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WHAT MAKES ROY RUN
TOM VERDUCCI
April 05, 2010
Why is baseball's best pitcher also the hardest worker in the game? Because his dad taught him that's how things are done. Because Roy Halladay knows what it's like to fail—and doesn't like the feeling one bit. And because, after 12 seasons, he's finally pitching for a contender. This year, October could be the height of the Halladay season.
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April 05, 2010

What Makes Roy Run

Why is baseball's best pitcher also the hardest worker in the game? Because his dad taught him that's how things are done. Because Roy Halladay knows what it's like to fail—and doesn't like the feeling one bit. And because, after 12 seasons, he's finally pitching for a contender. This year, October could be the height of the Halladay season.

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There are wise old men like Queen and Arbuckle who have spent their entire adult lives in professional baseball and never seen anything like what Halladay did: A big league pitcher goes all the way to A ball to relearn how to throw a baseball—and not because of injury—and comes back not just a better pitcher but, in time, the best in the game.

"I think it says a lot about his mental toughness," Arbuckle says. "What Roy did says a lot, to take not one step backward but multiple steps backward. A lot of kids would have folded their tents."

Something else changed with this 2.0 version of Halladay besides his grip and release point. It is often said that a baseball player dies twice: once when he has the game taken away from him and once when he draws his last breath. What happened to Halladay in 2001 was, in baseball terms, a near-death experience, one that profoundly changed him. "After being sent to the minors," Halladay says, "I vowed that if I was going to be out of baseball I would be able to look back and say I did everything to the best of my ability."

That is why Roy runs.

The democracy of baseball is overthrown by the dictatorship of Halladay on nights he pitches. He will speak to no one—not teammates, not the trainer who stretches him in the clubhouse—save for when he runs the pregame meeting to review opposing hitters. (On nights when others pitch, the meeting is run by the pitching coach.) He will throw the exact same pregame bullpen session: 35 pitches done mostly in five-pitch sequences of cutters, sinkers, changeups and curveballs, extended by a pitch or two only on the rare occasions when he misses a location and takes a mulligan. Every pitch is thrown with the exact same release point with his feet landing in the exact same spots.

"He perfected everything around his delivery to work around his arm slot," Arnsberg says. "I watched Nolan Ryan throw bullpens years ago. He'd have three marks in the dirt: his anchor [foot], where his landing foot came down and then where his finish foot would land. That's Doc. Most guys, you'd go out there after they threw a bullpen, and it looked like a mini rototiller went through there. Doc's would be perfect: A, B, C. Three marks."

Halladay then will sit in the same spot in the dugout, marked by his water bottle and towel. "I sat in his spot by mistake once," Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald says, "and he just stood there and gave me The Look. Didn't say anything, of course. My bad."

Halladay controls as much as he can, including his own body. He takes the ball knowing that he has run not one less mile, done not one less repetition of a leg press or worked out for not one day less than what he planned to do. Halladay takes off only two weeks out of the year, in October. When he works out he never allows his heart rate to drop. Instead of resting between sets he jumps on a treadmill or mixes in another exercise. One reason he likes to train before anyone else arrives is that he never has to wait for a piece of equipment.

"Everybody always talks about the workouts," he says, "but I really don't do anything different. I just try to be more consistent and pay more attention to detail. I do it every day. And if it's 15 reps, I do 15. Not 12 or 13."

All the training and analysis of hitters is designed to enhance his sense of control. Queen may have given him the right physical reengineering in a day, but the mental rebooting, Halladay says, "was the harder part. It took longer. It wasn't like, 'Think this, go out and try it,' and all of a sudden it works the way it did with mechanics."

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