Blink and it was over, but you did not feel cheated. The light was so bright and the work was so brilliant that we were still totally satisfied with what Roy Halladay had given us during his four seasons in Philadelphia.
The perfect game in Miami, the postseason no-hitter at Citizens Bank Park and the Cy Young Award, all in his first season, made Halladay worth the intense pursuit that Ruben Amaro Jr. started the instant he replaced Pat Gillick as the Phillies general manager after the 2008 World Series.
“He was my white whale,” a grief-stricken Amaro said by phone Tuesday night a few hours after learning that Halladay had died at the age of 40 in a plane crash in Florida. “It wasn’t more than a few weeks after I was on the job that I went into [former team president] David Montgomery’s office and said, ‘David, I’m going to ask for a lot of things and the one thing I know I’m going to ask for is that we somehow and some way acquire Roy Halladay.’”
Amaro had to wait to reel in his whale. He couldn’t get Halladay at the trade deadline in 2009, but after the season he got his man in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays and he immediately got Halladay to agree to a three-year contract extension worth $60 million.
“We faced him so many times in spring training over the years, so we knew what he was all about,” Amaro said. “I thought he was the guy who could separate us. I wanted to acquire the best and he was the best. I knew he had not reached the postseason in Toronto and he lived near Clearwater, so I always thought there was a chance.”
Amaro said catcher Carlos Ruiz most appreciated the acquisition of Halladay.
“Carlos was always coming up to me and thanking me for getting Roy,” Amaro said. “Chooch was a man of few words, but when he talked about Roy he lit up like a Christmas tree. He’d say you got me a caballo.”
That’s horse in Spanish.
As brilliant as he was in that first season with the Phillies, Halladay was at least just as good and maybe even better in the second season. His 2.35 ERA was the lowest of his career and he finished second in the Cy Young voting to Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But in each of those first two seasons, the Phillies fell short in the postseason and Amaro learned even more about a man he already admired.
“The things that stuck out to me were how humble he was,” Amaro said. “What separated him from everybody else wasn’t just the fact that he was phenomenal. It was his level of dedication to the game and his accountability. I’m not sure anyone was ever more accountable than Roy. There were times when he did not perform well that he would text me: ‘Sorry I let you down.’ He’s on his way to winning the Cy Young and he’s texting me, ‘Sorry I let you down.’ ”
One of Halladay’s apologetic texts came after he had lost Game 1 of the 2010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. He had pitched the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history in his previous outing and on that night against the Giants he had given the Phillies seven innings and allowed four runs.
He was also dealing with a severe groin injury that did not prevent him from going out and winning Game 5 in San Francisco.
The text to Amaro: “Sorry I did this to you. I apologize.”
Amaro was stunned, but knew exactly how to reply.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere without you,” he sent in a return text.
More frustration followed the next year when the Phillies lost a Game 5 heartbreaker, 1-0, to the St. Louis Cardinals. Halladay was outdueled by Chris Carpenter, one of his best friends in baseball and a former teammate with the Blue Jays.
As it turned out, that would be the last brilliant season for Halladay. He started off well in 2012, but the wear and tear from all those years of 220-plus innings caught up to him in the middle of that season and made him mortal in 2013.
Even then, Amaro’s admiration for Halladay was immense.
“That was a difficult time because he had all kind of ailments that he refused to acknowledge,” Amaro said. “He had a back issue and a shoulder issue, but he wanted to make sure he honored his contract. He believed he could figure things out even if he didn’t have the same velocity or movement.”
He could not and he retired after the season, but quickly and happily settled into life after baseball.
“I feel like the baseball world got the best of him,” his wife, Brandy, said at Halladay’s retirement announcement during the 2013 winter meetings. “But I feel like there is enough of him left for us, too.”
She was right. He coached his sons Braden and Ryan in baseball and was still serving as a pitching consultant for the Phillies. He was also flying planes and living life with the same passion he pursued pitching. The Hall of Fame should be calling next year and it will be a sad day but another chance to remember a short life that was well lived.
Blink and his life was over, but the legend of Roy Halladay will continue as long as they keep playing baseball.