San Diego Padres scout Chris Bourjos was home in Arizona when his son frantically telephoned him Tuesday afternoon, and when he hung up, he was numb, still trying to comprehend what happened.
Roy Halladay, the finest player Bourjos ever drafted and signed in his professional career, was dead at the age of 40.
Bourjos turned on the TV and looked at the news, hoping his son, Pete Bourjos, a major-league outfielder, somehow was wrong. There was a plane crash involving an ICON A5. A single-engine, light sport plane that went down into the Gulf of Mexico, 10 miles west of St. Petersburg, Fla., around noon ET.
There was one known fatality.
Then, an hour later, the victim was identified:
Harry Leroy Halladay III.
The baseball world knew him simply as “Doc.’’
“I’m stunned,’’ said Bourjos, who signed Halladay out of Arvada West (Colo.) High School, with the help of Bus Campbell, for the Toronto Blue Jays. “I’ve known him for more than 20 years, and all I keep thinking about now were his high school days. His dad was a pilot (for a Denver food-processing company).
“And Roy always talked about wanting to be a pilot, too, and buying a plane.
“I can’t get that out of my mind right now.
“I just can’t.’’
Halladay, who retired four years ago and got his pilot’s license, was one of the last of his era, a genuine ace who symbolized competitiveness. He puts his team before his own health every single day of his baseball career.
“Words cannot describe what it feels like to lose a friend like Roy,” said former teammate Chase Utley. “He was the ultimate teammate with a passion for being the best.”
“Roy Halladay was most accountable and hardest-working athlete I’d ever been around and while he was the fiercest competitor on the mound, he was also the kindest and most gentle person I’ve ever known,” said Ruben Amaro Jr., former Phillies general manager.
Halladay, a two-time Cy Young winner and an eight-time All-Star, spent 16 years in the big leagues, winning 203 games, and in 2010 became only the second pitcher in postseason history to throw a no-hitter.
“You wouldn’t know what Roy did because Roy would never tell you what he did,’’ Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said at the press conference. “And that’s the legacy of a great man.’’
Indeed, it was Halladay that said at his retirement ceremony two years ago at the baseball winter meetings: “My goal is to try and leave baseball better than I found it.’’
Certainly, he did all of that, and more.
“He was just everything you’d want in a ballplayer,’’ said Bourjos. “A great kid. A great competitor. He was that way in high school and all of the way through his career.
“He always competed, and even when we were signing him, he was fighting for every penny like he should, standing up for himself.
“My God, what a pitcher.’’
Halladay, who had a 203-105 career record with a 3.38 ERA, had a perfect game and a no-hitter on his resume. He was the ultimate workhorse, leading the league seven times in complete games, and four times in innings pitched, finishing with 67 complete games and 20 shutouts.
He also becomes the fourth baseball player in the last 45 years to die in a plane crash, joining Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson and Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle.
“I know there are people in his family that fly,’’ Nocco said. “That’s where he got it from. He loved to fly. He talked about baseball and he talked about flying.’’
A year from now, he’ll be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, and certainly is a legitimate candidate to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.
It would be fitting if his final resting place is in Cooperstown, N.Y.