By Jeff Jones
Twitter – @jmjones
ST. LOUIS – The first clue as to how close the two men were throughout their careers as major league pitchers is that the one speaking always refers to the other by his nickname – always “Doc,” never Roy.
The second clue is that the one still alive speaks in present tense verbs about the one who passed away, even if he occasionally pauses to correct himself.
Making his first public comments since the Baseball Writers Association of America revealed the members of the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame induction class, Cardinals Hall of Famer Chris Carpenter spoke glowingly about his dear friend and now Baseball Hall of Famer Roy Halladay at the National Children’s Cancer Society “Evening With the Cardinals” on Saturday night.
“Just a great honor for him and his family,” Carpenter said. Halladay received 363 of the possible 425 votes for induction, comfortably reaching the necessary 75% threshold in his first year on the ballot.
Halladay died in November of 2017 when an experimental light aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, Carpenter has been one of the leading voices in making sure his legacy was well preserved.
In a statement released through the Cardinals on the day of Halladay’s death, Carpenter said, “we grew up together [and] went through good and bad times together. He was an amazing pitcher, competitor, teammate and friend.” He expanded on that relationship on Saturday, discussing the growth each pitcher benefited from while working with mental skills coaches while they were members of the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
“A lot of people don’t know his story,” Carpenter revealed. “He was very much like me, [a] high anxiety guy that really didn’t know where he belonged in the baseball world.”
Overcoming that anxiety and delivering that message to young pitchers is now a focus of Carpenter’s life as he works as an instructor in the Cardinals organization. Though he lives now in his native New Hampshire, he spoke glowingly of St. Louis as home on several occasions. His commitment to the community was evident in his willingness to travel across the country to make an appearance at a charity benefit alongside former teammate Jim Edmonds.
Carpenter, perhaps legendarily fearsome on the mound, shows very few signs of that tenacity in person. He’s affable, friendly, engaging, and wore bright purple socks that would’ve seemed out of place on the person of the snarling hurler he used to be. He laughed as he talked about combatting snow and delays when trying to fly out of the airport in Manchester and taking a long Uber ride home from Boston after a second consecutive day of aborted travel.
Clearly, he seems a long way from the pitcher once caught on camera berating a teammate for being late to his position during a game.
And yet that passion for baseball shone through, especially when talking about his most famous matchup with Halladay. The two were on opposing sides in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series when Halladay was with the Phillies. They combined for 17 innings pitched in that game – a complete game shutout for Carpenter, and eight innings of one run ball with six scattered hits for Halladay, who also walked one batter. Carpenter walked no one.
Rafael Furcal led off with a triple for the Cardinals. Skip Schumaker doubled him home as the next batter. Only two more runners would reach as far as third base for the entire rest of the game. “Not a great game if you like offense,” deadpanned Carpenter on Saturday night.
It was, however, a great moment in Cardinal history, as the team went on to win its 11th World Series Championship that fall. It was also a great moment for the two pitchers who had so much to bond over in their lives and careers.
“He was at the pillar of his career, in the big leagues at 21 or 22 years old getting starts,” Carpenter recalled. “All the way having to go back to single-A for a year and re-evaluate himself, re-establish himself, and changing his whole mechanics and working all the way back up. I mean, he was done.”
Carpenter is intimately familiar with that feeling of being done. He battled through injuries in Toronto and missed the entire 2003 season before emerging as a force with the Cardinals. He fought back again in 2007 and 2008 before finally being forced to retire in 2012.
Injuries eventually robbed him of the longevity he would need to be a serious candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame; he received only two votes in his lone year on the ballot for the 2018 class.
Carpenter, then, knows as well as anyone the combination of hard work and good fortune it takes to achieve baseball immortality. He gave Halladay full credit for that work even as immortality blended with regrettable mortality.
“He was able to get back and work hard enough and long enough to get back and become an amazing pitcher he is, or was,” Carpenter said. “He’s an amazing guy, works really hard and worked really hard, and deserves everything he gets.”
Is. Works. Deserves. “Doc” Halladay still looms in Chris Carpenter’s present, even as he becomes part of baseball’s past.