If there was ever a time for Blue Jays relievers to down an extra Labatt in season, it was on the night before Roy Halladay pitched.
When the late, great right-hander — who retired in 2013 after throwing 67 complete games in 390 starts over 16 seasons, 12 as a Jay — was on the mound, the bullpen almost always caught a break.
“You never know, but 99 times out of 100 the guy was going seven (innings),” former Jays reliever Jason Frasor said at the club’s weekend Winter Fest at the Rogers Centre. “You just get your closer ready and game over.”
Consistency is what many of the players who shared a clubhouse with Halladay remembered most about the man they called Doc — who died tragically at age 40 when his single-passenger plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico in November, 2017.
His meticulous work habits led to two Cy Young awards — one with the Jays, one with the Philadelphia Phillies — and a record of achievement that’s expected to make him a first-ballot hall of famer when the final numbers are announced on Tuesday. By Sunday afternoon, Halladay had appeared on 92.5 per cent of the ballots made public in a process that requires 75 per cent for induction.
“He’s in, he’s in,” Frasor said of Halladay’s Cooperstown credentials. “For those (12) years, Roy Halladay was the best, best pitcher, best starting pitcher — or at least top two or three.”
Frasor recalled that their relationship was more co-worker than friend. The ex-reliever — a workhorse himself, who made 505 appearances in nine seasons with the Jays — recalled that he rarely saw Halladay off the field. Doc was always busy making a protein shake, watching video or working out — taking the game seriously, as the best players do.
Halladay’s work ethic was legendary, said former teammate Pat Hentgen, who won the American League Cy Young in 1996, seven years before Doc’s first.
“They always say it’s easy to get (to the big leagues but) it’s hard to stay,” said Hentgen, who pitched for the Jays for 10 seasons and was Halladay’s teammate in the majors for two. “As a minor league player you think to yourself, ‘There’s no way that’s true.’ But when you get to the big leagues and you realize how tough it is, and how the competition is just so fierce, it’s a true statement.”
“Doc always worked really hard, and I think that’s how he maintained that high level of play.”
Hentgen added that it was apparent during their playing days that Halladay, an eight-time all-star, was pitching at a hall of fame level: “Being able to maintain it for over a decade, I think, is quite remarkable, and that’s why he’s getting the recognition he deserves.”
The Halladay family had yet to announce which team logo would appear on the pitcher’s plaque in Cooperstown. After a dozen years in Toronto, he was traded to the Phillies and won the NL Cy Young in his first season (2010), then finished second in the voting the following year. He also threw a no-hitter in his first career post-season start as a Phillie in 2010.
When it came time to call it quits, though — early, at age 35, after a series of shoulder injuries — he signed a ceremonial one-day contract to retire as a Jay in December, 2013.
If Halladay does go in as a Blue Jay, he will double the club’s hall of fame content, joining Roberto Alomar — who was inducted in his second year of eligibility in 2011.
Alomar, whose Blue Jays playing career didn’t overlap with Halladay’s, called Doc “fearless” and “really tough to hit.”
“As a player and as a person, he meant a lot to us,” added Alomar, now a special assistant with the Jays.
It’s Halladay’s personal side that sticks out for current Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who happily remembered the time he had the chance to pick his idol’s brain one afternoon in 2016.
“As a person, he’s way beyond hall of fame,” the 26-year-old Sanchez said. “The type of knowledge that he passed on to the next generation and the amount of time he really gave to us … is something that I’ll be forever grateful for.”
Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy