In the new book “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay,” MLB.com’s Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki details not only Halladay’s Hall of Fame baseball career with the Phillies and Blue Jays, but his hard-driven adolescence, his personal struggles and his motivation to pay forward the knowledge and philosophies that helped him achieve greatness before he died in a plane crash in 2017. In this excerpt, Zolecki details Halladay’s in-game demeanor and his relationships with those that worked with him most closely -- his catchers.
This excerpt from Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay by Todd Zolecki is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/DocBlueJays.
Raúl Ibañez and Gregg Zaun were teammates in Kansas City in 2001. Ibañez later joined the Mariners, while Zaun joined the Blue Jays. The Mariners and Blue Jays played each other in a series in Toronto in July 2007. Zaun caught Halladay one night, while his old buddy Ibañez hit for Seattle. Halladay dropped a first-pitch curveball on Ibañez for a strike in the first inning. Ibañez glanced at the mound. Halladay looked pissed. Focused, but pissed. Ibañez looked back at his former teammate.
“Zauny, is this guy having any fun?” he said. “If I had stuff like this, I’d be having a blast on the mound.”
Zaun is not a shy guy. He can strike up a conversation with anybody anywhere.
“Eh,” he said quietly. “I don’t know.”
Ibañez wondered why Zaun seemed tongue tied for the first time in his life. Then he looked back at the mound. Halladay was staring down Ibañez. He wanted him back in the box. He wanted to throw his next pitch.
Get in there, dude.
“It was like, way too intense,” Ibañez said. “And it’s funny because the next day I saw Zauny and I talked to him about it briefly and he was like, ‘Yeah, when he’s up, I don’t talk to the hitters when he’s on the mound.’”
Twenty-two different catchers caught Halladay in the big leagues. He had 16 catchers in Toronto, including Zaun. All of Halladay’s catchers speak reverentially about him.
“This is the way I felt about Roy,” Rod Barajas said. “Because of all the preparation, all the work that he put in, I did not want to disappoint this man. He had his book, he had everything written down. We would have our meeting early. It wasn’t really a conversation, he was telling me what he was going to do. He watched every pitch he threw to every single hitter in the lineup. He had a plan and knew exactly how to attack them. He wasn’t going to deviate from that plan unless the catcher saw something. I was so paranoid. I’d go [into the clubhouse] right before BP, I’d see his book, I’d go over there and read it again. Before the game, I’d go over and read it again. I did not want to let this guy down. I wanted to make sure I was out there doing exactly what he wanted to do. I knew the game plan like the back of my hand. There was no chance I was going to let this guy down behind the plate.”
Halladay kept detailed notes of every hitter in a series of notebooks. He studied video religiously, following a recommendation from [Curt] Schilling. Doc had a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C for everybody.
“His Plan A was going to get rammed down your throat until you beat him,” Zaun said.
These were not guidelines, either. These were rules.
“He’d go through each guy,” said Brian Schneider, who caught Halladay five times with the Phillies. “He might say, ‘[Giancarlo] Stanton, I’m going to go sinker both sides, I’m going to cutter in, I’m not going to go cutter away. Split, I’ll throw split. We’ll go curveball away, we’re not going to front door it.’ Roll with that.
“Now, think seventh inning when you’re 90 pitches into it. Stanton is up and you call a frontdoor curveball and it’s not what he went over four hours ago. He just steps off and looks at you like, ‘I told you four hours ago I’m not going to throw that pitch.’ He’d step off and you’d go, ‘Oh, [shoot]. Sorry, my bad.’ He knew exactly what pitches. He told you. It was easier in the game because he already told you what he was going to do. Not like, ‘Oh, let’s go sinker in here.’ No, he already said no. Why am I going to call that? It was so down to the point. This is what I’m going to do because he’s done all the work in the days previous. The last thing you want to do is disappoint a guy like that. He’s the best of the best. It’s not that there’s pressure, but you want to ... he’s so damn good that you don’t want to screw up. You want him to be the best he can be.”
It is not to say Doc never allowed his catchers to improvise. He did. Halladay told Barajas before a game against Tampa Bay that he did not want to throw B.J. Upton sinkers away under any circumstances. He wanted to pound him inside. But as the game progressed, Upton fouled off a few of Halladay’s sinkers inside.
Upton stepped back into the box, but moved his feet just a hair away from the plate. Barajas noticed that he was trying to cheat so he could barrel the next sinker inside.
Barajas looked at Halladay, gestured toward Upton’s feet and called for a sinker away. Halladay understood. He threw the pitch, it hit Barajas’ glove on the outside corner and Upton struck out.
“He was fine with you ad-libbing as long as there was a reason for it,” Barajas said. “If he trusts you as a catcher behind the plate, he’d roll with you. Back in the dugout, you give him a little shake of the head, chest is puffed out a little bit. And I explained it to him and he was like, ‘Yeah. Any time you ever see that, man, you just let me know and we’ll go with it.’”
Barajas spent parts of nine seasons in the big leagues before he met Halladay. He felt comfortable making a suggestion like that. It wasn’t always easy for younger catchers. Halladay once told rookie Kevin Cash that he had two rules: Do not come to the mound and talk to me. Do not sugarcoat anything.
“Always be honest with me,” Halladay said.
Cash, who became manager of the Rays in 2015, caught Halladay 19 times in 2003–04. He found being honest easy. He found not visiting the mound hard. It came to a head when Halladay struggled in one of their first games together. Doc gave up a string of hits and looked gassed. Cash knew he should go to the mound, but he remembered the rule.
“I knew I should’ve gone out, I wanted to go out, but I didn’t,” he said. “So I just stayed there.”
The inning ended. Halladay walked up to Cash and unloaded on him.
“How could you not come out there and give me a breather!?” he said.
“Doc, you’re the one who sets these rules,” Blue Jays pitching coach Gil Patterson said, defending Cash. “You need to follow them or not.”
“We called that the little island out there,” said Tom Wilson, who caught Halladay 20 times in 2002–03. “The mound was the island and nobody wanted to go to the island when Doc was on the mound. It was all business. I got told, ‘Get off the mound,’ one time. Yeah, he said, ‘Get the [heck] out of here. Get behind the plate.’ He was so well-conditioned. This guy was the toughest, hardest competitor I’ve ever played against or played with. He was so intense about what he was doing. It’s just unbelievable.”
“I think the first time I ever went out there, he looked at me and said, ‘What the [heck] are you doing out here?’” Zaun said.
“If I ever made a trip to the mound I wouldn’t say anything,” said Ken Huckaby, who caught Halladay 30 times in 2002–03 and ’05. “I would just stand there. I would just walk out to the mound and stand there like I was talking, but he knew why I was there. He would take his second to get his breath back and then he’d look at me and he’d just stare at me and that’d mean this is over and I’d just turn around and jog back. He was working with Harvey Dorfman, so I knew he had a little wheel. He’d do it every time. That way the previous pitch wouldn’t affect the next pitch. So he’d reflect, he’d make his adjustment, and then he’d execute. If that wheel got off, he could reset that wheel and then get back on. But that was Harvey.”