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Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr - Wikimedia Commons

On Roy Halladay’s Death and the Fan Base He Gave So Much Life To

So today has been a little overwhelming. On Twitter, in particular, it’s been tough sledding. My feed has, understandably, been full of so much grief, so many poignant thoughts, and so many beautiful memories that it would be nearly impossible to share them all here. Roy Halladay was legitimately an all-time great pitcher, an all-time great Blue Jay. He was also by all accounts a great teammate, a great father, and a man who seemed to have a real zeal for his post-baseball life. This one hit hard and close to home on too, too many levels.

There’s been so much to process and so much that could be said today, that I’ve genuinely been finding it difficult to say anything at all. Not unlike a lot of you that have found your way to this little corner of the internet, I’m sure, I’ve gone a bit numb.

That’s because for a whole lot of us, especially around here, Roy Halladay was more than just an ordinary superstar pitcher and franchise icon. He was… well… this:

I didn’t use this as the main image of this post, because I was afraid that people might get the wrong idea, or think it disrespectful. It’s far from it. For those of you who don’t recognize it, this is the exceptionally crude MS Paint image I’d use in the early days of Drunk Jays Fans just about any time Halladay pitched.

Like a cybernetic organism, the joke went, Halladay was consistent, relentless, indestructible. His personality, always much more serious than the man we got to know through social media over the last couple years, fit perfectly with the goof. For a previous generation of Jays fans Tom Henke had been called “the Terminator,” but for those of us whose love of baseball was born, or slowly rekindled, in the decade-and-a-half after the 1994 strike, Halladay was one. 

And he was ours.

But what I didn’t really think of so much then, yet is plain to me now on an awful day like this, was that what was special about all that was that it meant there was an us.

I don’t want to overstate the depths to which the Blue Jays’ brand had sunk by the mid-2000s, but after the strike, the Gord Ash years, the cost-cutting early in J.P. Ricciardi’s tenure, and the departure of Carlos Delgado after 2004, there wasn’t a lot left to cling to. The team was always looking up at the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios never quite lived up to their potential, the team played in ass-ugly uniforms and tried desperately to remind fans of better days with promotions like Flashback Fridays, meanwhile papering the house with $81 Toronto Star passes and fist-flyin’ Toonie Tuesdays. Sure, there were always fans, there were some good years and fine players, and the club — with apologies to the Great Ted Rogers Myth — wasn’t going anywhere. But some of those seasons felt awfully pointless, even at the best of times.

Yet there was always Roy Halladay.

And there were people out there, it turned out, who cared as much as you did.

Parkes and I started DJF at the very end of 2006. Batter’s Box was already around then, and if others weren’t there already, it wasn’t long before there was also Ghostrunner On First, the Tao of Stieb, Hum and Chuck, Bluebird Banter, the Mockingbird, John Brattain (RIP), Brad Fullmer Fan, the Smasher, Ari, Karen, RADAR, Captain Latte, Burrows, the Grumpy Owl, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

Obviously the whole fan base didn’t grow from there — far from it — but suddenly there was a big group of dedicated and intelligent fans, over multiple sites, with unique, strong voices, from places far and wide, who were writing and thinking and reading and talking and sharing their passion for the Blue Jays in new and exciting ways. Suddenly we were connecting with other communities in other cities, too. This was the start of our little corner of what is now an enormous, global community of fans — the community whose grief spilled so raw and so real onto my timeline today. And for the Blue Jays fans who were there in those years, so much of what we rallied around, and what made it worth even watching our team at all — in other words, so much of what brought us all together, and would ultimately bring so many of us to jobs and loves and lifelong friends — was the presence, and the greatness, of Roy Halladay.

I don’t know if that’s the right takeaway from a day like this, but you all know the on-field exploits anyway, and don’t need me to dive into boring stats or rehash your own memories for you. You don’t need me to tell you about Halladay’s humility, his dedication to his family, and all the incredible stuff about him that makes this such a genuine tragedy. What I can tell you that’s unique, though, is that in a very personal and very real way, I honestly don’t know where my life would be right now without the strange journey that began in those years, and with those teams that he was so absolutely central to.

So that’s where my head is at tonight. Feeling for and thinking not just about Roy and his family and his teammates and friends, but how grateful I am for the years when he was here. What he gave to me, and to so many baseball fans in Toronto and in Canada, and to Blue Jays fans around the world, was so much bigger than can be boiled down to individual games or individual moments on the field. At a time when we badly needed a reason to fall in love with the sport, he made baseball truly worth watching. I can hardly think of a better gift than that.

Rest in peace, Doc.

  • Dexxter

    Seriously though.

    Halladay and Chris Carpenter were the guys that were gonna bring the Jays back to contention. I Honestly remember thinking as I watched Halladay get shitcanned during his terrible 2000 season that this team was seriously screwed. I stopped watching them until about mid 2001…. when Halladay was back in the bigs and having the first of many dominant seasons for the Jays.

    He was that important to the Jays even then. There was little other reason to watch.

    Sad day for every fan who ever watched him play and sadder still for his family. Rest In Peace.

  • Johnny Wholesome

    Thanks Andrew. As one of those who found those blogs, that community, back in the days when reading about the Jays was almost better than actually watching, thanks for reiterating why Doc meant so much to us. Watching him spin the no hitter at Opera Bob’s was pretty much peak DJF for this fan, too.

    RIP Doc.

  • Teddy Ballgame

    I’ve been a fan since the very early years of the Jays. And the baseball during the 2000s wasn’t really bad…it was just average. But the one huge benefit during that time is I could go down to the ballpark every fifth day, get a couple of cheap tickets, and watch an all time great. Of course we all knew that at the time. The last few years have been brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but truthfully I don’t think anything for me (save Carter’s home run) will beat watching such an exceptional practitioner of such a beautiful game so often for such a long time. Doc was everything I love about baseball, and like Stoeten says, he was ours.

  • DAKINS

    Halladay WAS the Blue Jays during his era with the team. Not just because he was the bright spot on an otherwise lackluster roster, but because he lived to be a Toronto Blue Jay.

    He took below market extensions to try to bring this team a World Series. More than once.

    I watched the re-airing of the special on Doc from Sportsnet last night, and the thing that stuck out most for me was that he said that even when he was with the Phillies, he felt as if he was still a Blue Jay. (yeah I know, I’m sure some of this was lip service, but it still brought the feels.) He said that he was a Blue Jay, who just happened to be wearing a Phillies uniform. He said as soon as he was traded, he knew he would be coming back to retire as a Jay.

    It’s actually upsetting to know that he will never get to see his name up on the LoE at the Dome. For him though, it’s even more upsetting that he never got to help the Jays put up another World Series banner in the rafters.

  • Tyler Campbell

    My wife and I split up at the start of the 2017 season and I ended up moving into a condo by the dome. I found DJF around that time (I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands), and finding a community of like-minded fans was something that allowed me to forget about what was going on in my life for a little while.

    Doc was a huge part of that too. The team was dogshit, but I got to as many of his starts as I could. The last time I saw him pitch live, I took my 5 year old daughter to what I assumed would be one of his final starts as a Jay, and damned if he didn’t through a CG 1-hitter against the Yankees. Nails, as always. My poor kid stayed to the end with me. There will never be another like him.

  • The Humungus

    I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for the team to hang 32 in the rafters. Forget the level of excellence, he was the best pitcher in baseball for a decade, he’s going to be in the HoF sooner rather than later. No one should be wearing this number in Toronto again. Not next year, not ever.

    • Barry

      I’ve assumed for years that his number would ultimately be retired. I felt like the reason they hadn’t already put him on the Level of Excellence was that they were waiting for him to be elected to the Hall of Fame so they could do the L of E and number retirement ceremony. And I was fine with that … because we couldn’t have known he wouldn’t be here when it happens. It guts me that when the day finally comes it’s going to be a memorial.

      • Deener32

        They set the precedent with Alomar that any player inducted into the baseball hall of fame would have their number retired. I imagine that this summer we will see a video tribute at the home opener and then an unveiling of his name on the level of excellence and his number being retired in late august when the Phillies are here.

        • Deener32

          It’s an absolute gut punch that he will never get to see the LoE or number being retired though…I honestly thought the jays would do LoE first year he was retired.

      • Barry

        Some have suggested a statue, too. I would love to see that. I think this team should have statues honouring its legends. I think Roy would be a great first statue.

  • Barry

    I think this would have been just as devastating no matter what the era he pitched in was like; that he pitched for Jays teams that went nowhere changes the shape of this, but not the size. If he’d been on a championship team we would cherish his playoff moments and how much he helped us win; as it is, we cherish the bright light he was, and the memories of a guy who gave us something to get excited about every fifth day, even if it was a late September game for a team that had been eliminated weeks earlier.

    The greats are always great, and they’re always special — it’s the circumstances in which they’re special that change. And maybe this is just my personal feeling, but I think I would have been hit just as hard by this no matter what the Jays had been when Doc was here.

  • Barry

    One thing I keep thinking about is how Doc signed a one-day deal to retire as a Blue Jay. I don’t know about other people, but that meant a lot to me. Was it a PR thing? Sure … for the Jays. But what was in it for Doc? I can’t think of a believable answer to that question that isn’t rooted in Doc’s sincere desire to do so, and an affection for the team and the city.

    And that’s why it meant so much to me. It’s something no one had ever done for the team before. It was symbolic, yes. But it was the symbolism that touched me. It was Doc doing something he didn’t need to do just so he could say that he loved the team that we love. Few off-season moments have ever felt so meaningful.

    • Deener32

      This was huge for me- I couldn’t even explain to my wife at the time why it was so important to me- to my knowledge he was the first player to do something like that.

      He made the decision to retire, but wanted to do it as a blue jay. I think that says a lot about where his head/heart was!

      • Barry

        And it was such a classy press conference. He put on the Jays cap and jersey, but also made sure he had a Phillies cap on the table so that Phillies fans wouldn’t feel slighted. Is it any wonder that the Phillies fans feel affection for a guy who was there a short time and only had two elite seasons there? He showed them a lot of love and respect, and though a relatively quiet guy, he captured their hearts. Two fanbases were very lucky to have Doc.

  • chris3251206

    Well put. Bob Elliott had a great piece of some recollections of Halladay that’s worth a read: https://www.canadianbaseballnetwork.com/canadian-baseball-network-articles/elliott-r-i-p-roy-halladay

    Interesting tidbit at the end as well, apparently Halladay submitted a job application to the Jays to work with their minor leaguers this offseason on the mental aspect of pitching, but was not hired. I’ve been hesitant to criticize Shapiro or Atkins too much, but this seems like a particularly stupid decision, even more so now that I know Roy will never get the chance to put a Jays uniform on again.

  • Designated For Assignment

    I am glad you dusted off the robot photo of Roy Halliday. It’s a fitting tribute to a guy we all made sure to follow when the rest of the team wasn’t much to get excited about.

    “At a time when we badly needed a reason to fall in love with the sport, he made baseball truly worth watching. I can hardly think of a better gift than that.”

    Thanks Stoeten

  • Deener32

    One thing I wanted to share- I have been fortunate to attend many games over the last several years in suites at the Rogers center. Several of which have been in he halladay family’s old box-

    Many of these hostess’s have been in their roles for 10 years plus and know Brandy and Roy well. I’ve come to learn that the public has very little knowledge of just how much these two gave back- the amount of stories I’ve been privy to over the years where they contributed to a cause that was never publicized or given any attention to is shocking-

    This was a great man that lost his life! A true tragedy!

    • Teddy Ballgame

      I’m saying this as a guy who loved Doc – while that radio guy is an effing ghoul, when you see the pre-crash footage and hear what eyewitnesses have described…as a father of two boys myself from a family with ties to the avaition industry, let’s just say there’s stuff that I don’t do anymore and wouldn’t do going forward on account of having kids and a wife that depend on me being around.

      • Barry

        You’re right, and I think you’ve said it in exactly the right way. The radio jock said it in the wrong way. I think it’s important to talk about, even — perhaps especially — so close to such a tragic happening, but it can be talked about with compassion. This guy tore a strip off Halladay and I don’t think that was appropriate or productive. It just became an anger talking point.

  • BlakeCousins

    I think the Blue Jays, as a franchise, are old enough, and have enough moments, to consider creating a Monument Park type of display outside of the Dome, perhaps on the SW side where they host the FanFest events.
    Statues of Stieb when he finally got his no-hitter, hand on forehead in disbelief/relief, Bell clutching the clinching PO in ’85, Alomar raising his arms after taking Eckersley deep, Carter doing his victory jump and the Bats Flip should all be there. Beeston in a chair with a cigar, Gillick working a phone, Tom sitting behind a desk and microphone.
    But the first statue should be one of Doc, standing on the mound, glove in his face, ready to chuck

  • drunk man walking

    Doc’s entire career with the Jays was spent during the 1WC team era. As much as we seem to think that the teams during his time here were not very good, what is actually the case is that the Yankees and Sox were behemoths. They won 11 of the 17 WC entries. During that time we only came second in the East one time, ‘o6, and Detroit won the WC with 95 wins, 8 more than us. We quite simply were in the position of battling for 3rd. For most of those years you could not get into the playoffs with less than 90 wins. And our payroll situation essentially meant that we were never in competition for the “best player available”. That was what was such a big deal about Ryan and Burnett, in that we actually got players that others wanted for once. This was an act very much like the trades in ’15, a star crossed attempt to leverage the window of the best player in franchise history to success. Those opportunities just come along so rarely for a team competing against teams for who failure is not an option, and overpaying is not an obstacle. The most amazing and endearing aspect about Halliday in Toronto was that he committed to the team, signed extensions twice in an attempt to bring us some glory. No player in team history has demonstrated that kind of commitment to the team. And if we don’t love him for that we are damned callous.

  • oxygen8

    1. Give Roy every tribute he has earned next season.
    2. Put him on the Level of Excellence because he and Stieb were both 7 WAR (per 162) during their peak years in Toronto to respect club history.
    3. Upgrade him to a retied number when he is inducted into the Hall either this year with the Clemente rule or when it does happen.

    He deserves all of our love and respect, but let’s do this correctly.

  • KBussey

    Thank you Andrew. Your posts and commentary has helped me a lot through this tough week.

    I wrote my personal tribute to Doc yesterday that I shared with friends on Facebook. I wanted to also share it on here:

    Tuesday’s news was a gut punch. I needed a couple days to try to come out with the right words to best pay homage to Roy Halladay. Thing is, there are no right words to do him justice, but I will try my best.

    He was my boy! I admired him so much. He was gifted with athleticism and fantastic stuff, but it was his class, his humbleness, outstanding work ethic, and his pursuit of excellence that I loved about him. I often said to my wife, that if we ever had kids and had a boy, I wanted to name him Harry Elroy.

    He changed my life. I can recall in the early 2000s, a year or two after his breakthrough seasons of 2002 and 2003 and I was just floating in University and had no direction or real drive for what I wanted to do with my life. I was doing OK with school, but nothing near my best (high school was the same). So one day, when I was alone in my thoughts, and I pondered why I adored Roy Halladay so much, and I was pretty quick to say to myself, that it was the fact that he wasn’t gonna be out-worked by anyone, no one better prepared for the task at hand. Doc was committed to doing his very best (and his best is Hall of Fame worthy), and always treated others with kindness and respect (even when he didn’t want to talk, which was always the case on game days lol). So I decided to try to model my own life like that; I aspired to be like him. The passion and dedication to my career as a high school teacher comes from me modelling Doc. And I try to be kind and respectful to others like he was.

    As a baseball fan, he was truly my favorite player. I am happy that back in Canada Day weekend 2011, myself and group of great friends traveled from Newfoundland and got to join 45000 Blue Jay fans fill the Rogers Centre and give him the hero’s welcome he rightly deserved (he threw a CG gem vs the Blue Jays of course). And that was during a time that the Jays didn’t fill the place very often. For a lot of fans, he was the only reason to go and watch the Jays for years. I rooted hard for him when was with Philly and was so happy to see him finally pitch in the playoffs; throwing a no hitter in his first playoff game like a boss.

    A part of me is gone. My wife and I had already started the preliminary plans to see his induction into Cooperstown in 2019 or 2020. I had hoped to finally meet him then, even though I would certainly had been star-struck and speechless in such a meeting, and I would have been fortunate if I could at least get the words ”You were the best and you’re my favorite player,” out. I will continue to celebrate him and his life. But it sucks that I now live in a world with no Doc Halladay out there.

    But that’s not the real tragedy here. It is a wife and two sons now going on without their husband and father, and all the time together that has been taken away from their family. My thoughts and best wishes are with them.