Culture

Roy Halladay Shows Why Leaders Matter

There’s a lot to be written about the on-the-field legacy of Blue Jays and Phillies pitching ace Roy Halladay, who died last week at age 40 when he crashed his plane into the Gulf of Mexico. Halladay should and will go into the Hall of Fame; he was one of the two best pitchers in baseball over his 2002-2011 prime years (and carried heavier workloads than the other contender for that title, Johan Santana).

But this essay about Halladay’s influence on Daniel Norris, the talented and still-a-work-in-progress young pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who started out in the Toronto organization, really carries a lesson that goes beyond baseball, beyond sports: the positive influence that one person can have on an organization’s culture just by example and one-on-one leadership. A sample:

It all started when Norris was starting out with the Toronto Blue Jays organization. The promising young left-hander, selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, was attending his first real spring training with the club back in 2012.

At first, Norris was simply struck by the way the trainers would talk about Halladay in the weight room, or the way they’d use him as an example for the various strength and conditioning exercises the prospects were put through. There was even one named after the iconic pitcher, “The Roy Halladay Run.”

It was a brutal run — “nobody could complete it,” Norris recalled — and it prompted an unwavering respect among all those who even attempted the feat. That’s when Norris really started to understand what Halladay’s lasting impact was on the organization.

“Roy Halladay was the benchmark for hard work for the Toronto Blue Jays,” Norris told The Athletic when reached by phone Wednesday morning. “It was like everything we did was almost compared to Roy Halladay.”

Even though Halladay was three years removed from Toronto – he was traded to the Phillies in 2009 – his reputation took root.

“Roy Halladay, he was a legend already,” Norris said of the eight-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner. “And he was still pitching.”

Norris goes on to describe Halladay reaching out as a mentor, something he certainly didn’t have to do for a young guy who wasn’t even on his team, and kept doing after Halladay was enjoying his retirement from the game. Ex-teammates like Dirk Hayhurst and Ricky Romero echo this (Hayhurst: “He inspired people, but never with words. Always with action. This isn’t lip service — it’s been validated by lots of other people — but he was the hardest-working athlete I’ve ever known.”). Most likely, Halladay didn’t do a lot of this stuff for the purpose of leaving a personal legacy on the Blue Jays organization. But just by doing it, he did.

Dan McLaughlin — Dan McLaughlin is an attorney practicing securities and commercial litigation in New York City, and a contributing columnist at National Review Online.