So, Roy Halladay. What's scary about Roy Halladay is he set or matched career highs in a lot of categories this season—strikeout rate, walk rate, shutouts, complete games, the usual Roy Halladay categories—and he's been so good for so long that, before today, media coverage made it pretty easy to think he was having a down year.
Now, of course, it will be as though we all watched his brilliant season with awe from Opening Day. Is he a Hall of Famer? Pragmatically I think last night's performance was more important to his eventual induction than his likely second Cy Young Award will be. Those two injury-shortened seasons after his breakout 2003 hurt the look of his career; what should be an incredible, extended peak is split in two.
But for peak voters it'll be hard to pass up four innings titles, three 20-win seasons, and, most bluntly, the 151-69 record, the 3.04 ERA, the 1961 innings he's thrown in the years since he came back from a 2000 season that nearly put him out of baseball. How good has he been? Since 2002 he's spent much of two years on the disabled list, missing 29 or 30 starts in the process, and still averaged 218 innings per season, which would have been good for seventh in the National League this year, just ahead of Ubaldo Jimenez.
What I like about the possibility of his eventual Hall induction is that it gives me the opportunity to mention Happy Jack Chesbro. Happy Jack, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1946 because someone looked at his 1904 season in the encyclopedia and thought to themselves, "41? That's a lot of wins...", is, as far as a cursory Play Index search can tell, the only Hall of Fame pitcher to flame out quite as spectacularly as Halladay did in 2000. At the end of his career, in an abbreviated 1909 season, the spitballer went 0-5 with an ERA of 6.14. It was the height of the dead ball era; the league ERA was 2.47.
Hall of Fame pitchers have had bad years before, and will again, but when you get as far below replacement level as Halladay did it takes most of them an entire terrible season to manage it. That Halladay pitched as badly as a worn-out spitballer when he 23, and has since turned himself into the most consistent pitcher of his era, is remarkable, and if it takes a playoff no-hitter to put his 2297 excellent regular season innings more firmly into public consciousness, all the better.
Meanwhile, I was trying to come up with a picture of the least-memorable Cardinal of 2010, and came to the conclusion that there weren't any especially unmemorable players this year. Sorry, Evan MacLane—Steve Hill at least homered.
I could be wrong, but it seems like we usually get at least one minor league free agent wild-card on the roster for a few days. 2009 had Blaine Boyer, but he's not quite anonymous enough, either; he inspired some minor blog ire because he was traded for the delightful Brian Barton, who's currently hitting .346 with 19 home runs in the Atlantic League and should consider hiring a better agent.
We have to go all the way back to 2008 to find players that meet my exacting specifications, but once we get there you'll find some fine examples. Josh Phelps, former Baseball Prospectus cover-boy, hit 31 home runs for Memphis that year and got a completely unmemorable 19 game call-up. Uncle Rico Washington broke camp with the big club after years in minor league obscurity and lasted just long enough to play four positions.
But the winner of the prize for 2008, far more deserving than poor Evan MacLane, is third catcher Mark Johnson, whose very name dooms him aptronymically to obscurity. A long-tenured former White Sox backup, Johnson hadn't received regular Major League playing time since 2002 by the time he played 10 games for the Cardinals in September, 2008. According to Google he was mentioned 24 times on Viva El Birdos, to Evan MacLane's 115.
This is maybe the least beneficial of all the results of building a deep farm system, but there's something heartening about the Cardinals being able to provide their own fifth-stringers. Even Ruben Gotay, the best of the minor league free agents, couldn't reach the big leagues with his .410 AAA OBP; last year he would have competed with Brian Barden and Joe Thurston for the job at third base.