Roy Halladay isn’t a man of many words. But in this Sports Illustrated article about Mariano Rivera written by Tom Verducci, Halladay says a meeting with Rivera at an All-Star Game event changed his career.
The piece contains quotes from various people around baseball as they pay their respects to a legend leaving the sport. It’s a must-must-read. Having not covered the Yankees, I was unaware just how awesome Rivera was. All of the anecdotes included bring that to light.
Here is what Halladay said about Mo:
During batting practice before the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, in 2008 [when Halladay was a 20-game winner for the Blue Jays], I went up to him in the outfield and asked him, “Man, how do you do it? How is that cutter so consistent?”
He told me he was playing catch one day [in 1997] and it just came to him, he found this grip and started using it and all of a sudden it was something he could throw all the time. I said, “If you don’t mind, can you show me how you hold it?”
Well, his fingers are so much longer than mine, so I can’t hold it exactly like he holds it. Nobody can. It’s like Pedro Martinez. Their fingers and hands are so big they can do stuff with the ball other people just can’t do. But the biggest thing was his finger placement and how his thumb was under the ball. I was throwing a cutter, but it was inconsistent. Once he told me about the thumb, it became a big pitch for me. You’re so used to playing catch and four-seaming the baseball that your hand wants to go to that natural position. You have to keep reminding yourself, thumb underneath, thumb underneath.
After that meeting I took a baseball and marked it with my finger and thumb placement for the cutter. If the pitch was ever off, I could go back to the baseball and hold it. I still have that ball.
What he did for me was unbelievable. It’s something you want to pass down. That to me is what great players do: They leave marks on the game, an impression that is about who they are and not just about their numbers and accomplishments. My favorite players of all time have done that — left a mark based on their character: Derek Jeter, Chase Utley and Mariano Rivera. I wish more people could talk to Mariano because he’s probably one of the best things to ever happen to baseball.
After the All-Star Game that year, I pitched against the Yankees [three times] and beat them each time. I found out later that they fined Mariano in kangaroo court for me beating them with the cutter he taught me.