by Clark Groome

May 29, 2010,was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. It was also the date of the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals that pitted the Philadelphia Flyers against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City.

The Phillies were playing a regular season game against the Florida Marlins in Miami.

I was watching the Flyers on TV.

October 6, 2010, was a Wednesday. It was opening night of the Wilma Theater’s “Macbeth.”

The Phillies were opening the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park.

I was reviewing the Wilma’s show.

History was made on both occasions, and not by the Flyers or the Wilma.

On May 29, Harry Leroy Halladay III, a/k/a “Doc,” pitched the 20th perfect game in baseball history.

On Oct. 6, Halladay made his playoff debut by pitching the second no-hitter in postseason history (the first was Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956).

I missed them both.

When the tragic, shocking news of Halladay’s death at 40 in a plane crash was announced last Tuesday my thoughts didn’t immediately go to Halladay’s skill as a pitcher.

What I remember most was what I actually saw after those two extraordinary performances and on many other occasions: his humility and his grace.

After both games Doc deflected most of the well-deserved praise he was receiving and credited his catcher, Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz, with the day’s success.

With so much of the news about professional athletes being negative, it was refreshing to hear about one of the good guys. The reactions were more than just the expected words after someone dies. There was a depth of hurt and loss and a respect that was rare during times like these.

Sure, people talked about his two no-hitters and about his two Cy Young Awards, one in each league, an accomplishment he shares with only five others: Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Max Scherzer.

There were reminders about his eight All Star selections and that during the period between 2002 and 2011 he threw 63 complete games while the other Phillies starters combined pitched 58. It was noted that in 2010 he was the first Phillies hurler in 28 years to win 20 or more games – it was 21 – since Steve Carlton won 23 in 1982.

He was a tireless worker whose workout regimen was an example to his teammates, first in Toronto and later here in Philly.

His career stats and his 203-105 won-loss record coupled with his being the best pitcher of his era should guarantee him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2019.

He should also be one of the exceptions to the somewhat flexible rules about who is on the Phillies Wall of Fame. This shouldn’t be done because of what happened to him but because of what he did and who he was.

My favorite Halladay moment came at Spring Training 2011. During the off-season the Phils had reacquired Cliff Lee. Halladay and Lee were part of a rotation that included 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels and premiere pitcher Roy Oswalt. That quartet was immediately dubbed “The Four Aces.” Doc would have none of it.

Before he met the media with his moundmates he insisted that Joe Blanton – the fifth member of one of the best pitching rotations ever – be part of the conversation. It wasn’t “Four Aces,” it was five.

Another example of his character was when he was injured and called a news conference to apologize that he couldn’t help the team the way he’d like. He often sent texts or emails to people after a less-than-stellar performance lamenting having let the team down.

That commitment to the team and his love for his wife, Brandy, and sons Braden and Ryan were what so many people noted in their tributes after his death.

One of those five aces, Cole Hamels, said, “To the world, Roy was one of the best pitchers in baseball, but to me, he was an inspiration, a great mentor, teammate, and most importantly, a friend. Roy was a man of few words, but he lit up when his boys were around. His family and this game were everything to him.”

Phillies chairman David Montgomery, who was the team’s president when Halladay pitched here, reported that he had encouraged him to return to baseball after his retirement as a pitcher. Doc said, Montgomery noted, that he would do that sometime but that now watching and helping his two teenaged sons grow up was his priority and his joy.

Charlie Manuel said, “Roy was the best competitor I’d ever seen and it was an honor to have managed him.” That comes from the man who also managed Jim Thome, another of baseball’s greats on and off the field.

So it’s obvious that while I may have missed the historic performances on the field I was blessed to watch his extraordinary character off.

Chooch gets the last word: “When I heard the news I was truly devastated. Roy was one of the greatest pitchers I ever caught and an even better person and friend. I wanted to win more for him than myself.”

 

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