I don’t know anyone who really wanted Roy Halladay to pitch for the Phillies in 2014. But, I also don’t know anyone who wanted Roy to retire. Retirements are major mileposts in the life of a sports fan. When a player you are connected to retires, you can’t help but think about how quickly time passes. The boys who watched Roy come into the league are now men and a generation of fans will no longer be able to watch one of their defining pitchers. Athletes get plenty of grief for getting emotional at their retirement press conferences, but it often happens abruptly and at a relatively young age. The realization must be jarring and I think the fans feel that to a certain extent as well. If Roy Halladay is getting old, that means I’m getting old too.
Roy Halladay coming to Philadelphia may have been the absolute peak of the Phillies franchise. Smack in the middle of an unprecedented run of success, Halladay made it known that Philadelphia was his ideal destination and he wasn’t particularly interested in signing a player friendly extension. I don’t know off the top of my head another time, in any sport, where Philadelphia was THE free agent destination. But that’s what it became after Halladay was acquired and not even shipping off Cliff Lee could change that…
There’s another thing that Halladay’s retirement is a sad reminder of–the Phillies are no longer a team in demand. The money and the wins have dried up a bit since the 2009 off-season. From Halladay and Cliff-mas to Jeff Manship and Will Nieves in four short years. Ouch.
For me personally, Halladay represents some of the highest peaks I’ve ever experienced as a pure fan. His 2010 season was extraordinary. I got multiple text messages on the night of his perfect game before the third inning talking about the chances of Roy pulling off the feat that night. That isn’t normal, but that’s how quickly he made everyone believe he was different. And he was different, just not invincible like he appeared in those initial months.
Being in the stands for Roy’s no-hitter against Cincinnati in the playoffs will be something I always remember. I went back and read my post from the next day and I admitted to starting thinking n0-no in the 4th inning this time around. The other thing that got my attention was that I was feeling incredibly good, but the game still felt like part of something bigger that was happening. I can tell that I wasn’t saying it then, but I was clearly expecting the Phillies to win the World Series that year.
That’s what all the fans were expecting, if not in 2010, then certainly in 2011 when the Phillies dominated the entire regular season and Cliff Lee was back to ride shotgun. Those two seasons ended in similar fashion. In 2010, the Giants out-pitched the Phillies and Roy himself was bested and then injured. In 2011, Halladay started the final game of the season and lost 1-0 to Chris Carpenter. Halladay gave up a leadoff triple in that game, the Cardinals went ahead 1-0 and that was the end of a 102-win season. After that painful loss there was discussion about whether you could expect more of Roy than losing 1-0, and the answer from a lot of people was that you could–Halladay trained people to expect to be on the other side of that 1-0 final. The Phillies didn’t have the best pitcher that night and Halladay was never the same.
Ultimately, I will remember Halladay’s short tenure in Philadelphia as a time where things didn’t align, where bounces and fate turned the wrong way. For me, he’s now in a category with Eric Lindros. When the Flyers got Eric Lindros I expected they would win a Stanley Cup and I expected the Phillies to win a World Series with Roy Halladay. Halladay himself expected it, so how could you curb your own hopes? Injury, bad timing, missed opportunities or any combination of factors can quickly derail expectations and the lack of titles produced by moves like acquiring Halladay or Lindros is a reminder of just how many things have to go right to end a season with a championship. Halladay ultimately came up empty, and while even the most cynical fan wouldn’t place much blame on Roy’s shoulders the bottom line was there was something missing.
The lack of a title will somewhat cloud how Roy is remembered in Philadelphia. After all, we’re just talking about two great seasons. Had the Phillies won a title with Roy leading the way, he would have moved up alongside a player like Pete Rose, or maybe Tug McGraw. Not homegrown, not a career Phillie, but forever put on the highest pedestal. Without the ring, Halladay’s memory will probably be dictated by how successful the Phillies are in the coming years, and perhaps by how Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels close out their careers. Can Lee, who has always been equally beloved, get what eluded Halladay? If Hamels were to win additional championships would he finally endear himself to the fan base?
None of these pitchers is ever going to get to Steve Carlton, but as the memory of Carlton fades, who will be the pitcher who replaces him as the de facto ex-Phillies great? We know now it won’t be Halladay and there’s some regret there, but never any regret for jumping in with all that optimism the day he came to Philadelphia. His dominance was rare and will be missed.