener.

"Roy was a guy with great character and determination and a passion to be the best," former Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "Despite coming here as one of the most established pitchers in the game, he never wanted to stop getting better."

Halladay had another strong showing in 2011, making his eighth All-Star team and finishing in the top five of the Cy Young voting for the seventh time, but injuries, specifically a bad back, started to become an issue. He retired after the 2013 season, having earned nearly $150 million but never making it to the World Series.

"He was a hitters’ nightmare," Martinez said. "He had 100 more wins than he had losses. You’d pay a high premium for a guy that could win twice as many as he lost. He was very dominant pitcher and to do it in both leagues, and to earn the reputation he had around baseball — everyone wanted to copy him and few could."

Having retired as a player, Halladay settled into the Tampa Bay area and quickly immersed himself in coaching sons Braden and Ryan in youth leagues. This past spring he was a volunteer assistant at Calvary Christian High School, where Braden pitched.

Former Rays pitcher Dan Wheeler, who during his 13-year career would marvel at Halladay’s work ethic from across the field, saw the same approach as they coached a 9-and-under travel ball team together in 2014.

"I was very lucky to have spent that time with him," Wheeler said. "I learned very quickly why he was as great as he was at baseball coaching with him because he was meticulous. He had the boys ready, and you could just see the time and effort he put into the small little things. He cared. And he took the time."

Halladay worked as a guest instructor for the Phillies during spring training and talked earlier this year with the Blue Jays about getting more involved. Cash said Halladay told him he’d one day like to run an organization.

But now there are only memories.

"RIP Doc," Utley said, "but knowing you, rest is not in your vocabulary."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays. Information from the Phillies was used in this report.