Former MLB pitcher Roy Halladay dies in plane crash

Halladay died today when his light plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore from Pasco County, Florida.

He won 2 Cy Young awards (one with Toronto, one with Philadelphia), and had retired after the 2013 season. He was 40.

Holy cow.

I’m stunned.

Flying planes is dangerous.

Oh, man.

A story:

I have been active in a lot of political campaigns, mainly doing door to door canvassing. In 2010 I volunteered for a senatorial campaign in Pennsylvania (I live in NY state). They assigned me to Philadelphia, and I spent several days there that fall.

The first time I went was during the NL playoffs. The Phillies had been world champs in 2008 and lost the WS in 2009, and they were back in the thick of things in 2010, playing SF in the second round. That the Phillies were in the playoffs was unmistakeable–seemed like half the houses had Phillies flags flying outside, or posters in the windows, or pennants somewhere or other, and a lot of people walking around, working outside, etc., were wearing Phillies caps and T-shirts (it was a lovely warm October day).

This was…good. I’m not a Phillies fan specifically, but I can talk baseball with the best of 'em, and so as I made my way through my first “route” the Phillies were a way in. “They gonna win tonight?” I’d ask, or “Who’s your favorite player?,” or “That pitching staff is something, isn;t it?” (I think it was headed by Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt that year, so even though it was before Lee arrived, it was pretty damn good.) After a brief conversation about the Phils it was easy to turn to politics–“So, I’m here with the — campaign, and it’s an important election, and I’m happy to address any questions you might have, and can we count on your support?” I don;t kid myself that the Phillies talk brought any voters into the fold, but it surely didn’t hurt.

Anyway, after my first route was over I spied a sporting goods store on my way back to the deli-slash-coffee shop that served as the staging area for the local campaigners, and on a whim pulled off to buy a Phillies T-shirt, fit in even better. They had a huge selection, and lots of people were there buying 'em. As some of you may recall, Halladay had just no-hit Cincinnati in the playoffs, and I found a shirt that said “Doctober No-No,” with the line score of the game. It looked good and it looked timely, so I snapped it up and wore it happily the rest of the day.

Seven years later, I still have the shirt. It wasn’t well-made, I guess, so it’s pretty threadbare by now, but I’ve kept it; it’s comfortable and it’s a great conversation piece (especially around sports fans and political junkies).

Sigh. What a thing.

I just read about this not too long ago, incredibly sad.

Very sad.

I hope RickJay has some comments.

Was it Cory Lidle who was the last MLB player (active or retired) killed in a small plane crash, or am I forgetting someone?

If there was another since Lidle, I certainly don’t remember it.

Halladay’s plane was no ordinary small aircraft. It was an ICON A5. Fewer than thirty have been manufactured, and two have had fatal crashes. The first crash claimed the lives of the company’s own lead engineer and engineering director. Not exactly a stellar safety record.

It is often forgotten, though I love telling this story, that Roy Halladay’s career damn near ended as quickly as it began. After his brief debut in 1998 he pitched okay in 1999, but he walked almost as many men as he struck out, a huge red flag.

In 2000 the red flag hit. Halladay that year had a 10.64 ERA – the worst ERA a pitcher has ever had in MLB history, among those who pitched at least 50 innings. He was basically throwing batting practice.

He was a very highly regarded young pitcher and he sure LOOKED awesome, so the Blue Jays did not give up. They sent him all the way down to single A to rebuild his motion. The conclusion was that he threw too straight, so they asked him to throw from a three-quarter angle instead of fully overhand. He did, returned to the majors in mid 2001, and from the moment of his return was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball. If there is any equivalent to that – a player going from being the worst player in baseball to being one of the best, in just a few months of trying a slight variation in a motion – I cannot think of it. I would have thought it impossible.

He should be in the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible. What a terrible shame he will not be there to accept it.

Ugh. The Icon A5 is a disaster. It’s an underpowered, compromised airplane designed to meet an arbitrary regulatory distinctions (which it needed a waiver for anyway) that would allow it to be marketed to inexperienced pilots and require less training than a normal light aircraft. They market it as a flying jet ski and have videos on their websites of people flying them in formation at low altitude over rough terrain and doing aggressive maneuvering. The planes are probably perfectly safe if flown correctly, but their whole approach to market is a disaster waiting to happen.

It also costs just as much as a real, fully-certified airplane (almost $400,000).

If you could make a list of “How to fuck up in light aviation”, these guys have probably checked 90% of those boxes. It’s astonishing.

Maybe “small aircraft” was the wrong term, but I was trying to differentiate from commercial aircraft.

What gets me the most about this is that he’d only had the plane for a month, and his wife had fought him for a while about his getting a plane, and finally gave in and said okay. I wonder how much she’ll blame herself for this.

I saw this last night while I was checking my smartphone at work and couldn’t believe it. Halladay wasn’t a hall of famer but for a few years was arguably the best pitcher in the game. I remember his no-hitter against the Reds in the playoffs, which was one of the more remarkable post season performances in recent years. I also remember the classic game 5 between Chris Carpenter and Halladay in the 2011 NLDS. Went right down to the wire. He lost it by giving up two hits in the first inning but was dominant after that. Carp was just a little better. But this is a sad day for baseball.


In the US it is a “sportplane”. In the rest of the world, it would be a “microlight” or similar term. It could also be called an oversized ultralight.

I got my start in aviation in ultralights and slightly larger homebuilt aircraft. The amphibious ones have always been problematic and more prone to problems than the land only variety. There is also the problem that amphibs require learning two different landing environments - land AND water - which require noting different details and making decision accordingly.

The ICON A5 has some very nice features on the surface - the angle of attack indicator, for example, could be very useful, and there is definitely some merit in full-plane parachutes, stall resistant airframes, and so on - but all of them have weight. How to get all that stuff on the airframe, and still allow enough capacity for people? Composites, that’s how, but composites can have issues, you can’t detect defects as readily as in wood or metal. How is the manufacturing process for this aircraft? If there have been prior accidents did they involve airframe failure?

I don’t have an issue with the Rotax engine - I’ve flown behind several varieties of Rotax. They’re not certified in the same manner as the venerable Continental or Lycoming engines, but for that weight/class they work fine especially when properly maintained.

Here’s the problem - as noted these models are aggressively marketed as little miracle machines. They’re not. They ARE easy to fly… when conditions are excellent. Conditions are not always excellent. What qualifies as “hazardous conditions” in these very small airplanes is not always obvious to those inexperienced with them, including pilots with experience in larger aircraft. I once was among a group of ultralighters who cautioned an experienced general aviation pilot used to larger, heavier airplanes that the conditions he wanted to take his new “sportplane” up in were actually more than his new toy could handle. He poo-poo’ed us, then when he got to the runway and was almost flipped by a gust called us for help and a group of us helped walk his mini-cub back to the hangar. Size really does matter. There is also the problem “what do you do when things go wrong”. While training does factor into this, so does experience.

The result is that you have wealthy people who buy these aircraft and get basic flight training, which is fine, then proceed into circumstances that exceed their abilities. Not their aircraft’s abilities (although on the very light end of aircraft there are problems with that, too) but the pilot’s abilities.

Or, as is sometimes said, a fool and his money are soon flying more airplane than he can handle.

An ICON A5 flown in a conservative, cautious manner is (I presume - I don’t have personal knowledge or experience of one) a fine aircraft and reasonably safe for what it is. The problem is people who don’t fly conservatively. Aggressive folks - the sort likely to make it big on the stock market, or in sales, or do well in medical school, or as professional sports guys - like to push the limits a bit. Combine that with limited flight experience and things can get ugly.

Sportplanes ARE fun - even after I was licensed to fly bigger, faster aircraft I still loved flying them - but they are limited. If you don’t fly within the limits you can be maimed or killed by them. There is no forgiveness in physics.

In the case of the Cory Lidle crash, the problem wasn’t the aircraft, it was the people. The people got themselves and the aircraft into a situation that ended badly. I have friends who fly that exact same airplane as do so without problem - but they also would not have been flying a Cirrus through an artificial canyon (or a natural one) in that manner. The one guy had less than 100 hours flight experience, and the other had no mountain flying experience, which might have saved their bacon as the situation, despite being in relatively flat terrain, was more like mountains due to all the high rise buildings around.

I don’t know at this point what happened with Mr. Halladay, but it would not surprise me if this was more a mistake on the pilot’s part than an inherent flaw in the aircraft.

I agree, the compromises required to meet the “arbitrary regulatory distinctions” do make it a less capable aircraft. I’m not sure I’d call it a “disaster” yet - there’s been too little time/experience to determine that. Something like the Quicksilver ultralight is even less capable but was one of the safer and more reliable models up through the early 00’s (maybe still is - I’ve been out of the flying game for awhile). But then, the Quicksilver wasn’t marketed as a “fighter jet” nor is it particularly sexy or futuristic or hi tech.

Halladay also posted video of an Icon flying VFR-over-the-top, which is NOT a safe practice in a sportplane. I doubt the Icon is IFR capable. If Halladay was flying in that manner then he had some serious problems with his notion of what was and wasn’t safe. If that was a marketing video from the company then they are engaged in dangerous promotion of an activity that can and has gotten people killed.

Now, it could be that if the airplane had done a 180 you’d find that they were on the very edge of a cloud shelf with LOTS of true VFR, cloudless sky to return to, but that’s not the impression given.


If you don’t mind buying used you can get a safe to fly fully-certified airplane for a lot less.

Not only is this a “sportplane”, it’s an overpriced sportplane.

I appreciate the detail and insight you’ve provided, fellow Hoosier.

I wasn’t a close student of his career, but from what I see in his record, I’m going to respectfully disagree. I don’t think he’s a slam-dunk HoF member, but I think that he has a reasonably strong case.

  • He won two Cy Young awards, and finished in the top five of voting for the award (in second place twice) in five other seasons.
  • He was named to eight All-Star teams.
  • His career WAR is 65.6, which ranks him at #41 all-time. Several Hall of Famers (Hubbell, Lyons, Smoltz, Covaleski, Feller) have similar career WAR figures.

That said, his career success (and WAR) was driven by two peaks: two breakout seasons in 2002-2003, and then a four-year run (2008-2011) later in his career.

He was the dominant performer at his position for a significant period. That should be enough.

Halladay threw 2749.1 career innings. Only 3 current active pitchers have more. 4th on the list is Verlander at 2545. Before you even get into the quality of his achievements it’s worth considering starters who ate as many innings as he could while being relatively durable are so rare in modern baseball.

Halladay’s being quite fondly remembered in St. Louis because of the classic pitchers’ duel between him and Chris Carpenter in the 2011 NLDS. The two pitchers played together in the minors and were good friends.

As indicated by RickJay’s story, Halladay was the poster child for going down to the minors to work out some kinks. Dude was scary good.