Roy Halladay Can’t Beat the Calendar

A history lesson, courtesy of great pitcher Warren Spahn.

Here’s a little history lesson for everybody hoping that Doc Halladay’s 2-1 mastering of the fetid Marlins is an indication that he will spend the rest of the year mowing down NL hitters as he dispatched Miami’s minor-league outfit masquerading as a big-league club.

In 1963, the great Warren Spahn finished 23-7, with a 2.60 ERA and 22 complete games, the seventh straight season he led the league in going the route. It marked the 12th time in 15 years that he had won more than 20 games and left him with 350 career victories. Spahn had a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 1.117, the third lowest he ever posted.

The next year, Spahn went 6-13, with a 5.29 ERA. He completed a mere four games and had a giant, 1.474 WHIP. After a 7-15 1965 season, he was out of baseball.

No one can dispute that Spahn was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. A 14-time All-Star, he finished with 363 career wins, sixth all time. But when it was over, it was over.

Although Halladay picked up the win Sunday, he still isn’t close to the pitcher who won two Cy Young Awards and won 20 games three times. His fastball is nowhere near as rapid as it was, and he cannot put away hitters as quickly as he once did. This is not just a 2013 situation. We saw the beginning of this last season, and although the majority of those troubles were injury-induced, Halladay was clearly not the same pitcher he had been.

It is the nature of fans to be hopeful, especially when their heroes begin to fade. How many times have we heard managers, executives and coaches talk about how older stars are “in the best shape of their lives,” only to have them struggle to play the game? It’s a common occurrence, and fans wish and pray that the excellent conditioning means their favorites can summon another top-level performance.

Halladay remains one of the most remarkable physical specimens in baseball. After he threw eight innings Sunday, he didn’t see Laynce Nix’s game-winning homer or Jonathan Papelbon’s ninth-inning save, because he was knee-deep into a post-game workout. No one will work harder to chase his previous form than will Halladay. Count on that.

But time is a cruel master. It robs great athletes of their special qualities and shows no remorse. Sometimes, the theft comes in the form of injury, as it has for Kobe Bryant, who ruptured his Achilles tendon Friday night. In other cases, the demise is more insidious. The player appears the same as he did during his glory years, yet his performance is off a bit. He may adjust and continue to deliver, albeit at a diminished level, or he can fall prey to time’s ravages—as Spahn did—and never return to the top.

It appears as if the second fate is afflicting Halladay. During his first two starts, he was erratic and vulnerable. And though he subdued Miami Sunday, his fastball remained in the high 80s, and he struck out only two hitters. As he moves forward, Halladay may be able to get by on guile, off-speed stuff and his dogged determination. But he won’t be winning 20 games with that recipe.

As much as Halladay needed Sunday’s win, it’s important to remember that it came against an offense that ranks 29th out of 30 MLB teams in batting average and dead last in runs scored, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging). Manager Charlie Manuel didn’t want to talk about that after Sunday’s game, but it does matter. A better measurement of his progress will come Friday night, when he faces the Cardinals, a far more effective hitting team. If Halladay’s new approach flummoxes the Redbirds, then the Phillies can crow about his resurgence. More than likely, Halladay will be a six or seven-inning scrapper against the better teams he faces. That’s hardly a bad thing for a number three starter.

And make no mistake, that’s what Phillies fans should be expecting from Halladay. That’s no sin, given the fact that he’ll turn 36 in a month and that Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are better suited for top-of-the-rotation work, despite Hamels’ slow start. And don’t go looking for anyone to blame for this. It’s not Ruben Amaro’s fault or Manuel’s responsibility. Halladay’s body is telling him that the days of overpowering batters are over and that he needs a new way to be effective. That’s what happens in professional sports. The calendar is undefeated.

As Halladay moves forward, cheer him on and hope for the best. Just understand that he isn’t the old gunslinger who threw a perfect game in 2010 and a no-hitter in the playoffs against Cincinnati the same year. The win over Miami was nice. There will be others. There just won’t be 20 of them.

It happens to everybody, even Warren Spahn.


• The Flyers are toast. So are the Sixers. The Eagles were 4-12, and the Phillies don’t exactly look like World Series candidates. So, where were you in ’72? How about ’94? Those years, all four of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams were out of the post-season, the only two times since 1964 that happened. Looks like 2013 could be the third. Blechhhhh.

• Doug Collins isn’t coming back next year to coach the Sixers. Doug Collins is coming back next year to coach the Sixers. Now, it’s official: Collins won’t return. It’s not Collins’ fault. If the team’s management could make some sound personnel decisions, like not trading for a damaged center, the Sixers might be in the playoffs. This off-season will be vital to the team’s future. Let’s hope the right moves are made, or a prolonged state of malaise could be on the horizon—and not because of Collins.

• Camp Kelly opens this week, and we’ll get to learn a little more about the Mystery Defense and the speedy-quick attack. What we’ll also know is that this team has a lack of talent all over the roster, and no scheming and tempo can mask that. Let’s hope Kelly and GM Howie Roseman understand that and are capable of bringing in the big-time players necessary to rebuild the franchise.