Roy Halladay. Hall of Famer. Fierce competitor. Thrill seeker. Father. Husband.
I remember where I was when I heard that Halladay had passed away. I was sitting on campus at The University of Tampa, having just finished my morning’s classes. With a Chick-Fil-A sandwich in hand, I was enjoying a quiet lunch in the middle of a busy campus. Then my phone rang with the news.
Not even 30 miles away from me, in the Gulf of Mexico off of Clearwater, Roy Halladay’s plane crashed.
Halladay died doing one of the only activities he loved (close to) as much as baseball: flying. And while many reports since his passing have painted a terrible picture of the events of that day, we are not here today to smear a legend’s reputation but rather to honor the life of an imperfect man.
Hall of Famer
If you’re reading this article, chances are you already know just how good Roy Halladay was over the course of his career. If not, here’s a table with the basics.
|Team (Years)||CG (SHO)||ERA||WHIP||SO|
|Toronto (12)||49 (15)||3.43||1.198||1495|
|Philadelphia (4)||18 (5)||3.25||1.119||622|
A two-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star, Halladay spent most of his career in Toronto before having his best career years in Philadelphia. On May 29th, 2010, Halladay threw the 20th perfect game in Major League Baseball history against the Florida Marlins. A 1-0 victory for the Phillies (classic Phillies run support), Halladay struck out 11 batters on the day.
And that would not even be his most memorable performance of the season. In Game One of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, Halladay pitched the second no-hitter in postseason history. His only blemish on the day came in the form of a walk to future-Phil Jay Bruce in the fifth inning.
That 2010 season would go down as the best of Halladay’s career. It was, however, in the middle of a stretch of six consecutive years where Halladay was voted fifth or higher in Cy Young voting, with four top-three finishes.
Not every player can handle a demotion to the minors after they get their feet wet with a big-league ballclub. In spring training of 2001, Halladay was not only demoted to the minor leagues but he was demoted to Single-A baseball. Halladay took the demotion head-on and completely reinvented himself with the legendary Harvey Dorfman.
The new Halladay made a resurgence with the Blue Jays later that season and did not look back. Part of what made Halladay such an amazing starting pitcher was the preparation he put into his craft. He kept notes on every single batter he would face, detailing how he would approach each of them.
FB- cutt deep up in quick down in on plate, sink in edge must be in for freeze. Sink away down and expand will chase off, he’s good sink away up on plate. Back door cutt edge ok.
CB- cb very good early and often. Back door down middle down bounce and back foot big bounce.
CH- ch very good work down all across will wrist flip up middle and awayHalladay’s notes as appears in Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay by Todd Zolecki
The above notes are on Braves slugger Freddie Freeman ahead of a game in July of 2011, Freeman’s rookie season.
It was not only in the film room that Halladay defeated his opponents. His work ethic was like none other. At the start of spring training in 2010, Chase Utley would arrive to the ballpark early in the morning, like his habit. Utley would always be the first in on any given day. As Utley walked in on the first day, however, he found Halladay drenched in sweat. He had already completed his morning workout.
Whether it was studying film longer than anyone else, working out earlier than anyone else, or starting his offseason throwing regimen before anyone else, Halladay had a competitive drive that few could dream to match.
The Moment When Things Changed
When Roy Halladay faced off against Chris Carpenter in Game Five of the 2011 NLDS, everything changed. Carpenter, then the ace of the Cardinals, was a close friend of Halladay. The two worked their way through the minors together and would be together constantly over the offseason. In the second inning, Halladay felt a hard pop in his lower back. While he would throw eight innings allowing only one run, Halladay knew something bad had happened.
What he had felt in his back that night was a sign of a pars fracture in his back, which caused eroded discs in his spine to begin to collapse on each other. The condition would actually cause Halladay to lose a few inches in height over the next few years.
“That game,” Brandy [Halladay] said, “that’s literally when our whole world changed. That was it. That was the start of the end.”Interview with Brandy Halladay from Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay by Todd Zolecki
Ever the warrior, Halladay resolved to fight through the injury going into 2012. Using prescription opioids to hide the pain, Halladay suffered silently while still competing. The opioids allowed him to still compete for the next two seasons.
Until he physically could not.
After the 2013 season, Halladay retired, signing a one-day contract with the Blue Jays. While Halladay would no longer need the prescription opioids he had used to compete, he formed an addiction that he would battle for the rest of his life.
Retirement was not easy for Halladay. He battled not only his back condition but his opioid addiction and depression as well. According to his wife, Halladay struggled with depression and social anxiety.
Eventually, Halladay found a calling to help teach the next generation of ballplayers, including his sons Braden and Ryan. He took an assistant coach job at Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater and made frequent appearances at the Phillies’ and Blue Jays’ training facilities in Clearwater and Dunedin.
Halladay’s second passion was flying. He loved being in the air and had owned several aircraft over the course of his life. In October of 2017, Halladay purchased the ICON A5, an amphibious aircraft capable of landing and taking off in the water.
Flying was therapeutic to Halladay, giving him the opportunity to clear his thoughts and get away for a few hours. While he was in the air, Halladay would allegedly try more advanced maneuvers akin to that of a fighter craft. That thrill-seeking attitude combined with his reliance on prescription opioids appears to have been the cause of his crash on November 7th.
Father and Husband
Halladay and his wife, Brandy, had first met when they were kids attending the same church in Arvada, Colorado. They would later meet again and start dating, getting married in November of 1998.
They would later have two children together: Braden and Ryan. While Halladay devoted most of his life to playing baseball, he spent a lot of time with his boys, especially after retirement. Calling himself a “stay-at-home dad,” Halladay helped coach his son’s baseball teams, ensuring that they took something positive and something constructive out of every game.
“He was a great coach, a nervous husband and father only because he desperately wanted to be as great and successful at home as he was in baseball.”Interview with Brandy Halladay from Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay by Todd Zolecki
When Halladay began his tenure as an assistant coach at Calvary, Braden was a student-athlete there, playing baseball. On the day that Halladay passed away, he was to meet Brandy at Ryan’s school to watch his band recital.
In 2019, Braden was drafted in the 32nd round of the MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Braden, who had committed to attending college at Penn State, declined.
Today, Braden is entering his third year at the collegiate level and is transferring to Tallahassee Community College.
An Imperfect Man
While Halladay had tasted perfection on the mound over the course of his career, he was far from a perfect person. And that is something to be celebrated.
When Halladay was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019, Brandy spoke on his behalf:
“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect. We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle, but with hard work, humility, and dedication, imperfect people still can have perfect moments.”
As the Phillies are set to honor Halladay today in the final game of Alumni Weekend, we remember Roy Halladay. When Halladay’s number is retired today, it will be in honor not just of the Hall of Fame baseball player, but in honor of the imperfect man, the husband, and the father he was as well.
Photo Credit: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire