By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
The first three phone calls were very similar.
Both in length and the quivering voices on the other end after learning that a November day had been shattered with the news: yes it was true .. that was Roy Halladay in that downed private plane in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Can’t talk anymore, goodbye,” said a scout 90 seconds in.
“Call me back ... in a month or so, I am a mess,” said one of Halladay’s ex-teammates before I could even say “hello.” My name must have shown on his phone.
“This is awful, this is terrible ... I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m outta here.” said another.
* * *
On a sad day for Blue Jays fans and his former teammates, we thought, do we re-run some past lengthy features? Do we write something fresh? Do we close our eyes and say prayers for his wife Brandy, along with sons Braden and Ryan? Or go to bed, sleep for eight hours and hope this was all a bad dream.
As someone who lost their father when I was 19 and my mother six months later at age 20, my thoughts were with the boys. My father was 60, mother was 51, while Halladay was 40. All three were taken way too young.
* * *
The best thing at wakes -- public or not -- is to share feelings. Some of yours sent my way ... either on the Twitter machine, via text or emails from ex-players, opposing players and fans:
I spoke w/ #DerekJeter at a Meet & Greet in ‘06 & asked him which pitcher would he least like to face in a big spot & he said #RoyHalladay.
Just devastated here in Toronto. Thoughts and prayers are with his family @RoyHalladay Rest in peace.
Just heartbroken over this.
I bought my son, to help with his pitching, “The Mental ABCs of Pitching” bk specifically b/c of the #RoyHalladay recommendation.
Just listened to 590. One of the saddest days of my life.
And I was at the last game of 1998 when #RoyHalladay lost the no-hitter in Stiebian fashion ... right to Stieb in the bullpen, just below us.
We are heartbroken about Doc.
I’ve obviously heard about Roy ... Not much I can say but I will be praying for his family.
Heartbroken to hear about Roy. We are all so crushed. I’m sure you are too.
Sad – one of the Blue Jay greats.
Had this awful vision of his Hall of Fame induction day and him not being there.
Tragic news about Roy Halladay.
You watched Roy go from a young man into THE MAN ... a tragic day today. My heart hurts for his wife and boys. Trying to hold it together...
I cried for a good hour. Now my husband and I are just drinking. I’m so sad for his family and the boys he coached.
Such sad and shocking news.
* * *
The last time I saw Halladay was at St. Marys in July when he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. When they did the autograph session -- guess they were short a spot -- I sat between Pat Gillick and Howard Starkman.
Former Blue Jays scouting director Bob Engle phoned and asked if I could give Halladay his phone number. I walked down to where Halladay sat except he did not have a pen. I finally found a pen and gave him Engle’s phone number. Engle had drafted Chris Carpenter and Halladay with the Jays. He left and had Latin America coverage for the Seattle Mariners and signed Felix Hernandez. He was always trying to get a picture of the three of them.
Five minutes later my phone beeped. I looked down and there was a picture from Engle of Pat Hentgen, another Cy Young award winner and Halladay, which Halladay had sent Engle. Halladay never forgot from whence he came.
* * *
I first saw Halladay pitch in grade 11. Pat Gillick let me accompany his scouts on a trip for a second trip in 1993. The only catch was the story could not appear until the weekend before the draft -- even though we saw the players in May.
We left the hotel at 6 a.m. to see the Cherry Creek High Bruins of Greenwood Village, Col. take batting practice. SS Matt Brunson, whose father played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, was the best player on the field. Detroit Tigers general manager Joe Klein was there and in June the Tigers chose Brunson in the first round (ninth over-all).
Then, we went for lunch -- scouting director Bob Engle and scout Bus Campbell.
“We have a good one for 1995 if all goes well and ...” Campbell said
“Shhhh,” said Engle.
That was the day we first learned of a grade 10 student named Harry Leroy Halladay III. Campbell scouted for the Jays in 1993, earned a World Series ring, worked for the team until 1999.
Halladay’s father, also named Roy, approached Campbell, the state’s respected pitching instructor when Roy Jr. was seven. Campbell said to come back when his son was 12.
“Bus has the ability to watch everything at full speed but sees things in slow motion,” the father said.
This might shock a lot of pitching and hitting instructors but Campbell never charged a cent. Linda Halladay, Roy’s mother, paid Bus in chocolate chip cookies. What they received for the cookies was a hands-on, coach for-life.
Campbell had worked with Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, Brad Lidge, Shawn Chacon, Scott Elarton, Burt Hooten, Steve Busby, Mark Langston and Jamie Moyer.
Selected 17th overall in the 1995 draft and given a $975,000 US signing bonus, negotiated by agents Randy and Allan Hendricks, the Halladays staked out the Campbell house Christmas week.
Halladay phoned once to speak to Bus and talked about nothing. Same thing a few days later. On the third call, Helen Campbell said “Bus was out for the afternoon.”
Into action sprung the father and son Halladay duo. Before they had given Campbell grandfather clocks since he was a grandfather figure. This time they drove to the house, installed a satellite dish and signed Campbell up for the MLB package.
As they were leaving in came Bus up the lane.
Bus had questions when told about the MLB package which ran for a year ... “but what happens then?”
“Bus, next Christmas comes before next Jan. 1,” said Halladay.
* * *
Mike Shaw has worked for the Blue Jays since 1996. One of his first assignments was to drive to the airport and pick up the R. Howard Webster award winner from class-A Dunedin. That September it was Roy Halladay. The Webster awards were a great concept where the best of each minor league team were flown in for two nights, honoured on the field, saw what the big leagues were like and then headed home.
Shaw who worked in public relations and is now the Blue Jays' travelling secretary. Shaw lost his father in 2008. The funeral was at St. Matthew Church in Oakville. A lot of people showed up the next morning after the night game as the world said goodbye to Edward Shaw.
The only player to show was Roy Halladay.
Halladay always had his game-face on ... about 24 hours before first pitch.
Years ago I forget when, Shaw told me about passing Halladay on the way to the bullpen.at the Mattick Complex in Dunedin.
“It’s the last day before we move from Mattick to the stadium,” Shaw said. “I saw him coming and said “Hi Roy.’ He walked by, didn’t say a word ... for an intra-squad game!”
Halladay flew into Tampa from Colorado for Tom Cheek’s funeral.
* * *
Brandy and Roy Halladay hosted a group from Sick Kids in a skybox each Saturday that the Jays were home. One Saturday the Halladays met Isaac McFadyen.
The Jays ace was named the fifth annual George Gross Sportsperson of the Year in December in 2008 and editor in chief Lou Clancy presented Halladay a $1,000 cheque. Halladay donated it to the Isaac Foundation (theisaacfoundation.com) and then he matched the offer himself.
At 18 months, in November of 2005, Isaac was diagnosed with Maroteaux-Lamy Syndrome, or MPS VI. The disease is caused by an enzyme deficiency which stunts growth and causes joints to stiffen and heart valves to fail.
Andrew McFadyen runs the Isaac Foundation, which can be found on YouTube. One night at the Rogers Centre, Halladay held Isaac, pointed at the centre field scoreboard as the cameras zoomed in. That was the second biggest smile we ever saw from Halladay.
The next biggest smile was a few years later when the Jays visited Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia.
We called McFadyen last night and asked if he had told Isaac yet.
“I was working downstairs in my office, I called him down and told his straight out, Roy Halladay died in a plane crash,” said Andrew. “He was upset, I was upset. I am so heart broken for Brandy and the boys.”
In November of 2016, CBC radio Stuart McLean, an award-winning humorist, died at 68. Andrew said McLean was “like a second father.”
Aware of both losses, Isaac looked at his father and said “the worst part of getting older dad is that all your friends start to die away.”
* * *
We recall that second start of his career when he was an out away from a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers. Bobby Higginson homered to break up the no-no and the shutout.
Everyone headed downstairs I called Campbell.
“Tell Leroy that if he pitches a no hitter in his second start he’s going to think it is easy, it isn’t easy,” said Campbell, who had charted the game.
* * *
A columnist emailed last night with his favorite Halladay story. He started the 2009 all-star game and was at the podium. He was on the left side, I was on the left side of the crowded room. Except he went right and Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants headed the other way,
I was suddenly trying to enter a stadium through the exit ramp. The cat was out of the bag. J.P. Ricciardi had told people that Halladay would be moved. Despite Ricciardi’s talk (“We had a great talk with the Florida Marlins”), Halladay had the hammer as a 10-and-5 year player. He was not going anywhere he did not want to go.
Writers from New York, Boston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Anaheim and San Francisco all were asking “will you approve a trade to (fill in the blank)?”
Standing 20 people back I heard little of his answers. As he left the room, with an MLB PR guy tugging at his sleeve to get Halladay down the hall for an ESPN live shot. I asked if Halladay if he had a second.
“What do you need?” he asked.
“I didn’t hear a word, where did you tell them you were going?” I asked as the MLB guy said “ESPN is waiting.”
Halladay stared at the MLB PR guy and then kind of smiled at me: “I told them ... that I would not approve a trade to the National League all-star team before first pitch tomorrow.”
* * *
After the trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, we called GM Ruben Amaro to ask him what he liked about the right-hander.
“Well, I didn’t like the way he came into Clearwater and kicked our butts like it was a post-season game.”
* * *
During the 2013 winter meetings I received an email from a friend of Halladay’s that he would sign with the Blue Jays the next day.
Pat Hentgen returned home for one final fling, maybe Halladay was too. I had written about six graphs when I thought I had best make a call.
“Is Roy Halladay signing with you guys tomorrow?”
“If I answer you can’t write it,” said the man on the other end.
It was the moment of truth. I yielded.
“Yes, he is signing with us ... a one-day contract to retire as a Blue Jay.”
Whew. That would have been bad to write he was making a comeback.
Halladay was supposed to work with the Blue Jays minor league pitchers (“There are enough guys to help with arms and elbows, I’m going to try and help a pitcher’s head.”) in 2016. Instead he wound up working with the Phillies.
This off season he wanted to work with Blue Jays minor leaguers. He applied -- yes Roy Halladay was made to apply for a job with the Blue Jays -- with the high performance committee.
And then the decision whether to hire him was kicked upstairs.
The Jays did not hire him. Instead, he was re-hired by the Phillies to work with their young pitchers.
* * *
Roy Halladay ran stairs. He spend hours in the exercise room. He ran poles (left field to right and back again) after an outing. He was a professional. He made sacrifices.
Why? To be good at his job, to provide for his family, be a good father (and coach) and enjoy retirement.
And in an instant he is gone at age 40.