On the 10th anniversary of Roy Halladay’s perfect game, ESPN released the E:60 special “Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story.” It told the story of Halladay’s personal struggles with pain and drug addiction in the last couple of years of his career and into retirement. The film was a compelling yet painful look at the end of the legendary pitcher’s life.
If you haven’t watched it, it is highly recommended that do you so before reading this piece as it contains spoilers. If you did watch and enjoy it, you should read Todd Zolecki’s recently released biography on Halladay entitled “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay.” The book provides the context needed for a deeper understanding of Halladay and his life.
With that, here are four things we learned from John Barr’s incredible documentary:
Halladay Was Addicted To Prescription Drugs As A Member Of The Phillies
In Barr’s article on Halladay’s struggles with pain and addiction, Halladay’s wife Brandy said she saw signs of her husband’s “personality of dependence” before they had wed. She frequently found empty tobacco tins around the house. His teammates gave him the nickname “Minibar” in the minors because he was known to drink heavily in his room during road trips. He curtailed his habit years later.
But Doc suffered from anxiety throughout his career. He began taking sedatives while in Toronto.
“Roy was nervous before every game,” Brandy said. “He would get nauseous and throw up before every game. He would take sleeping pills the night before he pitched because he couldn’t sleep. The anxiety of pitching the next day was so overwhelming for him. He needed the help.”
Things took a turn for the worst in 2011. Halladay felt his back pop during Game 5 of the NLDS. When he came home, he collapsed to the ground after sneezing. The pain continued throughout the offseason. He tried everything he could and eventually, he turned to opioids during Spring Training 2012. One of Doc’s teammates recommended a doctor in Florida who would sell him the pills without a prescription. As he continued to play through injury, the pain persisted.
“He was continuing to hurt himself, Brandy said. “And the more he’d hurt himself, the more dependent he would be on medication.”
Kyle Kendrick Alerted Phillies Higher-Ups Of Halladay’s Drug Use
During the 2013 season, Halladay’s close friend Kyle Kendrick sensed something was wrong.
“Something wasn’t right with him,” Kendrick said. “The way he was acting. You could just see something was wrong.
“In his locker, I was right next to him, and I tried to talk to him. You felt like he wasn’t there.”Embed from Getty Images
Clips of Halladay’s postgame scrums from the season were shown. His speech was slower and his eyes seemed empty.
“As a friend, I felt like I should say something. Felt like he might need help.”
Kendrick and an unnamed teammate alerted a Phillies employee. The anonymous teammate confronted Halladay about his drug use but nothing changed. After the 2013 season, Halladay checked into a West Palm Beach rehabilitation center. Within three weeks of his treatment, somebody snuck a cell phone into the facility and recognized him. Out of fear of the world finding out about his addiction, Halladay left the facility before receiving adequate treatment. He entered rehab for a second time in 2015, with treatment lasting three months. Brandy was asked about the barriers that stood in the way of Halladay getting help.
“The fear of people knowing….of that public scrutiny of the media going ‘Roy Halladay went to rehab. He’s an addict.’ Everybody should be able to ask for help and they should not be judged and looked down on for that.”
Halladay Found His Calling In Coaching
During his 2013 press conference announcing his retirement, Halladay placed a Blue Jays and Phillies cap in front of him. He also laid out the caps of the two teams his sons Braden and Ryan played for.
“When he started coaching the kids, he got so much satisfaction from helping and teaching,” Brandy said. “I think he realized how truly fulfilling that was.”
This was not included in the documentary but it’s worth noting Halladay’s coaching philosophies. According to Zolecki’s book, Doc advised parents to “…Teach their children to love the game first. If they loved the game, they will excel at it.”
“He didn’t want a kid to feel scared,” Brandy told Zolecki. “He didn’t want a kid to feel yelled at from the stands, to be nervous. He told the parents, ‘Listen, I’m the coach, if you want to talk to me, you can talk to me, but do not yell at your kid on the field.’ It was really important to him to make a positive impact on youth sports. We’re raising citizens, not athletes.”
Halladay made both players and their parents sign a contract agreeing to a policy of mutual respect. If either party were to break the pact or refused to agree, they were not allowed to play.
As the assistant coach at Calvary Christian High School, he got the opportunity to help coach his son Braden and his teammates to a 30-0 undefeated season and a state championship. Brandy believed Halladay was able to celebrate with his team in a way he was never able to do so in his major league career.
“I think he had more passion than half of our team, to be honest with you,” former Calvary Christian catcher Mat Nelson said.
Halladay also found a passion for coaching at the professional level. He accepted a job as a mental skills coach with the Phillies in 2017. He was passionate about developing relationships with young players. Despite not receiving any formal training, fellow Phillies mental skills coach Geoff Miller thought “…his instincts and insights were on a very high level. He had these natural gifts of insight and empathy and humility that I think would have made him a big star in this field.”
One of the saddest things about Halladay’s death is that months before, it seemed like it was all coming together for him after initially feeling lost following his retirement.
“I think he had finally gotten to the point with a little bit of realization that being normal was OK,” Brandy said.
Brandy Hopes Halladay’s Story Will Inspire Others To Get Help
At the end of the film, Brandy was asked what she would like Halladay’s legacy to be.
“I wanna make sure that people understand that he was just a man. Perfect? I hate that word perfect. I just want him to be Roy. Roy was a pretty great guy and I hope that somebody hears our story and says ‘Wow, I’m going to ask for help.’ If one person asked for help who was scared to before, then we did a good thing.”
Many wondered why Brandy would speak out about the death of her husband. Many questioned if a film like this or any conversations surrounding his personal struggles disrespected his legacy and ability to rest peacefully. Everyone is entitled to how they feel about the situation, but it’s clear that if his story can help one person in need, then it is worth sharing as opposed to keeping private.
In reality, Halladay’s story could have a far greater impact than Brandy could ever fathom. Tyler Skaggs’ tragic death due to overdose reminded us all of the prevalence of opioid usage and substance abuse in professional baseball. There are players sitting at home right now who are suffering in silence just as Halladay did. It’s likely that a good majority of those players idolized Doc growing up. If they encounter the story and internalize the fact that they share similar struggles with one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game, then taking the next step towards getting help could seem less intimidating.
Since Halladay was a part of some of the most beloved Phillies teams in history, fans still talk about and remember Doc as if he was a close family member. Phillies fans mourned his death as if he was family. Hopefully, fans are listening today as if Doc was family. It’s naive to think that a singular story could sway someone completely away from their deeply held beliefs about drug addiction, but at the very least, people can recognize that even the strongest among us are vulnerable. It could do wonders in helping each other empathize with those around us who are currently suffering.
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