COMMENTARY | Watching Roy Halladay trying to pitch with the Philadelphia Phillies these last two baseball seasons was something like tenor Andrea Bocelli trying to sing with laryngitis. No matter what Halladay did to try to compensate, there was no way he was physically able to present his artistry with his accustomed excellence.
I have to admit it came as something of a surprise when Doc Halladay announced his retirement from the game today. As hard as it was to watch this great pitcher struggle so mightily in 2012-13, he seemed determined to make it back next season. He seemed determined to recapture his status as one of the game's elite hurlers. A lot of people thought he could. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said if anyone could, it would be Halladay.
But there was plenty of reason for doubt. He looked so bad at times during these two seasons, it was hard to believe this was the same guy. This was Roy Halladay, who won 39 games in 2010-11 for the Phillies, who won the Cy Young Award one season and finishing runner-up the next. This was Doc, who threw a perfect game during the regular season and a no-hitter in the playoffs in 2010. This is Halladay, who for most of the 2000s has been generally acknowledged as the best in the game.
And then it disappeared. In 2012, he developed problems with the shoulder in his pitching arm. Initially diagnosed as a strain, he would eventually have surgery for a bone spur last season. He tried to pitch through both, and then he tried to come back from both. At times it harbored on pure disaster. It was painful viewing.
Two appearances last year against the Miami Marlins summed up these two seasons of frustration. On May 5 at Citizens Bank Park, Halladay gave up nine runs on four hits, four walks and two hit betters in just 2 1/3 innings against the Marlins. Infielder Adeiny Hechavarria drove in seven of those runs with a bases-loaded triple and a grand slam. This is the same Adeiny Hechavarria who hit .227 with three homers and 42 RBIs in 148 games last season.
On Sept. 25 at Marlins Park, a heavily perspiring Halladay threw 16 pitches, barely breaking 80 mph with any of them, before being lifted with one out in the first inning. It was the shortest outing of his career. It would also be his last outing. Halladay walked off the mound crestfallen, looking like someone who knew inside that he had nothing left.
Publicly, he would maintain the good thoughts. He would say it was just a matter of rebuilding strength. He believed most of his velocity would come around with time. He even made references to Jamie Moyer's pitching effectively without velocity, suggesting he could do the same if necessary. It all sounded plausible. Halladay appreciators wanted to believe it.
Still, it was hard to reconcile his optimism with what we had witnessed. At his press conference today, he cited back problems as the real reason for his retirement. He didn't want to jeopardize his long-term health.
But knowing what a peerless competitor he is, knowing how dedicated he is and knowing how much he wanted to come back strong, one has to wonder if he simply couldn't face the possibility of more appearances like those Marlins debacles. So many great ones in sports held on too long -- Steve Carlton in baseball, Muhammad Ali in boxing are good examples. In that sense, Halladay can be thankful for his back woes.
Now it becomes a matter of Roy Halladay qualifying for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 16 seasons, Halladay won 203 games, which doesn't seem like a lot by Hall of Fame standards. But he won 66 percent of his decisions (just 105 losses) and compiled a 3.38 career earned run average, very impressive by any standards. He won Cy Young Awards in both leagues -- only Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens have done that, too. He's one of only 23 major league pitchers to pitch a perfect game, and only Halladay and Don Larsen have pitched postseason no-hitters, Larsen's being a perfect game.
Plus, Doc is a model citizen and a great teammate who was liked and respected throughout the game. His will be a tough name for voters to leave off their ballots.
But five major league seasons must pass before he's eligible. Today is about a great baseball player who knew he couldn't be great anymore and gave up the game at the right time.
He will be missed.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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