PASCO COUNTY, Fla. – Former star pitcher Roy Halladay, a Cy Young Award winner and face of the Blue Jays franchise for most of the 2000s, died Tuesday when his private plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico. He was 40.
“He was the bright light,” said former Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash. “He was the guy that everybody pointed to as being the star of the Blue Jays and rightly so.”
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said during a news conference that Halladay’s Icon A5 went down around noon off the coast of Florida. The sheriff’s office marine unit responded and found Halladay’s body in shallow water near some mangroves. No survivors were found.
Police said they couldn’t confirm if there were additional passengers on the plane or say where it was headed. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
“Many of you know Roy as a Cy Young winner, future Hall of Famer, one of the best pitchers ever to pitch the game of baseball,” said Nocco, who personally knew Halladay. “We know Roy as a person, as a caring husband who loved his wife, Brandy. He loved his two boys tremendously … and we are so sad for your loss.”
Halladay, who retired after the 2013 season, was an amateur pilot who often posted on social media about small planes.
“I have dreamed about owning a A5 since I retired! Real life is better then my dreams!!” Halladay tweeted on Oct. 13.
Halladay won his first Cy Young Award with the Blue Jays in 2003 and took the National League honour in 2010 with the Philadelphia Phillies, the season he threw the 20th perfect game in MLB history.
“The Toronto Blue Jays organization is overcome by grief with the tragic loss of one of the franchise’s greatest and most respected players, but even better human being,” the Blue Jays said in a statement. “It is impossible to express what he has meant to this franchise, the city and its fans.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Nocco said Halladay knew many members in the sheriff’s office, and that Halladay was even a part of a charity fishing tournament last Friday.
“He was probably one of the most humble human beings you’ll ever meet,” Nocco said. “For somebody who won two Cy Youngs, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball, he would walk in the room as if he was anybody. Didn’t matter who he met, he was kind, generous. His family purchased a dog for us — K-9 Doc. K-9 Doc is out there working, saving lives, making our community safer.”
The dog was named as a nod to Halladay’s nickname — Doc.
“He was one in a million,” Nocco said. “It is a true loss for us.”
Halladay was an old-style workhorse who pitched 67 complete games and 20 shutouts. He was a three-time 20-game winner.
“All of us at Baseball are shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic passing of former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay,” said commissioner Rob Manfred. “A well-respected figure throughout the game, Roy was a fierce competitor during his 16-year career, which included eight all-star selections, two Cy Young Awards, a perfect game and a post-season no-hitter.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to his family, including his wife, Brandy, and two sons, Ryan and Braden, his friends and countless fans, as well as the Blue Jays and Phillies organizations.”
Halladay, a native of Denver, Colo., was selected by the Blue Jays in the first round (No. 17 overall) of the 1995 MLB Amateur Draft.
The six-foot-six 225-pound right-hander made his big-league debut with Toronto in 1998 and he became a regular the following season. He had a few stints in the minor leagues before breaking out in 2002 with a 19-7 record and 2.93 earned-run average over 239 1/3 innings.
In his AL Cy Young season, Halladay went 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA and nine complete games over 266 innings.
Halladay was dealt to Philadelphia in December 2009 and took the NL Cy Young the next year after going 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and nine complete games. He spent four seasons in Philadelphia before retiring.
“We are numb over the very tragic news about Roy Halladay’s untimely death,” the Phillies said in a statement. “There are no words to describe the sadness that the entire Phillies family is feeling over the loss of one of the most respected human beings to ever play the game. It is with the heaviest of hearts that we pass along our condolences to Brandy, Ryan and Braden.”
On Oct. 6, 2010, working against Cincinnati in the NL Division Series, Halladay became only the second pitcher to throw a post-season no-hitter, joining Don Larsen, who accomplished the feat for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series.
Halladay retired in 2013, saying he wanted to avoid back surgery.
“As a baseball player, you realize that’s something you can’t do the rest of your life,” Halladay said. “I really don’t have any regrets. You realize there’s other things for you to accomplish in life.”
Halladay was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame last June. He’s eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2019.
“Heart is broken to hear about Roy Halladay,” former teammate Roy Oswalt tweeted. “great friend, teammate, father and husband. One of the best teammates ever! You will be missed!”
Former pitcher Dan Haren tweeted that “I wanted to be Roy Halladay. I’m heartbroken, rest easy Doc,” then posted a photo of a signed Halladay jersey.
In late 2013, Halladay signed a one-day free-agent contract with Toronto so he could retire as a Blue Jay. Over 16 seasons in the major leagues, Halladay had a 203-105 record and 3.38 ERA.
He was well-respected thoughout Toronto’s professional sports community.
“He was huge here in Toronto over the years,” Dwane Casey, coach of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, said Tuesday. “I used to keep up with him all the time, watch him pitch. A great pitcher. From what I understand, I didn’t know him, but (he was) a great human being, did a lot for the city of Toronto.
“It’s sad when you lose someone like that at a young age, 40 years old. It’s sad. Condolences from our organization go out to his family. I just know how much he meant to the city, just inducted to the Canadian (Baseball) Hall of Fame. It’s just way too soon.”
The NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs tweeted: “A legend on and off the mound. Rest in peace, Doc.”
Icon aircraft had posted a video with Halladay trying out a new plane. The video showed Halladay taking delivery of a new Icon A5, a two-seat “light-sport aircraft” that can land on water.
In the video, Halladay said the terms of his baseball contract prevented him from having a pilot’s licence while playing, and that his wife was originally against the idea of him getting the aircraft.
“She’s fought me the whole way,” Halladay said.
“Hard. I fought hard. I was very against it,” Brandy Halladay said in the same video, before explaining why she eventually understood and approved of her husband’s desire to have the plane.
The A5 was a newer model from Icon, based in Vacaville, California. On May 8, two Icon employees, the company’s lead test pilot and the director of engineering, were killed in a crash in an A5 in Napa County, California. The NTSB report said the probable cause was “the pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from terrain while manoeuvring at a low altitude.”
Other baseball players to die in plane crashes included Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente in a relief mission from Puerto Rico travelling to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve in 1972; New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson piloting his own plane near his home in Canton, Ohio, in 1979; and Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle piloting his own plane in New York City in 2006.
With files from CP sports reporters Neil Davidson and Gregory Strong in Toronto and The Associated Press.