Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Now it’s “Doc,” with all of Roy Halladay’s perfect moments and personal imperfections … then an ESPN doc

Brandy Halladay reaches for a ball on the mound at the end of a memorial tribute for her husband at the Phillies’ spring training stadium in Clearwater, Fla., on Nov. 14, 2017.

“Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay”

book cover
The author:

Todd Zolecki

The publishing info:
Triumph Books
352 pages
Released May 19

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At Indiebound.org

The review in 90 feet or less

We had this idea back at the MLB trade deadline of 2009, advocating for the Dodgers to shore up their patchwork pitching rotation to do whatever was necessary to grab veteran ace Roy Halladay for the stretch run during a Toronto Blue Jays fire sale.

Even if the cost was swapping out this new young gun named Clayton Kershaw.

“Thanks for all, Kershaw, but Dodgers now need a Halladay” started this way:

Clayton Kershaw, thanks for all the weeks you’ve put in as a member of the Dodgers. We admire your tiresome efforts to get past the sixth inning start after start after start. … But now you have a higher calling. You’ve become our sacrificial left-hander in our quest to make the city of Los Angeles temporarily misremember that the Lakers’ 2009-10 season will start in just three months.

The Toronto Blue Jays have made it known they would like to have you on their roster. We will oblige them – in turn, by taking Harry Leroy “Doc” Halladay III off their payroll. We consider this a win-win situation. We’ll win more games. You’ll win more opportunities to endorse snow tires in eastern Canada.

51bWjJ-PqRL._AC_SY450_In Kershaw, you relent on the chance he’ll develop into an elite hurler.
In Halladay, you get it, guaranteed.

In Kershaw, you dispatch someone who may never adjust to life in the Great White North, unable to avoid another Tim Horton’s doughnut-stuffing break from his flat on the way to the stadium.
In Halladay, you get someone due $5 million for the rest of this season, $15 million more for next season (or a bit less than what the Dodgers are giving to Jason Schmidt for his painful efforts), and the inside track to signing him until he’s finished with some Hall of Fame-worthy numbers.

So, it didn’t happen. No Halladay trade even came about by July 31, even if the Phillies — champions in ’08 and eventual NLCS champs in ’09 — tried.

Good, bad or indifferent to all teams involved?

s-l500That 2009 season would be Halladay’s 13th and final one in Toronto, a franchise dumping salary and going no where. In his age 32 season, he would be nearing 150 career wins and continue to annually lead the AL in complete games, innings pitched and expending energy on a team that couldn’t make the playoffs.

That same year, Kershaw, at age 21, would still be just a .500 pitcher trying to find his way – 13-13 after some 50 starts, a season where he’d also amass a career-high 91 walks in 171 innings, up against 185 strikeouts. His breakout wouldn’t come for two more seasons. The Dodgers’ 2009 season ended up in an NLCS loss to the Phillies, trying to make due with a staff that only got a team-best 12 wins from 24-year-old Chad Billingsley, plus Randy Wolf, Kershaw in the No. 3 hole, Hiroki Kuroda and Jeff Weaver, with help from Vicente Padilla and Eric Stultz.

See how Halladay could have been one to strap them all to his back?

Note: As we read now in this bio,  the Angels actually came closer than the Dodgers to making something happen in July 2009 — Toronto wanted Jered Weaver or Joe Saunders, plus shortstop Erick Aybar and outfield prospect Peter Bourjos. The Angels turned it down — with Aybar as the deal-breaker.

61aeBuJy3oL._AC_SY606_In the 2009 offseason, Halladay ended up getting traded to Philadelphia, for Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor. The Phillies had playoff momentum and wanted to keep it as some key players were leaving.

Halladay’s annual salary jumped to $20 million a year, and the Phillies appear to get their money’s worth — a 21-10 record, a 2.44 ERA, nine complete games, nearly 1,000 batters faced, and a second career Cy Young Award. He threw the spectacular no-hitter against Cincinnati in the NLDS and then did all he could when the Phillies ran into the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS, with Halladay twice going up against Tim Lincecum, losing Game 1, 4-3, but getting the win in a 4-2 Game 5 triumph.

Halladay followed that up with 19 wins in 2011 — a Cy Young runner-up to the now-emerging Kershaw, who took his first trophy.

But that was about all Halladay had left.

He would combine 2012 and ’13 with a 15-13 record and an ERA of about 5.00 in 38 starts. He wanted to pitch through all this pain in his shoulder — taking pain meds that made him lose weight and send up red flags. He wanted to finish the contract he signed up for.

His wife, Brandy, begged him to quit. She explains, starting on page 259:

From GoHorseShow.com: https://gohorseshow.com/2016/10/halladays-unicorn-trainer-prepare-congress/on

“He was so desperate to finish on his terms and to be good and to be liked and to be successful. He was doing everything he could to do his job. It’s not like he was depressed so he was out there looking for a medication to numb the pain so he didn’t have to deal with reality. That was never Roy. He wasn’t that guy.

“He was out there trying to find a way to manage the pain so that he could do his job. He was just trying to do what he had always done and he didn’t know how to do it. And the problem was he couldn’t do it. He wasn’t supposed to be doing it.

“He was embarrassed that he wasn’t doing well. He just wanted to come back, be great, and then be done. He wanted to honor his contract. He didn’t want to take money if he didn’t earn it. What I couldn’t get him to understand was that he was already not honoring his contract by doing the things that he was doing in order to play. I’m like, ‘How do you justify this action because it’s giving you what you think you want? But you’re going to ignore this action because you don’t like the way it feels?’ He didn’t want to hear it.

“All he cared about was what it looked like and what people thought of him. I struggled with that because it was like, well, what about what we think of you?

roywife“We had enough money. We had enough money 10 years before that. We had enough money if he never played baseball a day in his life. We were always going to be fine. My issue with those two years is he shouldn’t have been playing. He should not have been on that field. That’s where I was hurt. That’s what I couldn’t understand. I didn’t understand why baseball was bigger than the man playing it.

“Why is the game more important than the man or family behind it? Everybody else is getting the hero and we’re getting whatever is left over. He would come home at night and he would be in so much pain. He couldn’t go outside and play with our kids. We couldn’t travel anymore because he couldn’t sit on a plane or drive in a car. He’d be uncomfortable if he had to sit in a car for more than 30 minutes. He was in so much pain. But instead of stopping the problem he was trying to Band-Aid the symptoms.”

Eventually, a change in his mechanics to alleviate pain led to a partially torn rotator cuff and frayed labrum from a bone spur, and a trip to L.A. to get surgery from Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

When he grinded out the rest of 2013, his 16-season career total topped off at 203 wins, a 3.38 ERA, a Cy Young in each league, eight All-Star games, three 20-win seasons, a perfect game and a post-season no-hitter, seven times leading the league in complete games and a 65.5 WAR from 2001 to 2011, the best mark in baseball over that period.

He threw 41,141 pitches.


“How many miles did he run?” Zolecki adds on page 270. “How many hours did he work out? How many hours did he spend in the video room and on a plane studying? Nobody knew. A lot.”

One of the assets of having someone like Hall of Fame-bound Halladay on the roster, as the Phillies would find out, is how he could set an example to the rest of the staff because of his work ethic. He was an influencer.

That’s one of the primary focuses of this book from Zolecki, the current Phillies beat writer for MLB.com and formerly with the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 2012 co-wrote “The Rotation: A Season with the Phillies and the Greatest Pitching Staff Ever Assembled” about the team’s 2011 staff that focused on Halladay with Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hammels, plus Joe Blanton.

51SbWmHbvnLWhat else do we remember about Halladay?

Considering he still holds a record that hopefully will never be broken — the all-time worst 10.64 ERA (minimum 50 innings) in 2000. Yes, the highest in baseball history for someone who lasted that long. This is two years after nearly throwing a no-hitter in his first big-league win.

He turned it around in a large part because after once getting sent to the minor leagues, Brandy Halladay ran to a book store and grabbed as many self-help books for him as she could find. One new title was H.A. Dorfman’s “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching.” Halladay says the book spoke to him like no other, and he eventually paid someone to record an audio version so he could listen to it constantly. He met Harvey Dorfman, who would eventually work as an employee of agent Scott Boras (Halladay wasn’t a Boras client) and they connected.

Halladay’s quirks were apparent to Brandy for many years. She said she called him “Captain Overkill” because he did everything to an extreme — with buying bass fishing boats, golf gadgets, chess sets, model planes.

“He had to have all the gizmos and gadgets because then he felt like he was prepared,” said Brandy.

But for all the chapters to there is to fill about Halladay’s life, it now may be his death that defines him.

He died in an amphibious sport plane he owned — he was an avid flyer for years — when it crashed into shallow waters off the coast of Clearwater, Fla., in Nov., 2017.

Zolecki knew enough at the time finishing the book that, in Chapter 22, he could write that “nobody truly knows why Halladay’s plane crashed that afternoon. Everybody has theories and opinions … (he) flew the ICON A5 erratically before it crashed … the medical examiner (said he had) morphine, amphetamine, and zolpidem (Ambien) in his system. He had traces of hydromorphone, a narcotic better known as Dilaudid; fluoxetine, an antidepressant better known as Prozac; and alcohol. Halladay’s medications were prescribed, but the family knows how it looks.”

Because even if traces of all that was in his system, it looks bad.

But it wasn’t until this past April— after this book had gone to press — when the National Transportation and Safety Board finally released its official report, citing a dangerous mix of amphetamine, morphine and other prescription drugs in his system as he was doing acrobatics. Halladay had 10 times the generally recommended level of amphetamine in his system, as well as an antidepressant, a muscle relaxant, a sleep aid and morphine.

For someone with the nickname “Doc” — after the notorious gambler and gunfighter (and dentist) of the 1800s, John Henry “Doc” Holliday, best known for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral — Halladay couldn’t fix himself with meds.

The cause becomes clearer, perhaps, justifying some speculation. But Brandy’s statement, as Zolecki tweeted out, repeats a mantra that will likely carry on as a theme, even for those who look at Halladay’s Hall of Fame plaque that was installed in 2019, and Brandy had to make the public speech that afternoon in Cooperstown.

If Halladay is remembered a player for being “perfect” in almost every way, especially a perfect game, his imperfections became his undoing.

Zolecki does more than 100 interviews with Halladay’s family, teammates and opponents, but the commentary from Brandy Halladay, who had known Roy since their pre-teen days in the suburbs of Denver, provides the strongest narrative.

How it goes in the scorebook

Caught looking.

If we were looking for reasons to judge and even dismiss all of Halladay’s accomplishments because of his character flaws, that’s much more difficult to do after this exercise.

halladay-1100x782Testimonials from teammates such as Chase Utley, who shared an intense workout regime with Halladay,  show much more depth and context in reassessing Halladay’s story.

“Your dad …” Utley started to say during a memorial service for Halladay in 2017 before pausing to catch his emotions “… was the best teammate I ever played with and the most fierce competitor I’ve ever seen. I’m sure all your lives you’ve heard people praise your dad and tell you how proud they were of him. But in the conversations I’ve had with him, he was more proud of what you guys have accomplished than what he ever accomplished on the field. Brandy, Braden and Ryan, thank you for sharing him with us.”

The timing of a documentary

This May 29 marks the 10th-year anniversary of Halladay’s perfect game pitched against Miami, and ESPN plans a documentary called “Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story.” The trailer for ESPN’s documentary features Brandy Halladay, again speaking candidly about him and his troubles.

“He was tormented,” she says. “His body was dependent on these medications just to function. ADD, depression, anxiety, paranoia … Roy had a lot of demons that he was trying to work on all at the same time. …

“Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect. We all struggle, but with hard work, humility and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments.”

Editor’s note

This is the 35th entry in our extended “30 for 30” new baseball book reviews for 2020 — expanding beyond the 30 titles and the 30 days of April, due to pandemic circumstances and the ability to cover more ground for those who need a diversion. The complete list is updated at our TheDrillLA.com site and will continue to add titles as they become available and pertinent.

An excerpt

From MLB.com posted on May 18, which details Halladay’s work ethic and routine between starts, recreating the fourth day of Halladay’s typical five-day routine.

Dueling covers

As a way to publicize the book, Triumph Books has decided to go with two covers – one focusing on his Phillies profile and the one in Canada showcasing his Blue Jays apparel.

More to read

9781629377537Triumph Books has also released as part of its “The Big 50” series a collection of stories about the Philadelphia Phillies, by Scott Lauber ($16.95, 320 pages, paperback, published April 21) that, in addition to heralding the accomplishments of Mike Schmidt, Chase Utley, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and the 1980 World Series team, gives five pages to Halladay in Chapter 26.
Halladay’s death isn’t clearly talked about, only that “he was posthumously inducted” in the Hall of Fame and Ruben Amaro Jr., the then-Phillies’ GM, ties it up with a quote: “It still crushes me that he’s gone. I think about him every day not just because of the impact he had on the Phillies as an organization but also because of the impact he had on me.”

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