Roy Halladay died today. It’s a crushing blow to his family, all his friends in Colorado, Florida, Toronto, and Philadelphia, as well as the Blue Jays and Phillies organizations. It doesn’t really matter that Roy Halladay was one of the best pitchers who ever lived – there’s a plaque in Cooperstown that will go up someday to tell you all about it. The legacy that Roy Halladay leaves behind, at least in the public sphere, is of his work ethic, humility, and spirit.
Doc came to the Phillies in his prime, or maybe the tail end of it anyway. I’ll remember his perfect game against the Marlins, and I’ll remember his no-hitter in his playoff debut against Cincinnati in the 2010 NLDS. I’ll also remember his tough-luck performance against Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals in the 2011 NLDS. I’ll remember his windup and his leg kick.
But more than anything, at least right now, I’ll remember how he gutted it out in 2013. I’ll remember a man standing on top of the mountain with full knowledge that he wouldn’t be able to climb down on his own, but trying to anyway. I’ll remember him drenched in sweat as he struggled to throw 86 miles per hour. And with that, I’ll remember Roy being first to the park to run stairs and laps. I’ll remember how my city, our city, embraced him not because he was the best, but because he put in the work. We loved him because he was relentless, because perfection wasn’t good enough for him. He was the perfect athlete at almost the perfect time for Philadelphia.
Watching Doc trudge through his final season was sad, and when he retired it was a bit like being cheated out of the end of a great movie. After taking some time to process his career coming to an abrupt end, I was happy for him. He was only 36 when he retired — just a year older than I am now — and was going to be able to spend more time with his wife and kids. The man had missed so much, being on the road half the year for more than a decade, and now instead of going through a grueling shoulder surgery recovery process to squeeze out maybe one more year, he was just hanging everything up to be a family man. I love that about him.
I’d give back every pitch Roy Halladay ever threw for the Phillies to make today different. I can identify with how his family must be feeling. The little things we can all do to help will seem so insignificant to us, but in time, I hope we can have the perspective to see Doctor October as one of the all-time greatest Phillies, for his performance and the indelible mark he made on Philadelphia. When we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the WFC 2008 Phillies in the upcoming season, I think the team should retire #34 at Citizens Bank Park. It’s a small gesture, really, and it won’t fill the hole in our hearts. But every time we look out at that brick wall and see a red 34, we’ll remember.