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Commentary

Halladay's absence looms large as Baseball Hall prepares to induct new class

Mike Harrington

There will be excellence and dignity on display all weekend in Cooperstown.

But when the Baseball Hall of Fame stages its annual induction ceremony Sunday at the Clark Sports Center, there's certain to be a good deal of sadness as well.

The absence of Roy Halladay will loom over the big day for this class of inductees.

Halladay, a larger-than-life figure on the mound for some mediocre Toronto teams in the 2000s and some October-level Philadelphia clubs of the early 2010s, is getting inducted posthumously after his sudden death nearly two years ago.

Halladay's widow, Brandy, is scheduled to give his induction speech in what figures to be the most emotional moment of the weekend. Halladay died on Nov. 7, 2017 at age 40 in the crash of his two-seat sport plane he was piloting over the Gulf of Mexico off Tampa.

Halladay won't go into the Hall representing either of the two teams he played for. His widow announced in January there will be no logo on his cap plaque to respect both cities in which he spent his career. Among recent inductees, Greg Maddux and Tony LaRussa are two who made a similar decision so as not to snub any of their former homes.

This class is a solid one, albeit not spectacular. The headliner by far is Mariano Rivera, the game's all-time closer and the holder of five World Series rings from his 18-season career with the Yankees.

Yankees fans will also pile west to celebrate the induction of Mike Mussina, the cerebral Stanford University pitcher who worked 10 years with the Orioles and the final eight of his career in New York. Mussina retired in 2008 -- after a 20-win season -- and finished with 270 wins and 2,813 strikeouts.

Seattle's Edgar Martinez strikes a blow for designated hitters, having spent virtually his entire time at DH from 1995 through his retirement in 2004 after his first six seasons were spent in the outfield.

Martinez got heavy support on the Internet and his candidacy was the subject of an annual detailed email drive to voters by the Mariners, a rare step more teams are likely to take in future.

Halladay, Rivera, Mussina and Martinez were chosen in the annual vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America with results announced in January (Full disclosure: This corner submitted one of the 425 ballots).

Plenty of folks from Chicago figure to be hand as well to honor the weekend's other two honorees, who were chosen in December by the Today's Game Era Committee.

Longtime closer Lee Smith, who spent eight of his 18 seasons with the Cubs, retired in 1997 as the all-time saves leader (since passed by Rivera and Trevor Hoffman). He got as high as 50.6 percent of the writers' vote during his time on the ballot and closers generally got a bad rap from voters for many years.

So it's reasonable to see Smith get his Hall call after a long wait. Fair enough.

White Sox outfielder/DH Harold Baines, meanwhile, never got more than 6.1 percent of the vote and was off the ballot in just five years. Baines never finished higher than ninth in any MVP balloting or sixth in any batting race. He was a noted "compiler" as he collected 2,866 hits in a 2,830-game career. He was a .289 hitter with 384 home runs.

Sorry. Baines shouldn't be entering the Hall without a ticket.

Bizarre Baines vote aside, it SHOULD be tough to make the Hall of Fame

Halladay's ticket was an easy call for voters. He spent 12 years in Toronto before orchestrating a trade to a contender following the 2009 season when it was clear the Blue Jays were simply spinning their wheels in the American League East behind the Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, who had made the World Series in '08 but lost to Philadelphia.

The Phillies returned to the Fall Classic in 2009 but lost in six games to the Yankees as Rivera, of course, was on the mound for the last out when Shane Victorino grounded to second baseman Robinson Cano.

With Halladay on the staff and posting a 21-10 record, the 2010 Phillies were going for the National League's first three-peat since the Cardinals' "Gashouse Gang" of the 1940s. And things started auspiciously as Halladay spun a no-hitter -- and was a walk away from a perfect game -- in the division series opener against Cincinnati.

It was the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen's perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series. And combined with Halladay's perfect game he had thrown earlier in that season at Florida, Halladay became the only pitcher in history with a no-hitter in the regular season and postseason of the same year.

The Phillies, however, lost the NLCS to San Francisco and have yet to return to the World Series. Halladay went 55-29 in four seasons with the Phillies, retiring in 2013.

Halladay had an up-and-down start to his career in Toronto. As a 21-year-old, he went 9-5 in Syracuse in 1998 and was one of the International League's top pitching prospects. He got his first big-league callup and came within an out of a no-hitter in his second start on Sept. 27, 1998 before Detroit's Bobby Higginson broke it up with a ninth-inning home run.

“I told myself probably in the sixth, seventh inning that if I did lose it, I wasn’t going to be disappointed," Halladay said. "But when it did, I was a little disappointed."

But by 2001, Halladay was famously sent to Class A Dunedin of the Florida State League to retool his delivery. It was the turning point of his career.

With Toronto from 2002-2009, Halladay went 130-69 even though the Jays never won more than 87 games and didn't appear in the postseason in that span. His best game was a one-hitter against the Yankees in Rogers Centre on Sept. 4, 2009, a gem marred only by a Ramiro Pena double in the sixth inning.

"At any moment, I could make a pitch if I had to and that makes a big difference," Halladay said after that game.

Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi: "If we gave up one (run), we wouldn’t have won tonight."

Plenty of people said that on various nights in Halladay's career. He gets his reward come Sunday. Such a shame he won't be there to receive it.

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