- Roy Halladay was widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball for a chunk of his career, but it was his path to stardom and his friendly demeanor that anchored his legacy.
Roy Halladay, an eight-time all-star, two-time Cy Young winner, and one of only two men to throw a postseason no-hitter, died on Tuesday in a plane crash. He was 40 years old and the sole victim of the accident off of Florida's western coast.
Halladay starred for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies from 1998 to 2013 and was widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball in the latter half of his career. Among pitchers with at least 200 decisions, his .659 winning percentage ranks seventh all-time. At 6' 6", with a heavy, late-moving sinker and a hard cutter, he was one of the most imposing righties of his era. He didn’t walk hitters much, and he didn’t need to strike them out; he just mowed them down and kept on churning. In an era where even unquestioned aces could struggle to make it out of the middle innings, Halladay completed 67 of his 390 starts. That was more than any pitcher in the last two decades. From 2006 to 2011, he finished no worse than fifth in the Cy Young voting—every year.
And yet despite those numbers and accolades and his draft selection No. 17 overall, in 1995, out of high school in Colorado, Halladay’s career had once been considered a flop. In spring training in 2001, after two so-so big-league seasons, the Jays demoted him to Single-A ball. They figured he was damaged goods, unlikely ever to succeed at the big-league level; a team psychologist broke the news to him. The Jays later tasked a no-nonsense coach, Mel Queen, with berating the minors-sequestered Halladay in hopes of toughening him up. (Queen had once supposedly saved Pat Hentgen’s career by pushing him up against a wall.) In the team’s judgment, Halladay was too eager to please, too rattled by failure.
The version of Halladay that returned to the majors that July was a tougher, more methodical pitcher, with a new arm slot and a rediscovered curveball. He went 5–3 with a 3.16 ERA in 16 starts. The next year he was 19–7 and an all-star, and in 2003, at 26, he went 22–7 with a 3.25 ERA, winning his first Cy Young. Along the way he developed a pregame routine where, on the days of his starts, he would speak to no one, not even teammates. He told Sports Illustrated in 2010 that the minors demotion had saved his career—"I vowed that if I was going to be out of baseball I would be able to look back and say I did everything to the best of my ability."
Though Halladay excelled in Toronto, the Jays didn’t. Not once did the team make the playoffs in his 12 seasons there. When, after the 2009 season, the Jays shipped him to Philadelphia for a bundle of prospects, Halladay joined a team that had won its division three years running. His first season in Philly, he won 21 games and the Cy Young. And at home against the Reds in game one of the Division Series, making his first career postseason start, Halladay threw a 104-pitch no-hitter, striking out eight and walking just one. But the Phillies lost in six in the League Championship Series to the eventual champion Giants. (Halladay went 1–1 dueling Tim Lincecum, his predecessor as NL Cy Young winner.)
After 2010, he had one more great season with the Phillies, and two so-so ones, in which injuries and age finally got the better of him. He retired after 2013. But he had not departed baseball entirely; he served the Phillies as an instructor in spring training earlier this year and coached both his sons’ baseball teams.
He is survived by his wife, Brandy, and his sons, Braden and Ryan. In death, he joins the wrenchingly populous fraternity of baseball players killed in plane crashes. Roberto Clemente was killed on New Year’s Eve in 1972 when an overloaded DC-7 he had chartered to bring aid to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua crashed into the Atlantic. Yankees catcher Thurman Munson died in 1979 while practicing landings in his Cessna Citation. Jim Hardin, who pitched in the late ’60s for Earl Weaver’s Orioles, crashed his Beechcraft Bonanza in Key West in 1991. Journeyman pitcher Cory Lidle, a former teammate of Halladay’s, died along with a flight instructor in 2006 when their plane was blown into a building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Onetime National League Rookie of the Year Ken Hubbs crashed his Cessna into Utah Lake during a storm in 1964. Marv Goodwin, who pitched from 1916 to 1925 and had served in the U.S. Army Air Service, died after a crash at a Houston air force base in 1925.
Halladay appeared to love the Icon A5 he crashed; it was the first model year 2018 aircraft the aviation startup produced. The model had previously sparked controversy because of an onerous purchase agreement that called for buyers to waive certain legal rights against the manufacturer. And in April, two Icon employees died in an A5 crash. The National Transportation Safety Board found that pilot error was likely at fault.
In 2003, the Toronto Star asked a 25-year-old Halladay, on the cusp of his first Cy Young, what vocation he would have chosen had he not wound up in baseball. He said though he couldn’t do it during his baseball career because of the terms of his contract, that he would have done and would one day do what his father did: He would become a pilot.