Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of Roy Halladay’s Perfect Game

May 29 marks the 10-year anniversary of Roy Halladay’s perfect game against the Marlins. It’s a bittersweet occasion, alas, because while it shows the two-time Cy Young winner and future Hall of Famer at the absolute pinnacle of his career, Halladay is not here to celebrate. On November 7, 2017, while flying his Icon A5 light sport airplane, he crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, landing upside down in 4 1/2 feet of water. The autopsy published two months later found that he had morphine, amphetamine, Ambien, and alcohol in his system. More recent revelations that he had been in and out of rehab to treat addictions to opiates and to an anti-anxiety drug called Lorazepam deepen the already stark contrast between a player who publicly was known for his exceptional control, both on and off the field, but who privately was battling depression.

The anniversary and the absence of its central figure provides a time for reflection. What follows here are 10 thoughts on Halladay’s career and life, one for each year since that special night in Miami’s Sun Life Stadium — or, if you prefer, one for each of his perfect innings plus one for the aftermath. You can watch the game in its entirety below:

1. Halladay nearly threw a no-hitter in his second major league start, and did pitch a complete game.

Chosen with the 17th pick of the 1995 amateur draft out of a suburban Denver high school (Arvada West), Halladay made solid progress through the minors and cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects in ’97 (23rd) and ’98 (38th). After a strong showing at Triple-A Syracuse in the latter year, the 21-year-old righty made his major league debut on September 20, 1998, throwing five innings of two-run ball with five strikeouts against the Devil Rays. Seven days later, he no-hit the Tigers for 8.2 innings before being foiled by pinch-hitter Bobby Higginson, who homered and also deprived him of a shutout. Halladay did hang on to collect the first of his 203 regular season wins, and the first of his 67 complete games.

Those 67 complete games, by the way, are the most by any pitcher who started his major league career after 1988. Over the 16-year span of his career (1998-2013), Halladay threw 13 more complete games than the second-ranked pitcher, Randy Johnson.

2. After a strong rookie campaign, Halladay had a season from hell in 2000.

Halladay entered the spring of 1999 ranked as the game’s 12th-best prospect by Baseball America. The 22-year-old righty made the team out of spring training, and spent the season shuttling between bullpen and rotation, making 18 appearances in each capacity for a total of 149.1 innings, with a 3.92 ERA but an ungainly 5.36 FIP. Though he opened the 2000 season with a seven-inning, three-run effort against the Royals on April 4, his total of runs allowed exceeded his count of innings in each of his next seven appearances, earning him a demotion to Triple-A. Two more stints with the Jays that year went poorly as well. He finished the season with an astronomical 10.64 ERA in 67.2 innings — the highest mark for anybody in baseball history with at least 50 innings.

3. Halladay remade himself both mechanically and mentally, becoming a perennial All-Star and Cy Young contender in Toronto.

Halladay didn’t return to the majors until July 2, 2001, that after being demoted all the way to A-ball, where minor league pitching coach Mel Queen adopted a tough love approach and convinced him to scrap a methodical over-the-top delivery that Queen had nicknamed “Iron Mike,” in reference to a popular brand of pitching machine. Halladay emerged with a faster three-quarters delivery and a sinker/cutter combo in place of his four-seam fastball/curve combo: “two pitches that appeared the same to the hitter, except one would break late to the left and one to the right,” as Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci later explained.

Thanks to his new delivery and arsenal, Halladay gained a more efficient approach and a higher groundball rate, but the changes didn’t stop there. Amid his mechanical overhaul, his wife Brandy bought him a book called The Mental ABC’s of Pitching, written by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, who by that point had been working with baseball players for nearly two decades. In 2002, Halladay met Dorfman, kicking off an enduring relationship. Dorfran’s counseling helped to rebuild Halladay’s confidence and to improve his focus by simplifying the task at hand to a matter of executing pitches.

His career took off. Halladay pitched to a 3.16 ERA and 2.34 FIP over his 105.1 innings in 2001, then began a run during which he made six All-Star teams in eight seasons. He won the AL Cy Young in 2003 while going 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 7.0 WAR, and elsewhere within that run finished second, third, and fifth (twice). For the 2002-09 period, his 44.0 WAR was tops in the majors, while his 3.13 ERA and 3.26 FIP both ranked fourth, and his 1,708 innings fifth despite his being limited to 40 starts in 2004-05 due to a shoulder strain and a comebacker-induced fractured left fibula.

4. With the Blue Jays unable to make headway in the AL East, Halladay was traded to the Phillies

In 2006, Halladay signed a three-year, $40 million extension, covering the 2008-10 seasons, but the Blue Jays, who hadn’t reached the postseason since winning the 1993 World Series, remained in a competitive rut. Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi discussed the possibility of trading Halladay to the defending world champion Phillies at the July 31, 2009 deadline, but the trade didn’t materialize; the Phillies instead dealt for Cliff Lee and won the NL pennant before bowing to the Yankees in the World Series. In mid-December, new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos revived the talks with the Phillies and traded Halladay for a trio of prospects: pitcher Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and outfielder Michael Taylor, with Halladay agreeing to a three-year, $60 million extension as part of the deal. The same day that went down, Lee was traded to the Mariners.

5. On May 29, 2010, Halladay attained perfection

When he took the ball for his 11th start of the season on May 29, Halladay had already thrown four complete games and two shutouts for his new team, though he had most recently been roughed up for a season-high seven runs in 5.2 innings by the Red Sox. With the help of teammate Jamie Moyer and pitching coach Rich Dubee, he had done some between-starts polishing of his delivery to eliminate some lateral drifting and instead come straight at hitters.

The changes quickly took hold, as he began his start against the Marlins by striking out four of the first five hitters he faced. After throwing 19 pitches in the first inning while going to three-ball counts against both leadoff hitter Chris Coghlan and number three hitter Hanley Ramirez, he needed just 12 pitches in the second, nine in the third, 12 apiece in the fourth and fifth, and 10 in the sixth. Only three times in those five frames did he get to a three-ball count.

The seventh inning proved to be more challenging, as Halladay needed 18 pitches to clear the top of the order one last time. After striking out Coghlan looking at a cutter that was wide of the zone, he went to full counts against Gaby Sanchez and Ramirez before getting the former to line out via a curveball; the latter looked at strike three on an inside cutter. On the punchouts – two of 11 he would record that night — the calls from home plate umpire Mike DeMuro were generous, with Sports Info Solution’s Mark Simon reporting them each as having just 22% strike probabilities, though the pitches’ tailing action made them understandably harder to call.

The eighth inning featured the most important defensive play of the game, with third baseman Juan Castro (filling in for the injured Placido Polanco) fielding a rocket off the bat of Jorge Cantu in the third base/shortstop hole that had just a 41% probability of being an out. Aside from a sixth-inning play by shortstop Wilson Valdez (filling in for the injured Jimmy Rollins) on a Cameron Maybin grounder that had a 73% out probability, every ball in play off the bats of the Marlin had at least a 90% chance of being an out (again, h/t Simon).

Halladay needed just 11 pitches in the eighth, racking up his 10th strikeout of the night against Dan Uggla. In the ninth, he induced pinch-hitter Mike Lamb to fly out to center field, struck out pinch-hitter Wes Helms looking on — you guessed it — another cutter that was inside and off the plate, and finished the job by getting pinch-hitter Ronny Paulino to ground to Castro on his 115th pitch of the night.

The perfect game was the 18th in modern baseball history (since 1901) and it came amid a relative flurry of them — six from July 23, 2009 (the White Sox’s Mark Buehrle against the Rays) to August 15, 2012 (the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, also against the Rays). The A’s Dallas Braden had thrown a perfecto — yet another against the Rays, believe it or not — just 20 days prior to Halladay’s gem, making this the first month in modern history to feature two such games, through two were thrown five days apart back in June 1880, with Lee Richmond of the Worcester Worcesters doing so against the Cleveland Blues on June 12, and then Monte Ward of the Providence Grays doing so against the Buffalo Bisons on June 17.

6. Halladay came back for seconds.

Halladay finished his first season with the Phillies by leading the NL in wins (21, against 10 losses), innings (250.2), and WAR (6.2) to go with 219 strikeouts (second in the league), a 2.44 ERA (third), and 3.01 FIP (fourth). He was a unanimous choice for the NL Cy Young award, which made him the fifth of six pitchers to win the award in each league, after Gaylord Perry, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Roger Clemens; Max Scherzer has since done it as well.

By the time Halladay won that award, he had already made even more history. Facing the Reds in the Division Series opener on October 6, the long-awaited first postseason start of his career, he no-hit the Reds. A fifth-inning walk to Jay Bruce was the only blemish, and in some ways he was more dominant than on April 29; he went to a three-ball count just two other times, against Orlando Cabrera in the first and seventh innings, and netted 19 swinging strikes, compared to just eight in the perfect game.

That no-hitter put Halladay alongside Don Larsen as the only pitchers to throw no-hitters in postseason history; Larsen’s, of course, was a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He also joined Johnny Vander Meer (1938), Allie Reynolds (1951), Virgil Trucks (1952), and Nolan Ryan (1973) as the only pitchers to throw multiple no-hitters in a single season (Scherzer would complete the feat in 2015). Of that group, Halladay is the only one with a perfect game as part of the pair.

7. Halladay became the centerpiece on a staff of aces, but they couldn’t put the Phillies over the top.

During the 2010 season, the Phillies traded for longtime Astros stalwart Roy Oswalt, and that winter, they signed Lee to a five-year, $120 million deal. Between that pair, Cole Hamels and Halladay, the quartet had 13 All-Star appearances among them, but Halladay owned two of the group’s three Cy Youngs. He put together another elite season, with the majors’ highest WAR (8.7), lowest FIP (2.20), and the NL’s second-best ERA (2.35), and would finish second to Clayton Kershaw in the NL Cy Young voting.

Though the Phillies cruised to their fifth straight NL East title and a franchise-record 102 games in 2011, they were upended by the Cardinals — the NL Wild Card team — in the Division Series. Halladay turned in an eight-inning, three-run effort in a Game 1 victory, but opened Game 5 by allowing a triple to Rafael Furcal and a double to Skip Schumaker. Though he kept the Cardinals off the board thereafter, opposite number Chris Carpenter, his former teammate with the Blue Jays, shut out the potent Phillies’ offense, and they were eliminated with a 1-0 loss.

8. Injuries turned Halladay into a much lesser pitcher and forced him into retirement.

Halladay was very good through his first nine starts in 2012, lasting at least seven innings and allowing three or fewer runs in eight of them. But after getting cuffed for five runs in six innings against the Nationals on May 22, he left his next start after just two innings due to a strained latissimus dorsi, missed seven weeks, and was only intermittently effective thereafter, finishing with a 4.49 ERA. He was even worse in 2013, getting lit for a 6.82 ERA, though his eight-inning, one-run performance against the Marlins on April 14 gave him career win number 200. Diagnosed with a bone spur in his shoulder as well as a partially torn rotator cuff and fraying in his labrum, he underwent surgery on May 16, but returned in late August, a remarkably quick turnaround, and had spots of superficial success, but left his final start after just three batters, unable to push his fastball past 83 mph. He was done.

On December 9, 2013, the 36-year-old Halladay signed a one-day contract with the Blue Jays and announced his retirement, at which point he revealed that is shoulder problems were related to two stress fractures in his lower back and an eroded disc in his spine, all of which had compromised his mechanics. He finished his career with a 203-105 record, 2,117 strikeouts, and a 3.38 ERA in 2,749.1 innings.

9. Below the surface, Halladay was struggling with chronic pain, addiction, and mental health issues.

What we have since learned about the pitcher since his untimely death is that Halladay spent the last two years of his career addicted to painkillers and battling depression and anxiety as well. According to a new report by ESPN’s John Barr, Mike Farrell, and Brian Rivera, he had begun using opiates — purchased from a Florida doctor, without a prescription — during spring training in 2012 due to his back pain. That offseason, after experiencing withdrawal symptoms, he revealed to Brandy that he had become dependent upon the drugs. When he returned from his surgery, teammates became aware that something was amiss, noticing occasions of slowed speech and glassy eyes. In October 2013, Halladay entered an inpatient rehab facility, but after detoxing, he panicked when somebody snuck a cellphone into the facility, fearful that his stay there would be revealed publicly. When he retired, nothing was mentioned about his drug problem or his mental health struggles.

From the picture painted by that ESPN report, by a Sports Illustrated story from Stephanie Apstein, and by Todd Zolecki’s new book Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay, away from baseball, Halladay floundered, still dealing with back pain and depression. His weight ballooned to 300 pounds. He coached his sons, made ceremonial appearances, traveled the world, and explored taking college classes and jobs with major league teams, but struggled to find fulfillment. He spent three months in a rehab facility in early 2015. Only a rediscovery of his love of flying, which had been instilled in him at a young age by his father, a commercial airline pilot, brought him a sense of purpose.

In 2017, Halladay took a job as the Phillies’ mental skills coach, sharing the knowledge that he had gained from working with Dorfman during his career. Things were looking up. In October, he purchased the Icon A5, which he had been eying for at least a couple of years. Less than four weeks after it was delivered to him, he crashed. He was flying recklessly, and according to the forensic pathologists ESPN spoke to, more likely than not was impaired at the time.

10. Halladay was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2019.

Based on a rule put into place by the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame after the death of Roberto Clemente in 1973, the five-year waiting period for Halladay to become a candidate was waived, but as part of the rule, he could not appear on a ballot until at least six months after his passing. Thus, he actually reached the 2019 ballot as scheduled. He was elected with a robust 85.4% of the vote, joining Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera in the Class of 2019. He became the first player posthumously elected by the BBWAA outside of a special election since 1954, when Rabbit Maranville was elected, and joined a sizable list of players honored by the BBWAA or the small committees in the wake of their recent deaths.

For all of the hours that we spend watching athletes, and come to believe that we know them, it’s worth remembering that even when it comes to the most candid of them, we’re merely viewing the tips of icebergs, the public personas that they present — some more polished than others, but always less than the whole person. Had the timing of Halladay’s eligibility and the strength of his Hall of Fame case been different, it’s possible we wouldn’t know nearly as much about his off-field problems as we now do, even given the autopsy. His absence thrust Brandy Halladay into the spotlight, not only to deliver her husband’s induction speech but to pick up the pieces publicly. One can only imagine how wrenching that must be, the attempts to give the world answers as to why, even as she and her family must still be searching for and processing them. With great bravery, Brandy has chosen to speak out about her husband’s problems and the demons he wrestled with, in the hopes of breaking the silence that so often surrounds such matters, encouraging those struggling with addiction and mental health issues to seek help. It’s a worthy addition to her husband’s legacy.

The picture of Halladay that has emerged through the deep reporting is of a man who despite his accomplishments and successes struggled mightily to conceal his imperfections. While this anniversary is a celebration of Halladay’s career and his life, it should remind us all of just how fleeting perfection really is.

We hoped you liked reading Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of Roy Halladay’s Perfect Game by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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nickolai
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nickolai

Like so many, I was in awe of Halladay’s career in terms of his performance and durability. You could pencil him in for 220+ IP, ~18 wins, 5-7 CGs, 200 Ks, season after season. But clearly all that work shredded his body over time, and pointed him towards substances to help him deal with the pain.

Is there any other position in sports that is as synonymous with bodily injury than a starting pitcher? Maybe an NFL wide receiver or tight end.

Da Bear
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Da Bear

Hockey enforcer? Professional boxer?

CC AFC
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Member
CC AFC

Football player of any position? Running backs are old at like 26

Nats Fan
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Nats Fan

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