Roy Halladay's imperfections revealed in book and documentary about his life and death
The 10-year anniversary of the 20th perfect game in major-league history is Friday and the Phillies had planned to celebrate it by retiring Roy Halladay’s No. 34 before their game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
That event, of course, has been postponed because of the pandemic.
You have to wonder if it would have happened at all had Halladay not died while recklessly flying his ICON A5 aircraft near his Florida home on Nov. 7, 2017. Maybe the Phillies would have celebrated the perfect game anniversary without retiring Halladay’s number.
This, however, can be said with certainty: If Halladay, while under the influence of a variety of pain medications, had not crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, a book about his life would not have been released last week and an ESPN documentary would not be airing on the anniversary of his perfect game.
Not engaging in "grief porn:" That’s not to say that either Todd Zolecki’s book — "Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay" — or John Barr’s documentary — "Imperfect" — intended to take advantage of a family tragedy that includes dark secrets about Halladay’s struggle with depression and addiction to pain medication.
“We did not want to engage in grief porn,” said Barr, a Canadian-born naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Wynnewood. “We know it’s a story that deals with drug use and mental health issues, but we wanted it to have a purpose. Brandy [Halladay] wanted it to have a purpose. She 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.”
That alone would make Zolecki’s book and Barr’s documentary worthwhile.
A vulnerable man: It is clear that the pitcher fans watched for a dozen seasons in Toronto and four more in Philadelphia was a lot more vulnerable than the steely-eyed competitor who won a Cy Young Award with each team ever let on in public. And that was part of the problem when it came time to confront his addiction.
“I think what I learned more than anything was how much Roy struggled with things throughout his life,” said Zolecki, a former Phillies beat writer for The Inquirer. “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.”
Zolecki’s book goes into detail about all of Halladay’s life, including the Hall of Fame pitcher’s passion for baseball, hard work and airplanes, driven by a father who shared the same name. Read the book and you can relive Halladay’s remarkable career, including his perfect game and postseason no-hitter against Cincinnati, through the eyes of others. It’s a nice way to remember an incredible pitcher and ultra-intense competitor.
Final text exchange: It’s inevitable, however, that the details about Halladay’s addiction to pain medication and the day he died are going to receive the most attention. Brandy Halladay shares her text-by-text final exchange with her husband in the book.
“Was I surprised? I was and I wasn’t,” Zolecki said. “I think Brandy is an open book in a lot of ways and she did not mind speaking the truth. I think she wanted her version of the events and her family’s version of the events out there.”
The final text exchange begins after Roy declined to join his wife and mother-in-law on a shopping trip. Roy planned to meet Brandy for their younger son Ryan’s school band recital at 1 p.m. that day.
Roy: “I’m so sorry. I feel like you’re upset with me. I should’ve just gone with you.”
Brandy: “I’m not mad at you. I’m just disappointed you couldn’t go with me.”
Roy told Brandy he planned to fly the plane to a nearby airport and drive to Ryan’s school, but then texted her again saying he had changed his plans and was just flying home and would drive to the school.
Brandy: “I love you. Just get here.”
Roy: “I love you too. I’m sorry. I should’ve just gone with you. Another wasted day.”
Those were Halladay’s last words to his wife.
Searing pain of his wife: Zolecki’s book goes into detail about the aftermath of the crash and how it impacted so many of his friends. It’s a captivating read because it’s not just words jumping off the page. It’s Brandy’s searing pain and she does not conceal any of it.
“He struggled a lot with depression,” Brandy told Zolecki. “He struggled a lot with anxiety. Social anxiety. He never felt like he was good enough or funny enough or liked. He was a sad spirit. But I don’t want that to overshadow all the great times.”
In Barr’s documentary, which is produced by Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera, Brandy Halladay’s pain can be seen on screen as she talks about her husband’s addiction to pain medication that started near the end of his playing career with the Phillies as he tried to pitch through severe back issues.
Two drug rehabs: Twice Halladay went to a drug rehab. The first time he left because another patient had sneaked in a phone and he feared the public would find out.
“The fear of people knowing,” Brandy said was Halladay’s biggest obstacle to getting help. Roy was worried about “the media saying Roy Halladay went to rehab. He’s an addict. He was afraid he’d lose his job, embarrass his family and the world would end. Everybody should be able to ask for help and they should not be judged and looked down on for that.”
A wife's strength: The book and the documentary both reveal the strength of Brandy Halladay, which has been on display in a variety of ways during tributes to her husband since his death. In fact, Barr said the title of the documentary comes directly from her Hall of Fame speech.
“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people aren’t perfect,” she said that day in Cooperstown. “We are all imperfect or flawed in one way or another. We all struggle, but with hard work, humility, and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments.”
Roy Halladay had a perfect moment 10 years ago and we now know he had a lot of imperfect ones after that. Accuse him, if you want, of being reckless in that airplane that took his life. Call him an addict if you must. Excuse him for being human just like the rest of us. And if you need help with something, please don’t be afraid to ask for it.