Sunday, 11 April 2010

Roy Halladay

by dannomack


In many ways I am a stereotypical male.  I eat too much red meat, I think farts are funny, and I devote far too much of my brain-space to professional sports.  I mainly follow the National Hockey League (NHL), National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB ) and National Basketball Association (NBA), but I also keep a cursory eye on the English Premier League (EPL), Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and yes: pro wrestlers are athletes.

My friend Hannabee once said to me, "Danno, you dashing devil, what is it about sport that fascinates you so?  You're such a highly intelligent, highly sensitive, highly evolved modern man, and an obsession with sport just seems so pedestrian!" (I may have been paraphrasing a bit there, but you get the point).  What came as a surprise to me, though, was that I did not have an answer for her.  Furthermore, even after giving it a few minutes of thought, I could not come up with a coherent response beyond "I... I just do!"

I told Hannabee that I would ruminate on the question for a bit and eventually answer it in blog form.  Pathetically, I am sure she has long-forgotten asking me the question, and yet I'm still being eaten up by it.  I have begun and deleted countless entries in which I attempt to address the issue, but they never get beyond the standard go-to reasons people tend to give, which always seemed boring and contrived when I tried to flesh them out.

For every reason I thought of that was in favour of sport (the chance of seeing something new or miraculous every night, real-life human drama, seeing the best in the world on a global stage, and so on), my cynical side - aka Italics Dan - had a reason against it (cheating, inflated salaries, players don't care about the fans nearly as much as the fans care about the players and on and on).

I tell you this as a prologue to the entry below, because I am fully-aware of how foolish it is.  I am fully-aware of how, in terms of importance, sport pales in comparison to practically everything else in the world.  Please don't cringe if the entry below occasionally slips into purple prose about millionaires chasing a ball about.  Please don't roll your eyes if I wax poetic about sweaty men who don't care I exist in the entry below.

Okay, good, now that I've said all that, I am comfortable enough to write the following embarrassing sentence:
I realise it's absurd, but I saw this picture (below) three weeks ago, and I nearly cried.
halladay-spring-trainingjpg-74a5bfb.jpg picture by DannoMack

Roy Halladay

A Brief Introduction (with a fun game!)
For those readers who aren't sports enthusiasts (if any have bothered to read this far), please allow me tell you a bit about Roy Halladay.

I am going to take for granted that everyone knows what baseball is, and even what a pitcher is (in the context of a baseball team I mean).  Quite simply, Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball.  He has been the most consistent pitcher of the last ten years, and the most feared.  While it can be argued that some pitchers are just as consistent (Mark Buehrle) or - as we enter the 2010 season - just as feared (Tim Lincecum), no other pitcher can be considered both.

But it is not his talent alone that makes him remarkable, that is only half the story.  The best part about Roy Halladay is that he is just such a darn good human being, which is completely refreshing in the current world of sports.  To illustrate this point, let's play a little game of "Roy - Not Roy", shall we?

Which of these stories is about Roy Halladay?:


Could you tell?  Click the links in the descriptions to find out!


That was a tough one wasn't it?


I bet you got that one wrong!  Okay, one more:


Alright, alright, I admit that the game had a slight "Roy Halladay is great" slant, but I was trying to get a point across! (What?! A blog entry with an actual point to get across?  This is shocking new terrain for you, Danno.  Be careful, mate!)

The Heart of the Matter (without a fun game!)
Okay, so now you know who Roy 'Doc' Halladay is, but that doesn't explain why the photograph above would make my eyes prickle, does it?  I read an article nearly a year ago which touches on some of the things I am planning on mentioning here, so I felt that it was only fair that I track it down and link to that article before I begin, so here: Gary Wise.

It's not easy being a Toronto sports fan.  We haven't had a team in a championship game in nearly 20 years, and with the Raptors having been bumped out of the 8th-and-final playoff spot in the NBA's Eastern Conference on Sunday, the Leafs finishing the NHL season on Saturday as the worst team in their conference, and the Blue Jays projected to be a possible 90-loss club, we could be looking at two years without a Toronto team even making the playoffs.  But a lack of winners isn't what makes us such a tortured fanbase, there's many fanbases with a much worse historical collection teams than ours.

The thing that makes it so hard to be a Toronto sports fan is that our stars are constantly letting us down.  Over the past 15 years of my cognitive sports fandom, there were 6 athletes who played for Toronto teams that - at one point or another - I identified as my "favourite player".  They were Curtis Joseph and Mats Sundin of the Leafs, Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays, and Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and Chris Bosh of the Raptors.  There were others (the Doug Fluties, John Macdonalds, Nik Borschevskys, and Master Ps of the world) who I liked based on individual moments, comedic events, or occurrences in video games, but the 6 mentioned in the previous sentence doubled not only as my favourites, but as the faces of their respective franchises.

"This is boring, get to the part where all of your favourite Toronto sports stars let you down already!"  Okay, okay, here goes!

Tracy McGrady - The Raptors first pick in the 1997 NBA draft, the man affectionately dubbed "T-Mac" (during the height of J-Lo's popularity, you see) was meant to be the future of the franchise.  T-Mac was chosen right out of high school, and as with most who make the jump from high school to the NBA there were growing pains before he reached his potential.  Toronto fans stuck with him though, and when he finally reached the max-contract potential we all knew he could reach... he left town to play for the Orlando Magic.  One positive thing to say about the McGrady ordeal is that he never lied about his intentions, he let it be known that Orlando was his hometown, and he wanted to play closer to his family than in the icy wilderness that is Toronto.

Curtis Joseph (Cujo) - Was a superstar NHL goaltender for the Leafs from 1999 - 2002, often bailing the club's poor defense out with his stellar play, and carrying them into the playoffs.  After saying all the right things during the final year of his contract about loving Toronto and wanting to stay with the Leafs, he bolted town to sign with the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings for the 02-03 season.  On his way out he was uncomplimentary of the Leafs organisation, saying he signed with Detroit to win a Stanley Cup, something he couldn't do with the Leafs.  This was the first time I realised that athletes don't care about us, and are playing for the name on the back of the jersey, not the name on the front.

Mats Sundin - One might think I would have learned the lesson from Cujo, but shame on me.  Mats Sundin played for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1994 - 2008, and was team captain for much of that time.  Mats was the Leafs' leading scorer for all but one of those seasons, and although he never got the team to the Stanley Cup Finals, we still loved him.  When 2008 rolled around, the Leafs were in a transitional period, looking to get younger.  Mats Sundin was not going to re-sign with them in the offseason, and so the Leafs management began actively looking for trade partners who would want Sundin, which were not difficult to find given Sundin's immense talent.  They got many offers for Sundin which would have given them a large stockpile of prospects and draft picks to help build towards the future, but at the last minute Sundin threw a wrench in the works.  Mats had a no-trade clause in his contract which gave him the right to veto any trade the team tried to make of him, and he used this to put a stop to the trade negotiations.  Toronto fans were displeased that their captain had passed on the opportunity to net his team a big trade return, but when he said he didn't feel right about being a "rental player" who only plays for a team for a few months, it eased our displeasure because we just felt he was a dude sticking to his morals.  That was until the next season when he took the first two-thirds off and then signed a big contract with the Vancouver Canucks to be a fucking rental player for their fucking playoff run.  Fuck you Mats you selfish, dispassionate prick, fuck you fuck you fuck you.

Vince Carter - Vince Carter was the first instance in my life where a Toronto athlete's popularity extended outside of Canada.  Carter appeared on magazine covers, video game boxes, and in arguments about who the best player in the NBA was.  We loved Vinsanity, and in 2001 when he signed a 6-year contract extension (the year after his cousin T-Mac had bailed on us) we thought he loved us back.  It pains me to think about what happened from there, as Vince went from one of the most popular athletes in North America to the worst team-mate in all of sports right before our very eyes.  Please allow this video to explain the rest, I just can't do it.

Chris Bosh - Bosh was the 4th overall pick in a loaded 2003 NBA draft which brought the league the likes of Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Bosh, and Dwayne Wade.  He is regarded as one of the best big men in the NBA's Eastern Conference, and his contract with the Raptors is up in a few months time.  He is talented, approachable and entertaining, and he hasn't bailed on Toronto yet... but I won't get burned again and allow myself to believe that he will possibly re-sign with this awful Raptors club.

And then there's Roy.  Roy Halladay pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1998 - 2009.  During this time, Roy won a Cy Young award as the American League's best pitcher, and was named to numerous All-Star games, became a pillar of the community, and did not once pitch in the post-season.  Roy Halladay gave his team his all, through new manager after new manager, through rebuilding processes and salary dumps, Roy Halladay never complained.  Then, at age 33, after giving his prime to the Blue Jays organisation without the team once surrounding him with the kind of talent needed to make a playoff run, Roy Halladay's contract was about to come up (with the Jays mired in the midst of yet-another rebuilding movement).  Roy did not go to the media or begin to tank his game until he was traded; he simply went to the Jays' general manager and discretely told him that he wanted to play for a championship contender before his career was done.  This allowed the Jays one-and-a-half years to find a trading partner, and they managed to secure themselves three quality prospects in return for Roy.

Roy Halladay is the reason I like sports.  He has dominated opponents in his first two games for his new team (The Philadelphia Phillies), much like he dominated foes here in Toronto, and I feel happy for him.  Much like Boston hockey fans felt happy for Ray Bourque when he escaped the woeful Bruins and won a Stanley Cup in Colorado (so much so that the city of Boston staged a parade in his honour), I want Roy Halladay to win a championship in Philadelphia.  Roy is the only Toronto athlete in whom I put my faith who did not let me down.  Roy makes me want to let myself be hopeful that Chris Bosh stays in Toronto.  Roy makes me a big dumb sports fan.