All you need to know about Roy Halladay: When asked Monday about his favourite moment as a major-league pitcher, he didn’t mention the perfect game he threw for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010.
Nor did he bring up the no-hitter he tossed against the Cincinnati Reds that same season, in what was the first playoff start of his fine career. The two Cy Young Awards (one each from the American League and National League) he won as the best pitcher and the eight all-star teams to which he was named were also overlooked.
Instead, Halladay pointed to a midseason start he made for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Detroit Tigers. (He didn’t mention the date, leaving many to scramble for their record books.)
The game was played June 2, 2002, in Detroit, and Halladay had the final score wrong (it was 7-6 for the Jays; not 9-8, as he recalled Monday). But what stuck in his mind was, on a day in which he allowed six earned runs off 11 hits, he scratched and clawed his way through eight innings to get the win.
For Halladay, it has always been about the effort.
“I think, for me, it was just not quitting,” he said. “I definitely had some bumps on the road. And even when things are good you’re going to have bad games, you’re going to have things to overcome. I didn’t ever feel like when I took the mound that I never gave anything less than my best effort.
“It sounds cliché, it sounds easy enough. But when things aren’t going your way, when there’s other things in the back of your head going on, it’s not easy to always go out there and give everything you have.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I feel like I was able to do that.”
Now, it is over, with the 36-year-old American announcing Monday at the winter meetings in Orlando that he is coming home to Toronto, where he played the first 12 of his 16 big-league seasons, to say goodbye.
Halladay, who played the past four years in Philadelphia, signed a one-day free-agent contract with the Blue Jays – and then promptly announced he was retiring from the game.
“I’d love to retire with two teams, I don’t think that’s possible, Halladay said, tears welling up in his eyes. “I just don’t see how it could happen. I want the Phillies organization to know, I want the fans to know, how much I enjoyed my time there, how much they meant to me, how much they meant to my family and what a major part of my career they were.
“But to me the biggest thing was, had I not been fortunate enough to come up with the Blue Jays, and have the people around me that I did and have the people that developed me that I did, I would never of had that chance to play with the Phillies. I very easily could have been out of baseball in 2000, 2001 and never had a shot.
“To me, that was the most important thing. I felt that everything the organization had done for me, the player that they allowed me to become, I felt like it was really important to acknowledge that.”
In a testament to Halladay’s popularity, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was among those in attendance in Orlando to wish him well. So were the four general managers he played for at the major-league level: Gord Ash, J.P. Ricciardi and Alex Anthopoulos (Jays) and Ruben Amaro Jr. (Phillies).
Halladay said it was primarily for family reasons he was packing it in, along with the physical toll (constant back and shoulder pain the past two seasons). In 2013, Halladay struggled to a 4-5 record with a 6.82 ERA in only 62 innings.
“I didn’t feel I could go out there and pitch at the level that I wanted to and felt that I owed to organizations I was going to play for,” said the right-hander, who went 203-105 with a 3.38 earned-run average and 2,117 strikeouts in 2,749 1/3 innings.
And the Blue Jays, still smarting from an underwhelming 2013 season, were only too happy to welcome an old friend back into the fold – even for just a retirement formality.
“We were thrilled that he would even ask us, consider us,” Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston said in an interview. “He wanted to come back here. He knew his roots, he knew where he was and he wanted to retire a Blue Jay.”
Beeston also said Halladay will likely be at Toronto’s spring camp in Dunedin, Fla., as a guest coach and will also be involved in some other promotional plans with the team over the course of the regular season.
Halladay was the Blue Jays’ first-round selection in the 1995 draft (17th overall) and ranks second in franchise wins (148), strikeouts (1,495) and shutouts (15), third in ERA (3.43), starts (287), complete games (49) and innings pitched (2046 2/3).
His .661 winning percentage with Toronto (148-76) is the highest in club history.
The Blue Jays traded Halladay, who had expressed an interest to play for a contender, to the Phillies in December of 2009, for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, pitcher Kyle Drabek and outfielder Michael Taylor.