Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oh, Leroy Halladay

Where do I begin?

Harry Leroy Halladay III, also known as Doc, has been a source of many hero-worships, flattering imitations, feelgood stories, and lately, plenty of discussion and speculation regarding his future with his current team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Having the luxury of living in the area, and being devout baseball fan, I've had the greatest pleasure of witnessing many of the games(and mostly gems) that he has pitched. Since he was called up late September of 1998, and was one out short of a no-hitter on the last game of the season. I just had a feeling this tall motherfucker had something special to bring to the table. I witnessed a pitcher with an arsenal of pitches: a 95-96mph fastball, change up, slider, and that wicked knuckle-curve, all at his disposal.

It was a pleasure to see somebody hitting the catcher's glove with such fervour and regularity, after being subjected to a pitching staff, who at that time, looked like a bunch of bums who couldn't hit a fucking barn(that is, with the exception of Chris Carpenter, who moved on with St. Louis, won a World Series title, and two NL Cy Young awards. But he was such crap then, too. He only had an inkling of being great then.)

But the years after that game didn't dictate that. The next year, Doc was figured out all around the league. His fastball was fat and flat. The strike zone for his breaking pitches shrank. He got lit up like a Christmas tree. His confidence went to the shitter. Roy got dropped all the way down to the lowest wrung of professional baseball to try regain his composure and reinvent himself.

This is where the feel-good of the story comes in. At this point, Halladay was pretty much one wrung away from being out of baseball completely. Everything in his young pro career was in shambles. It seemed then, whispers from the top of the Toronto organization had the tone of hopelessness, and that they eventually, have to move on without him(I have to put in that Doc was a high draft choice for the Blue Jays, and he was a major part in the team's future plans).

The Blue Jays just treated him like a reclamation project, with very little upside.

But it was there in class-A baseball where Roy Halladay, the Roy Halladay that we know today, found it. Mel Queen, former Jays pitching coach, helped Halladay with a arm delivery, discarded the plethora of pitches, and started from scratch.

In later articles, Halladay mentions teachings from his Dad about trees with dangling branches. Instead of breaking the branches clean off, Roy's father taught him to bind the branches back together with the tree. The joint of the branch to the tree was stronger than it ever was.

Or something like that.

I can't remember every fucking thing.

So there Doc was, re-armed with a 3/4 delivery(that I still mimic to this day), and three new pitches: a cut fastball that goes in on the hands of batters, a sinking fastball that just go dead when batters make contact, and a curveball that dissappears for anybody standing in the batter's box. And all of these pitches move wherever Doc wants it to go.

The shit was just unfair. Suffice it to say, Doc Halladay made his ascent back to big league baseball relatively quickly.

The one major thing that I notcied about the reinvented Halladay was his efficiency. When he first came up to the organization, he threw a lot of pitches, mostly striking out batters.

Bill Lee, the Red Sox junkballer, who was notorious for his opinions, once said in his book, The Wrong Stuff, "strikeouts are boring and fascist. Throw groundballs, they're democratic."

That's what Roy did. And with this newfound efficiency he sped up the games he pitched, kept his defence on their toes, and pitched more complete games than anyone in the league. In an era where starting pitchers are only expected to pitch six good innings before letting their bullpens mop up the rest, Halladay is the Renaissance by becoming that pitcher who finishes what he starts.

That bulldog quality in a pitcher, these days, is rare. Halladay going nine innings a game makes the rest of the pitchers in the league look like a bunch of pussies. Doc IS the throwback to the days where pitchers threw until their arms fell off. He established a high number of innings pitched and separated himself from the pack.

And besides that, he was very fun to watch. In the American League, and their Designated Hitter rule, most of the emphasis of baseball come from the team swinging the big bat. The most pomp the pitcher can bring for himself are those flashy fascist strikeouts. But when Doc is pitching, the emphasis is on defence. It made me appreciate what a beautiful thing a groundball double-play is.

And Roy dictates the pace. He works fast, leaving batters guessing and being beside themselves. A Doc Halladay pitched game would start at say, 7:00, and we'll be out of the park by 9:00 with our subsequent plans intact. We love watching games where Halladay is up on the mound. He's fast, he's tidy, and he's that fucking good.

Which brings us to this. Our very own homegrown talent, up from the crevasses of A-Ball, an unhittable workhorse, a straight-up winner, first-class human being, my inimitable hero, our source of great baseball entertainment, won't be ours any longer.

Roy Halladay has all the credentials to be inducted to baseball's highest honor, The Hall Of Fame. His only detraction is the team that he plays for, the Blue Jays, have not provided him with many meaningful games to play for. Playing for and performing well to achieve a World Series Championship would be the feather in his cap that would make him a shoe-in for the Hall.

As much as he has been a class individual for the team and the city that he loves, there is the yearning for that championship that would cement his legacy. Roy always says the right thing by being loyal and wanting a Championship title for Toronto, but it seems under the circumstances, these wants won't materialize.

So as much as we love Doc, we have to let him make his jump to another plantation that can utilize his services and accommodate his wishes. The days of watching one person put on one team's uniform are looooong gone.

But in Doc's case, I'm wishing and hoping.

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