The tragic news of Roy Halladay’s death has sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community. The two-time Cy Young award winner died at the age of 40 when his plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. Frank Catalanotto, Halladay’s teammate for four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2003-2006, was suddenly frozen when a co-worker relayed the news while he was giving a hitting lesson.
“I was shocked and I couldn’t believe it,” Catalanotto said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Obviously, I was very saddened.”
Catalanotto arrived in Toronto in 2003 after the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent in the offseason. He was relieved that he no longer had to face the 6’6″ right-hander.
“I hated having to face him,” he said. “He had a nasty sinker, he cut the ball, and he had a great breaking ball as well. He could basically put the ball wherever he wanted; one of the few pitchers in the league that was able to do that. I remember facing him when I was with the Tigers and the Rangers and it was never fun. If you went into Toronto, you were hoping that you missed Roy Halladay. [He was] one of the best during my time in the big leagues, probably one of the top two or three best pitchers that I had faced.”
Coming together for the 2003 season, Catalanotto watched as Halladay’s blazed through the American League en route to his first Cy Young award. The late pitcher posted a 22-7 won-loss record with nine complete games, while only walking 32 batters in 266 innings. His mound dominance gave his Blue Jays teammates the confidence that they were never in danger of going on an extended losing streak.
“We knew whenever he was pitching he was going to bring his ‘A’ game,” he said. “During those times, whenever you lost a game or maybe two-to-three games in a row, you knew that Roy was going to be pitching and that streak was going to stop. You always had that in the back of your head. We never went on big losing streaks because we had this ace that we knew that we could fall back on. It was great.”
While Halladay worked his magic on the mound, his teammates were often able to just sit back and admire his wizardry as he sent most challengers back to the bench with their hopes of getting on base dashed into oblivion. He was so stingy on the mound that Catalanotto likened it to having a vacation defensively whenever he pitched.
“It was almost like a day off defensively,” he said. “Playing behind him, you didn’t get a lot of work in the field because he was striking guys out, and when you did get work in the field, it was never pressure situations because he very rarely had guys on base.”
Even though Catalanotto acknowledged that Halladay made their jobs a little bit easier every fifth day, there was no chill when it came to what Halladay did to create his electric nature on the mound. Early in Catalanotto’s tenure with Toronto it was evident that Halladay’s focus on preparation was unparalleled.
“I quickly realized that he was an intense individual and extremely focused in what he did every single day,” he said. “There wasn’t a time when I ever saw just him sitting down doing nothing. He was always trying to get better whether it be through watching video of the hitters that he’s going to face or video of himself and his mechanics. Whether [he was] going through scouting reports or working out and working on his mechanics and things like that, he always seemed like he was dedicated to his craft and left no stone unturned. For me, he was the biggest competitor that I have ever played with and it rubbed off on other guys on the team.”
When Catalanotto was able to get Halladay away from his intense moments on the mound, he found a different side of the pitcher that was hidden to baseball fans. Halladay had a jovial nature that included pulling pranks on his teammates, especially the rookies.
“The more you got to know Roy, you realized that he had a lighter side,” he said. “He wasn’t always just ultra-focused on pitching. He did have a lighter side. And he was a jokester. He loved pulling pranks on the younger guys.”
Reflecting on Halladay’s tremendous accomplishments that included multiple Cy Young Awards, a lifetime .659 winning percentage, and a postseason no-hitter, Catalanotto cited how Halladay’s 2001 demotion to the low minor leagues fueled his transformation into an elite pitcher. His eventual selection to the Hall of Fame Catalanotto feels will vindicate Halladay’s tremendous life and career.
“He accomplished a lot,” he said. “I know that early in his career he got sent down to Single-A to work some things out. He took that personally and he wasn’t happy about it. I know that he wanted to prove a lot of people wrong, and that’s what he did. He became one of the best pitchers of his generation and I do think that he deserves to be a Hall of Famer.”