The Ballot: Roy Halladay
Pitching: 350 points
League leaders: 65 points (led league in SO/W 5 times, innings four times, WHIP once, FIP once, ERA+ once, wins twice)
Multiple Cy Young winner, had stretch where he was viewed as best pitcher in the game: 50 points
Threw postseason no-hitter: 10 points
Threw perfect game: 10 points
Race to 400 points: 485
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“Roy Halladay simplified pitching. This was at the heart of his baseball greatness. He took this big, sprawling, complicated thing, this intricate art form weighed down by so many details -- by pitches, counts, batting styles, scouting reports and arm slots and fluctuating strike zones and high-leverage situations and low-leverage situations -- and he boiled it down to its essence.
Halladay knew who he was on the mound.”
Halladay didn’t ALWAYS know, obviously. He figured it out along the way, sometimes painfully. And that's the part of the story I love most. One of the most fascinating questions in sports, in life, is this: What actually makes people CHANGE? I think often about the story of George Brett and Charlie Lau. As you no doubt know, Lau was the brilliant hitting coach who painstakingly rebuilt George Brett’s swing and led him on the road to Cooperstown.
The part of the story I think about is Brett himself. What made him change? Brett will tell you the answer is simple: He was failing miserably. That’s all. He was hitting .220, and there was talk that he was about to be sent back to the minors. Would he have changed if he was hitting .275 and was secure? “Not a chance,” Brett says. “Charlie had come to me before. I didn’t listen. I was like, ‘What do you know?’”
So, yes, failure jump-started George Brett's change. But failure alone won’t make anyone change. We all instinctively know this: Lots of people fail and most of those people don’t change. Most people CAN"T change. They face a moment of crisis, that critical instant when they have to decide what to be going forward, and they can't find something new inside themselves. They write the same story, sing the same song, tell the same joke. They don't know how else to be.
There’s something else that matters, I think. Well, I’m sure there are a LOT of other things that matter, but I think of one thing in particular: humility.
Brett realized that if he wasn't good enough, he HAD to change, or he would fail. Yes, that's the sort of thing that seems obvious to everyone on the outside -- I mean, the guy was hitting .220 -- but inside, I imagine, nothing in the world seemed LESS obvious. George Brett had never failed before. He had always been able to count on his athleticism, his work ethic, his competitive spirit. Those things had always gotten him through.
Beyond that, there are always a thousand scapegoats out there to blame your troubles on. Change? Why change? Maybe he was just unlucky. Maybe he felt a lack of support from his teammates. Management didn't believe in him. His Dad was driving him nuts. He just needed time to adjust. The ballpark didn’t fit his game. His elbow was hurting him. The fans were getting him down. When you're failing — and ESPECIALLY when you're failing for the first time — there's no shortage of excuses and reasons, no shortage or dragons to slay.
To be human is to be susceptible to feelings of persecution.
In 2000, at age 23, Roy Halladay failed for the first time in his life. Halladay had been a pitching phenom. The Denver pitching whisperer, Bus Campbell — who in his remarkable baseball life worked with Goose Gossage and Brad Lidge and Jamie Moyer and others — took on a 13-year-old Roy Halladay and raised him as a pitcher. By 14, scouts surrounded him. At 18, Toronto took him with the 17th overall pick. He was so good in the minors that at 21, he was considered one of the five best pitching prospects in the game. As a 22-year-old rookie, he pitched 149 innings for the Blue Jays with a 125 ERA+, and many were calling him the game’s next big star.
But, looking back on it, his rookie success was something of an illusion. The ERA was fine, but in those 149 innings, he struck out just 82, walked 79 and gave up 19 home runs. The fine ERA was due to the 11 unearned runs he gave up ... and quite a bit of luck.
In 2000, the luck ran out. How bad was Roy Halladay in 2000? His 10.64 ERA is STILL the highest ever for any pitcher who threw more than 50 innings in a season. It was an all-out disaster, but truth be told, he didn’t pitch dramatically differently than he had in 1999. He gave up more hits and home runs, but the fundamental problems were the same. He was wild. He couldn’t get strike three. He gave up too much hard contact. The Blue Jays sent him to Class AAA Syracuse mid-season, and he had all the same problems there.
[caption id="attachment_23927" align="aligncenter" width="456"] Halladay is one of six pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues.[/caption]
Halladay spent the whole offseason working on his game. He undoubtedly worked very hard; Halladay always worked hard. But what did he work on? “I’m just going to keep doing what I know to do,” he told reporters. He convinced the Blue Jays that he was ready to go — he began spring training as a favorite to be in the Toronto rotation.
“He’s a remarkable prospect,” Toronto manager Buck Martinez said as spring training started.
But spring training was no better than the 2000 season had been. Still wild. Still like batting practice.
“Nobody’s giving up on Doc at all,” Martinez said as spring training came to a close. “We see some talent there. … He certainly has the ability. It’s consistency, command and using all his pitches that is the problem.”
Yeah, that's a different tone. Two days later, the Blue Jays sent their remarkable prospect all the way down to Class A.
“We want to help him,” Martinez said. “But I don’t think it helps to send him to Triple-A.”
Here's the moment: Halladay could have felt cheated or wronged. He pitched relief in the Florida State League, and reporters wrote stories as a constant reminder of how far Halladay had fallen. He didn't bite. “I’m just trying to do everything I can to get back to pitching the way I used to,” Halladay said.
The question is: Are you doing EVERYTHING you can? That is to say, are you going deep into yourself, asking the hardest questions, being brutally and unmercifully honest, modifying and reshaping even those parts of yourself that you hold closest? Halladay did. His Charlie Lau was a tactless former pitcher and seafood restaurant owner named Mel Queen, who got in Halladay’s face and challenged him to become someone different.
Queen called Halladay a stupid idiot with no guts.
That was his opener.
“There’s no one I made a drastic change to and verbally abused the way I did Doc,” Queen told reporters. “There aren’t many people that would have gone through what I put him through. I had to make him understand that he was very unintelligent about baseball. He had no idea about the game.”
Queen has received (and deserves) a lot of the credit for what happened next … but at the heart of it all, obviously, is Halladay, not only because he was the one who actually pitched his way to Cooperstown, but because he listened to Queen. He entirely revamped his delivery. He began to keep detailed notes of hitters and how to face them. He got uncomfortable, gave up parts of his game that he didn't want to give up, changed so much that it hurt.
“A lot of guys,” Queen said, “would have punched me.”
Yes. A lot of guys would have punched Queen. A lot of guys would have just kept hammering away at what had always worked for them. Halladay became a new pitcher.
Halladay was recalled to the big leagues on July 2 and got absolutely raked — he was cheered loudly only after getting pulled from the game (having allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings). But after the game, the Blue Jays announced that he would make a start against the Expos.
And there was something different about him in that start. Halladay lasted only six innings and gave up eight hits, but he struck out 10, and didn’t walk anybody. Something was kicking in. In his last start of the season against Cleveland, he threw a two-hit shutout, striking out eight and again walking nobody.
The next year, he led the league in WAR (but didn't get a single Cy Young vote — something that couldn’t happen now).
The next year he had a crazy 204-32 strikeout-to-walk, led the league in everything except ERA, and won his first Cy Young Award. And, well, you know the rest. One of my favorite sports movie lines is Crash Davis’ explanation of what it takes: fear and arrogance. It isn’t entirely clear how you make those two things fit together. Roy Halladay figured it out.