Roy Halladay had already pitched in 57 games for the Blue Jays. Once you've been with the big club that long it takes something truly special for you to get sent back down, especially if you also happen to be a former first round pick. Roy Halladay was in the midst of something special, a true season for the ages, and it had, mercifully, reached the breaking point.
Many first round picks don't work out in Major League Baseball, but most of them get a chance to strut their stuff before the coaches tell them that their future is more likely found on buses than on charter jets. There is actually a fairly predicatble narrative for these players; most get three or four joyful calls up and, accordingly, three or four hard meetings with the manager. A player drafted near the top of the draft gets a lot of chances, because it's so evident how much talent there is, and there's a lot of money invested in them, and people just don't like admitting when they got one wrong. These players, lying somewhere between busts and AAAA players, generally have a few decent years in AAA before they go find their calling elsewhere, and the story remains the same. Roy had his shot, and he blew it. After a decent but wild rookie year, it all came crashing down to the tune of a 10.64 ERA over 67.2 innings, the worst pitching season in the modern history of baseball, and he got the ill-fated meeting with manager Jim Fregosi. This wasn't quite a run-of-the-mill demotion however; Halladay was going to start next season three leagues lower, at Single-A Dunedin.
The Roy Halladay who just retired from Major League Baseball is a man who dedicated himself to his craft, is famous for his insane workout schedule, and can bank on taking a family vacation to Cooperstown courtesy of the Hall of Fame. The Roy Halladay who had just been sent down almost as far within the organization as one can be sent, was just a kid with a big frame and a hard fastball. The best comparison for this sort of demotion is Rick Ankiel, and his eventual return to the Majors was as an outfielder instead of a pitcher. As you have probably figured, Halladay made it back. With a new delivery adding life to his fastball and a mental jump courtesy of the book The Mental ABC's of Pitching, he cruised back up to Toronto by the end of the year. The question was, after such a mentally taxing period in his young life, what would he have left?
The answer was a lot. Roy was a fixture in Toronto for the next nine years, and even with two injury-shortened years, he was an absolute beast. His one Cy Young was backed up by four more showings in the top five and five All-Star games. Though not the type to rack up the most strikeouts, his array of fastballs mixed with a knee-buckling curve to keep his ERA at a sparkling 3.13 over those nine years, and his presence on the mound was fast and intimidating. What truly set him apart was his strength, as he led the league in complete games for five of those nine years, including a season in which he only pitched in 19 games due to injury and completed five of those games. By the end of his time in Toronto he was widely acknowledged as possibly the best pitcher in the game, a workhorse ace that recalled pitchers of an earlier generation.
The problem, because there is always a problem, was that the Blue Jays were not a very good baseball team. They were definitely not a bad team, as they would have likely made the playoffs multiple times under the new Wild Card rules, but they were always well behind the Yankees and Red Sox during Doc Halladay's heyday. This meant that Doc had never pitched in a playoff game and, at age 32, he was interested in changing that statistic. The Phillies were also interested in changing that statistic, and swooped in and plucked him from the Jays in a monstrous 4-team trade that featured Cliff Lee and seven other players swapping cities. In coming to Philadelphia, Halladay was joining a team with a playoff guarantee, and he rewarded his team by turning in two of the more dominant seasons in recent memory. His first year saw him lead the league in complete games (9) and shutouts (4) as usual, become the fifth pitcher to win a Cy Young in both leagues, throw his first perfect game, and throw a no-hitter in his first career playoff start. His second couldn't possibly live up to the first, so he only finished second in the Cy Young, ninth in MVP, had a 2.35 ERA, and threw eight complete games to lead the league. His was the most dominant two year stretch since Pedro, but he never made that elusive first start in the World Series. His body, once the symbol of durability, seemed to take a cue from the rest of the Phillies' aging roster and broke down, producing two utterly meaningless half-years like a poorly written epilogue.
Now he's here, retired from the Blue Jays on a 1-day deal just to put the hat on his head again. Though his greatest triumphs came in red and white stripes, I will always remember him in blue, with a discolored turf behind him and a dome over his head, pitching deep into the ninth.