'We did it together.' Thanks, Roy Halladay

Sports fans and athletes across North America are mourning the death of former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay.

The 40-year-old, who had been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year, died in a small plane crash this week.

For insight into what made Halladay such an iconic player, and why local fans loved him even after he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after 11 seasons with the Blue Jays, writer Jelena Damjanovic turned to the University of Toronto's John Cairney.

A professor with the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education, and president of the North American Society for Pediatric Exercise Medicine, Cairney's research focuses on improving the physical, mental and social health of children.

He is also the author of Immaculate: A History of Perfect Innings in Baseball.

What made Roy (Doc) Halladay such an iconic player?
Unquestionably, it was his on field performance. A two-time Cy Young Award winner, one of only a handful in history to win one in both the American and the National League. He was just the second pitcher in history to pitch a no-hitter in the playoffs. He pitched a perfect game in 2010 - the 20th in the history of baseball. He was, quite simply, an outstanding pitcher. I think though, what also made him special was his character. He was incredibly well-respected by teammates, he was loyal and he gave a lot back, both to the game and to the communities in which he played. 

Halladay is described as a humble star. How would you describe his influence on other players and the fans?
He was dedicated to the game and committed to working with younger players as a mentor, but also was quick to acknowledge that he was part of a team and recognize the contributions of others. After his perfect game, he purchased 60 Swiss watches to give to his teammates with the inscription, We did it together. Thanks, Roy Halladay. Actions like this speak to his character and humility. 

Sport fans don’t often take kindly to their heroes trading teams, but when Halladay left the Jays to play for the Phillies, he got a standing ovation from the Blue Jays fans. How do you explain that?
Followers of the game knew that Halladay had twice before re-signed with the Jays, forgoing an opportunity to sign with a more competitive club. He accepted less money (what is called in sport a “home-town discount”) also by electing to stay and not test the waters in free-agency. He did so because he wanted to win as a Blue Jay. When it became clear in 2009 that the club was going to re-build again and Halladay was no longer a young pitcher, I think most fans felt he deserved a chance to play on a winning team. Leaving under those circumstances endeared him to fans in way that does not always happen when star players leave. 

In the end, what will be his biggest legacy?
His great performances on the field, his commitment to the community and helping those most in need, and to Blue Jays fans, the fact that he was drafted as a Jay and retired in the same uniform (a one day contract). What is sad is that we will not see him donning a Jays’ jersey at Cooperstown (home to the U.S. National Baseball Hall of Fame). What is more tragic is that a family no longer has a loving and caring father and husband.  




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