LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The night before his father announced his retirement from baseball in a conference room at the Walt Disney Dolphin Hotel, Braden Halladay played a double-elimination tournament Sunday in Tampa. The Dunedin Panthers, a team of 13-year-old boys, were tied in extra innings of the last game.
“Don’t strike out,” Braden told himself. He slapped the pitch over a drawn-in infield for the winning single. Braden tossed his helmet into the sky before he touched first base.
Roy Halladay, the team’s new pitching coach, celebrated. “He picks me up by my legs,” Braden said Monday. “He flips me over. He’s holding my ankles.” Braden howled as he reenacted the scene. He cherished the moment, and this is how Roy Halladay will start anew.
“I feel like the baseball world got the best of him,” said Brandy, his wife. “But I feel like there is enough of him left for us, too.”
This day supplied resolution for Halladay, one of his generation’s finest pitchers. He signed a one-day contract with his original team, the Toronto Blue Jays, to retire. The man who twice achieved immortality with the Phillies, who embodied a bygone era of pitching deep into games, who someday will be enshrined at Cooperstown, walked away from the game at 36.
He spoke for 30 minutes Monday to explain why it was time. Brandy sat with Braden and Ryan, his 9-year-old son, in the front row. Halladay, revered for his stoicism, looked relaxed. He cracked jokes. He cried.
“The hard part for me is going to be that fifth day, once the season starts April 1,” Halladay said. “The competition, the challenge of going out there and facing the best, that’s the one part I’m going to miss.
“You know, as a baseball player, you realize that’s something you can’t do your entire life. There is going to be a point where it comes to an end. I feel fortunate that I tried to absorb every bit of it that I could and poured myself into it. I really don’t have any regrets, and I think that is the biggest thing.”
A deteriorated right shoulder, exacerbated by two spinal fractures and an eroded disk in his back prevented him from recapturing greatness. His final act, a 76-m.p.h. fastball thrown in a meaningless game played before an empty stadium in September, was too cruel. He was a free agent this winter, heard from several teams, but elected to retire.
“I wish I could’ve gotten him that ring he desired,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “That’s my only regret while having him on my team.”
Halladay never played in a World Series. He started 390 regular-season games and just five postseason games. He lost, 1-0, to St. Louis and best friend Chris Carpenter in Game 5 of the 2011 National League division series, a night that will forever be remembered in Philadelphia for its shattered dreams.
He won two Cy Young Awards, the most recent in 2010 when he took the ball every fifth day for the Phillies and made anything possible. He authored a perfect game that May. He threw the second postseason no-hitter in history in his long-awaited playoff debut that October.
“I was blessed,” said Ruben Amaro Jr., the man who acquired Halladay from Toronto for three prospects. “I think our fans should feel blessed they had an opportunity to witness that.”
Said former teammate Roy Oswalt: “Hands down, he was the best pitcher of this era and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
Halladay intends to stay in the game through some capacity, although his immediate priority is his family. He wanted to preserve his health so he could later throw to his two boys. “As much as I worked out,” Halladay said, “I’m not going to miss it.” Brandy suggested he eat less celery and more ice cream.
Braden flashed the golden medal he won with his single as Halladay finished one last TV interview. His sons stood in the background and waved to the camera. This game claimed Halladay after his 41,091st pitch, and he found joy in the moment.
“Baseball has been so great to me,” Halladay said. “My goal was to try and leave baseball better than what I found it, and I’ve tried to do that in my career.”