Commentary

Roy Halladay at a crossroads

There comes a time when a player can no longer will himself to compete

Originally Published: April 8, 2013
By Doug Glanville | ESPN.com

The tools that get a player onto the draft board are the same ones that we curse as we slowly and sometimes cruelly age in this game. Even if we are so gifted to be considered a five-tool player like Mike Trout, it is inevitable that all five tools will not do the same job they once used to do. The hammer handle is broken, the leveler is just a bit off, the screwdriver starts to strip the screws. Then our fastball is 88 miles per hour, and that bang-bang play you used to beat by a step for those 25 infield hits a season is now a slow walk back to the dugout.

Roy Halladay is in that hard space. His arm was touched by the baseball gods, but it was his wisdom and trust in his ability to make adjustments that gave him "plus-plus" movement, mechanics and location. These are not typically considered part of the tool shed. You cannot measure the will to learn, the happenstance of meeting the right coach at the right time, or the humility you need to actually listen when you can still blow hitters away by sheer velocity. These are the tools of longevity, but even though these tools have a longer life, they will eventually not be able to get major league hitters out. And these tools certainly can't do it alone.

Halladay came into spring training with question marks, more than have ever been attached to him since the days I faced him in spring training and his "straight over the top" four-seam fastball was always up in the zone. Now, two Cy Youngs later, he just isn't the Doc that we've come to know. The linescore from his first outing of the season shows the confused state in which he lives. In 3⅓ innings Wednesday against the Braves, he gave up six hits and five runs, walked three and recorded strikeouts for nine of 10 outs.

[+] EnlargeRoy Halladay
Daniel Shirey/Getty ImagesRoy Halladay, who turns 36 on May 14, had a confounding season-opening start against the Braves.

The game requires ego to just show up every day and compete against the best in the world. It requires you to believe in the impossible, to know you could walk out of a high school in Topeka, Kan., and eventually strike out Prince Fielder. You have to know this as well as you know your glove; you have to deny pain and doubt, ignore insecurity and, at the very least, use it as fuel for your ascension. This is what we are told; this is a gamer, a bulldog and any other word that describes a relentless competitor. Until that one day when you think you have gotten that great jump to steal that base and your legs have not moved from your lead.

It is then when you need to be your own doctor, when you leave the radar gun behind and assume you can just will yourself to compete. After all, you are smarter from your experience, and you don't need to physically get that jump anymore because you got the extra step because you knew that when the pitcher came set with his glove open, he was always going home. Who needs speed when you can predict the future?

But this is a crossroads. The one that lures many players to try to chemically defy age like some sort of grim reaper repellent. Maybe as the likelihood of injury skyrockets, you can slow the process down, stop it, or do the impossible and reverse it. Then you can just rely on the same skills that put you on the draft board. You think, "I don't have to mature or grow or be smarter than I once was, because I can still make a mistake and touch 95 mph with this magic potion." Whether you consider it mad science, or just plain cheating, it is now a real option after that first fastball is seven miles per hour off of your draft-day velocity.

From what we know, that isn't Roy Halladay. Halladay is the man who outworks you, who lifts weights just to simulate the gorilla that jumps on every starter's back in the eighth inning. If the Doc slows down, he will still be better because he learned how to pitch and outwit hitters, to have so much movement that velocity becomes irrelevant. Yet we are finding that injury questions aside, he has a learning curve to ride out, and there is still an outside chance that he might not figure it out like so many others who sit in forced retirement.

So we watch Tim Lincecum, who has gone from Cy Young caliber to being relieved he can go five innings. We also wonder if he will make the adjustment that plagues all players. Will he spend his time trying to get movement on his fastball and location on his secondary pitches or will he just work hard hoping that his fastball gets back up to 97 mph? This question hits every player, and how that player responds might decide if he is in the game in two years or not.

The danger is when the ego becomes your enemy. It is fueled by clichés, the ones that tell us we can will everything in this game: that greatness is always great; that age is nothing but a number; that everything always evens out. It is why Brett Favre could not walk away, and it's why transitioning from any game is like walking on barbed wire through a ring of fire. It is also why we feel rushed in telling Roy Halladay to make an adjustment when it was always the hitters who were making the adjustments.

Yet Doc has always been the one making adjustments. He has been ahead of his time, ahead of his opponents for so long that we forget he was aging. We forget that even he can have heat exhaustion or that he probably has been slowly paying for his durability.

He might find a way. Greg Maddux baffled hitters for decades without velocity. It can be done, and a competitor like Halladay is the right candidate. But rest assured that Halladay will be fighting the internal battle between what he was and what he might have to become just to keep putting that uniform on. I imagine he will do whatever he can to compete, to right the ship and be a dependable starter for the Phillies. And should he find success again, his ability to do so would show his true greatness -- a kind that you cannot measure.

• MLB analyst for ESPN and ESPN.com
• Played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers
• Email: mail@dougglanville.com
• Website: http://www.dougglanville.com/

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