One of the more intriguing arms available on the free agent market appeared to be Roy Halladay. But the 36-year-old right-hander decided to announce his retirement on Monday, signing a one-day contract with the Toronto Blue Jays to ensure that his career would end with the same team as which it began.
During a press conference held at baseball's winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., Halladay initially cited the desire to spend more time with his family as a reason for his retirement. In particular, he noted the amount of traveling and the time it required him to be away from his wife and children.
But Halladay quickly acknowledged that his body no longer allowed him to pitch at the level of performance he expected from himself. He insisted his shoulder — which required surgery back in May — felt "as good as it ever has." Instead, Halladay's back is what's preventing him from being the pitcher he once was. He said he has two pars fractures (or stress fractures) in his spine, along with an eroded disk and nerves that became pinched.
According to Halladay, the myriad problems with his back forced him to change his mechanics to compensate for the pain (resulting in subsequent shoulder injuries) and that's something he didn't feel could continue if he kept trying to pitch. Trying to push the issue and pitch next season may have resulted in further injury and affect his later quality of life.
"I'm trying to avoid surgery," Halladay said, explaining that he would try to recover through painkilling injections and physical therapy.
Ultimately, pitching had become a challenge for Halladay every fifth day. He admitted that where he once looked forward to taking the mound because playing baseball was so fun, he went into games knowing that "it's not going to feel very good," that he wouldn't be able to do the things he wanted on the field.
Retiring as a Blue Jay was important to Halladay, feeling the gesture was an expression of gratitude to those who helped him along toward a 16-year career in the major leagues. He pitched 12 seasons in Toronto and four years with the Phillies.
"I was very lucky to have a lot of people in that organization really develop and help me become the player that I was able to become,” Halladay said. “Without the organization’s support, from the front office to the coaches to the players, it really turned my career around and it really made a big difference in my career. I’m really fortunate to retire as a Blue Jay."
Halladay retires with a career record of 203-145 in 146 appearances (390 starts), logging a rate of 6.9 strikeouts and 1.9 walks per nine innings. He won two Cy Young Awards, one each with the Blue Jays and Phillies, while finishing second in balloting twice. The right-hander pitched a perfect game and no-hitter during the 2010 season, the latter coming during Game 1 of the ALCS versus the Reds. Halladay is only the second pitcher to throw a postseason no-hitter. Addtionally, he was named to eight All-Star teams during his career.
The debate over whether or not Halladay is a Hall of Fame pitcher will now begin. He struggled through the first four years of his big league career, getting demoted to Single-A at one point to overhaul his delivery. However, for a four-year stretch — spanning from 2008 through 2011 — he was widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball. He compiled a 77-37 record and 2.59 ERA , leading all MLB pitchers with a 28.4 WAR. over those four seasons. That could earn him strong consideration.
Some will question if Halladay threw enough innings for a Hall of Fame career. He has 2749.1 innings logged over 16 seasons. The most recent pitcher to be inducted into Cooperstown, Bert Blyleven, threw 4,970 innings in 22 seasons. Greg Maddux — whom many feel will be inducted next year — threw 5008.1 in his 23 major league seasons.
But we have five years to debate Halladay's Hall of Fame merits. For now, we can certainly appreciate a pitcher who was among the best at his craft for several seasons, throwing deep into games during an era where starters often pitch five or six innings. Though he didn't have the same success during his final two seasons, Halladay pitched through pain and tried to help his team win. That warrants admiration as well.