TO USE THE past tense to describe Roy Halladay is painful. Just 40 years old, he died on Nov. 7 doing what he loved: flying his airplane. His Icon A5 aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico near his Florida home.
At his peak, nobody was better on the mound. He had one goal every year: to finish with fewer walks than games started. He actually did it in 2003, '05 and '10. Halladay and Cy Young are the only pitchers to combine precision and power like that.
Halladay's story is unique. He pitched to a 10.64 ERA in 2000, and was so bad he was demoted to Class A ball to relearn how to throw. With the help of Toronto minor league pitching coach Mel Queen—and a book Halladay's wife, Brandy, bought him about the mental side of pitching—he changed from an overhand four-seam fastball and curveball pitcher to a three-quarters sinker and cutter menace. Over the next 11 seasons, and until his arm gave out at age 36, Halladay was 175--78 with a 2.98 ERA. Over that span nobody had a better winning percentage (.692), threw more shutouts (19) or came close to throwing as many complete games (64).
He deserves to go into the Hall of Fame immediately. He was that good—the accepted best pitcher in the game for an extended run. If that surprises people, it's because Halladay never sold himself.
"I think that's where he finds a lot of his happiness," his father, Roy Sr., once told me. "To stand up and do what he's been asked to do."
I got to know Halladay well in 2005, when I suited up for the Blue Jays for a week of spring training for an SI story. He said very little, and yet everybody in the complex revered him. The pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg, called him T.P.: Total Package.
I'll never forget stepping into the batting cage to face him. The baseball was loud as it passed by me, the seams spinning so fast they whistled as they cut through the air. He made the baseball angrier than anybody else could.
Halladay made good on a life too brief. He left behind a beautiful family—he and Brandy had two sons, Braden and Ryan—and a beautiful legacy, one that was more about the man he was than the pitcher he became.