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Ace Blue Jays pitcher was a fan favourite
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After a dozen seasons with Toronto, he went to the Phillies and pitched a perfect game and a no-hitter in the same season
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By TOM HAWTHORN
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Special to The Globe and Mail
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017 – Print Edition, Page S7


On the pitching mound Roy Halladay exuded the irritated frustration of a master craftsman never quite satisfied with his own work.

A fierce will to succeed made him a glowering presence on the baseball diamond. He stood 6 foot 6 and weighed 225 pounds, a pitcher dominating both in stature and execution. His favourite weapon in a four-pitch repertoire was a crisp, sinking fastball. He also threw a falloff-the-table curveball, which left many batters swinging foolishly at air.

The broadcaster Tom Cheek nicknamed him Doc after the Wild West gunslinger Doc Holliday, a fitting moniker for a fireballer who had five seasons in which he struck out more than 200 batters.

Mr. Halladay, who died at 40 in the crash of a recreational plane he was piloting along the Florida coast, was one of the best pitchers of his generation. He becomes eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2019, five full seasons after his retirement as a player.

On the field, he showed a poker face of grim determination. Off the field, he was a kindly, smiling, likeable figure.

The right-hander spent a dozen seasons in Toronto with the Blue Jays, becoming a fan favourite both for his skill as a hurler and his generosity as a philanthropist. He and his wife ran a program called Doc's Box in which children suffering from chronic and fatal illnesses got a brief respite from their travails by being treated like royalty in private seats at the Rogers Centre. The couple also donated $100,000 annually to the team's Jays Care foundation for disadvantaged children and youth.

A workhorse considered a throwback to the days when starting pitchers expected to finish a game, Mr. Halladay won the Cy Young Award as the top pitcher in both the American League (with the Blue Jays in 2003) and the National League (with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010). It was with the Phillies that he pitched a perfect game - no opposing players reached base - against the Florida Marlins on May 29, 2010. Later that same season, he threw a nohitter in the first game of the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds, only the second no-hitter in all of baseball's postseason play.

Mr. Halladay spent countless hours in training to stay in shape and to improve his game. His dedication to conditioning was such that he arrived at the Rogers Centre each day of a home game at dawn, so early he needed to be given a card of his own to enter the building.

A loss of control and confidence early in his stint with the Blue Jays could have rendered him a journeyman footnote to baseball history had his stubborn nature not driven a comeback that resuscitated his career.

Harry LeRoy Halladay III was born in Denver on May 14, 1977. He was the middle child and only son of three children born to Linda Jean (née King) and Harry LeRoy Halladay Jr., a corporate pilot. As a boy in suburban Aurora, Roy threw baseballs into a mattress placed against a wall. When the family looked for a new home in Arvada, a suburban city northwest of Denver, they sought one with a basement at least 60 feet, six inches long, the distance from the pitching mound to home plate. Once they found a suitable residence, a pitching machine and batting cage were installed. When not taking batting practice, he threw balls at a car tire suspended from the ceiling.

"All that time in the basement," he told the Denver Post in 2002, "that's probably the biggest reason why I'm standing here today."

He made the varsity team at Arvada West High School as a freshman, leading the Wildcats to a state championship in his junior year. He was also a varsity athlete in basketball and cross-country running.

A serious nature made his occasional foray into baseball tomfoolery more effective. He once caused a conniption by showing up for an important game with a cast on his healthy throwing arm.

As a teenager, the pitcher worked with legendary scout and pitching coach Robert Bruce (Bus) Campbell, a grandfather figure who refused to be paid for his sessions with the aspiring athlete. The coach recommended Mr. Halladay to the Blue Jays, who selected the tall pitcher with the strong arm in the first round, No. 17 over all, of the 1995 draft. He had been rated as the 27th best prospect by Baseball America magazine.

After he signed with the Blue Jays, Mr. Halladay bought his personal coach a grandfather clock (and, later, a satellite dish) and spent another $11,000 to replace the fence on his high school's baseball field.

The jump from high school to professional sports meant he did not do the missionary work expected of young Mormons. Sports Illustrated magazine has described him as being non-practising.

After three campaigns of seasoning in the minor leagues, Mr. Halladay was a late-season call-up to the parent club in 1998. In only his second start, he carried a no-hitter into the top of the ninth at Rogers Centre only to have Bobby Higginson of the Detroit Tigers smack a two-strike, pinch-hit home run. The pitcher managed to get the next out for a 2-1 victory, the first of his career. He would go on to win 203 games against just 105 losses. That was also the first of 67 complete games.

Mr. Halladay did not immediately earn a spot on the roster. In 2001, the Blue Jays demoted him three levels, news so grim they had a psychologist break it to him. At 24, he wondered if his baseball career was over. With the aid of his wife, some tough-love coaching from Mel Queen and a worn, second-hand copy of the book The Mental ABCs of Pitching, he managed to regain both his confidence and his pitching touch. The Toronto Star later described this period as "95 days of purgatory." Mr. Halladay established himself as Toronto's ace by recording 19 wins in 2002 and 22 wins the following year.

It was his misfortune to be a championship-calibre pitcher on mediocre Blue Jays teams. He permitted a trade to the Phillies to get a chance to perform in the baseball playoffs.

A nagging back injury, which affected his delivery, in turn causing soreness to his shoulder, persuaded Mr. Halladay to hang up his glove.

He did not want to be an average player. He signed a one-day contract with Toronto in 2013 so he could retire as a Blue Jay.

Mr. Halladay was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in Denver in 2015. In June, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

"It was a privilege to live and play in Canada for as long as I did," he told the crowd at the induction ceremony at St. Marys, Ont. "The people here were kind, supportive, respectful and always seemed to welcome me home even when I came to visit and sat in the wrong dugout."

In retirement, he served as a baseball coach for both of his sons, including serving as pitching coach for the Warriors of Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, Fla.

The end of his playing days meant he could indulge a lifelong passion for flight. He spent $400,000 (U.S.) on a sleek, futuristic, two-seat amphibious aircraft, a decision his wife originally opposed. She changed her mind after he took her for a tour aboard an ICON A5, which was recorded and used by the company as a promotional video. Mr. Halladay's enthusiastic tweets described the sensation as being "like flying a fighter jet."

On Nov. 7, Mr. Halladay was alone in the aircraft, one of fewer than two dozen in service, when it crashed in shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. (Earlier this year, the plane's designer and an engineer died in a crash in California.) He leaves his wife, the former Brandy Gates, with whom he would have marked his 19th anniversary later this month, as well as their sons, Braden and Ryan; his parents; and sisters, Merinda Halladay and Heather Halladay Basile. A full list of whom he leaves was unavailable.

Within hours of the news of his death, baseball fans suggested ways to honour the pitcher. Some urged the Blue Jays to retire his No. 32 uniform.

The broadcaster Dan Shulman called for the creation of an award named after Mr. Halladay for the pitcher who throws the most innings each season.

A public celebration of his life is scheduled for 7,000-seat Spectrum Field in Clearwater on Tuesday at 4 p.m. EST. It is set to be shown live in Canada by at least one television sports channel.

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Associated Graphic

Roy Halladay, seen pitching against the Minnesota Twins in Toronto in 2005, was so dedicated to honing his craft that he arrived at the Rogers Centre each day of a home game at dawn - so early he needed to be given a card of his own to enter the building.

JIM ROSS/REUTERS


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