Roy Halladay was many things.
One of the most dominant pitchers of his era? Check. A tireless competitor with a work ethic raved about endlessly by his teammates? Yup. A devoted parent to his two sons alongside his wife Brandy? That too. A human being with issues just like so many of us? Sadly, yes.
Despite often seeming like he was perfect on the mound, Halladay wasn’t flawless off the field. It’s come to light since his tragic death in November of 2017 that Halladay battled an addiction to pain medication and had opioids in his system when he crashed his plane into the Gulf of Mexico, killing him at the age of 40. The National Transportation Safety Board has not determined if Halladay was impaired at the time of the crash, but one thing is clear – he was competing against something far more dangerous than any hitter he’d faced during his 16-year career.
Premiering tonight on TSN is the ESPN E:60 Special Imperfect – The Roy Halladay Story. Watch it at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on TSN1/3/4, TSN.ca, the TSN App and on TSN Direct.
Baseball fans in Canada know all about Halladay the pitcher. Nicknamed ‘Doc’ after the Wild West gunslinging character Doc Holliday, he made his debut as a 21-year-old with the Toronto Blue Jays in September of 1998. In just his second start, Halladay came within one out of a no-hitter and followed that up with an impressive first full season in 1999. But the wheels came off in 2000.
In 19 games, Halladay pitched to an ERA of 10.64 – still the highest of any pitcher with at least 50 innings in a season to this day. The following spring, Halladay was demoted to Class A ball. His future as not only a Blue Jay, but as a professional baseball player, was in serious doubt.
As pitchers often have to, Halladay made adjustments. With the help of pitching coach Mel Queen, he changed his arm slot, his attitude and sought help from sports psychology. The results were astounding.
"There aren’t many pitchers that could do what he did," Queen told the Toronto Star. "But Doc was able to do it because of the special type of individual he is."
He climbed back through the minors and returned to the big club that year, posting an impressive ERA of 3.16 over 16 starts. In 2002 he led the American League in innings and won the Cy Young Award the season after in 2003. Not only was Halladay back, he was among the best in baseball.
Things stayed that way until December of 2009 when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. On May 29, 2010 – 10 years ago to the day – Halladay pitched a perfect game against the Florida Marlins as part of his second Cy Young-winning season. Months later, he no-hit the Cincinnati Reds in his postseason debut to join Don Larsen as the only pitcher to throw a playoff no-hitter.
"If he was pitching against the Phillies today they probably would have done the same thing we did," Reds infielder Brandon Phillips said of Halladay’s performance.
The season after he led the National League with eight complete games and pitched to a career-best ERA of 2.35. Doc was practically untouchable, until he wasn’t.
Halladay struggled with injuries in 2012 that limited him to just 25 starts and his highest ERA (4.49) in over a decade. His injuries lingered and his numbers were even worse the year after, causing him to call it a career the following December. Brandy Halladay later revealed to ESPN that her husband needed to take pain killers just to pitch and developed a dependence that persisted and landed him in inpatient rehabilitation on two occasions.
Few knew this side of the two-time Cy Young winner, but Brandy hinted at something deeper while delivering her husband’s posthumous Hall of Fame induction speech last summer.
"Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect. We're all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle but with hard work, humility, and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments," she said.
That’s where the E:60 special and a book released last week written by Todd Zolecki titled Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay come in. Not to put his life under a microscope for our own entertainment, but to hopefully assist others going through similar things. Both the book and the E:60 production involved heavy perspective from Brandy Halladay.
"[Brandy] wanted people to know that you shouldn’t suffer in silence and she hopes that putting Roy’s struggles in the open will break down barriers in order for others to get help," ESPN’s John Barr told the Philadelphia Inquirer of his documentary.
Among those also interviewed in the one-hour program are long-time New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, former Phillies teammate Kyle Kendrick, law enforcement officers from Pasco Country and several other members of Halladay’s family including his son Braden, who just completed his freshman season pitching for Penn State.
Zolecki, a former Phillies beat writer for the Inquirer whose book was released last week, told his former paper he found Roy Halladay the pitcher and Roy Halladay the man to be two very different people.
"I think we all had this image of a guy who is like a robot; someone who was impenetrable and that nothing could affect him. But he was human just like we are," he said.
In the lead up to Imperfect – the Roy Halladay Story TSN Blue Jays Reporter Scott Mitchell has provided comprehensive coverage of Halladay’s Toronto years, including a career timeline and how he put his career back together after almost having it entirely fall apart.