“Perfect, I hate that word perfect,” said Brandy Halladay, the wife of the late Roy Halladay III during the intro to ESPN’s E60 documentary, Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story. Given the nickname “Doc” Halladay after the notorious gunslinger from the western film Tombstone, Roy embodied what it meant to be a surgeon on the mound. Leading the majors from 2002-2011 in wins, complete games, and shutouts, Halladay was considered one of the best pitchers in baseball during his career. “He was the epitome of what a perfect pitcher should look like,” said 14-time All-Star Alex Rodriguez.
In 2010, Halladay completed one of the best seasons of pitching that baseball has ever seen. Playing against the Marlins, Doc threw the twentieth ever perfect game in major league history. Later that same season, in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Reds, he threw the second ever post-season no hitter. Doc finished with a 2.44 ERA and took home his second Cy Young Award. Halladay is one of six pitchers in league history to win the award in both the American and National Leagues, one of five pitchers to throw multiple no-hitters in the same season, and the only pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter in both the regular and postseason. But as much as the word “perfect” became synonymous with the name Roy Halladay, his imperfections proved to be his downfall.
The ESPN documentary highlights more than just the rise and sustained success of an elite pitcher. The story also sheds light on a different side of the man we knew as Roy Halladay, as we learn of his struggle with drug addiction and multiple visits to rehabilitation facilities.
When it came to baseball, Doc left it all out on the mound. “He was terrified not to put everything he had into baseball,” said his wife Brandy. Whether it was the offseason or the middle of July, Halladay was always working on his craft to stay at the top of his game. Though towards the end of his career Roy started to experience a number of injuries that would take a toll on his body, he would never let them interfere with his duty to dominate opposing batters. Playing through injuries has its consequences. For Roy, those consequences became increasingly detrimental to not only his career but also his well-being. After failed attempts to ease the pain of injury through physical therapy, Doc turned to prescription drugs to help him get through games. “He was trying to do anything he could to get on the mound and pitch effectively,” added Todd Zolecki, author of Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay.
Eventually, even his teammates felt as if they weren’t talking to the same Roy Halladay. During his career, he was unwilling to seek proper counseling that could have helped his addiction and potentially prolonged his time on the mound. “He was continuing to hurt himself and the more he would hurt himself, the more dependent he would be on medication,” said Brandy. The documentary also mentioned that compression of his back caused him to lose three inches of height. After a couple of his teammates reported some of Roy’s issues to someone inside the Phillies organization, Halladay checked himself into rehab in 2013 while still a member of the team. But within three weeks he left the facility in fear of word getting out. After talks with his family and acknowledging the toll his body was taking, Halladay signed a one-day contract with the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of 2013 so that he could retire as a member of the team that drafted him.
“He didn’t know how to self-evaluate without baseball,” said Brandy. As his baseball career ended, his drug use escalated to the point where his weight fluctuated drastically, reaching over 300 pounds at one point and falling close to 200 pounds at another. In January 2015, he checked himself back into rehab for three months and started seeing a psychiatrist. Roy was diagnosed with ADD, depression, and anxiety and prescribed a variety of medications.
In search of a new vice to distract himself from his struggles, Roy followed in his father’s footsteps and took up flying. He earned his piloting license in 2013 and bought two planes within the next two years. His sister Heather mentioned how free he felt when he was in the air because there was nothing else to worry about. His father, Harry Halladay Jr., said that Roy was a mechanically sound pilot who was always attempting to get better and obtain new ratings.
Roy also became the assistant baseball coach at Calvary High School where his son pitched. In 2017, the team had a perfect record and won the state championship. “I was there for his surreal moments, so for him to be there for mine it was awesome,” said his son Braden. Roy was able to find joy within the sport he loved and share that with his son. “He was so proud of those boys; he was able to celebrate with them like he never celebrated himself,” Brandy added.
Meanwhile, his love for flying continued. With Roy in the air once or twice a week, his wife was supportive but always thought it was not safe especially with his history of drug use.
In 2017, Halladay completed training for and acquired a two-seat, single engine amphibious plane, the Icon A5. “Oh my gosh he was so excited, he couldn’t control himself,” Brandy remembers. Growing up loving the aerobatic naval aviation squad, the Blue Angels, Roy had an affinity for performing tricks in airplanes and this particular plane fed that interest. “My concern was after he got the airplane, he started talking about how sporty it was and what a sports car it was, and I said now be careful,” his father Harry said.
On November 7, 2017, Roy took his Icon A5 out of his backyard into the air to return it to the airport and then planned on meeting his wife at his son’s band concert. “I think he decided to go fly to clear his head,” said Brandy. At 12:04 PM that day, Halladay’s Icon A5 crashed into less than five feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico. Roy died on impact.
The crash left Roy’s family with questions. Why did Roy end up flying a different direction than he had originally planned? What happened in the airplane? Was it a mechanical failure or did he want to crash? Roy said flying his Icon was similar to flying a fighter jet. A single engine airplane is certainly not the same as a fighter jet, but Roy’s comment suggested that he was a daredevil in the sky. The danger of flying under bridges and close to boats most likely made him feel alive. Perhaps Roy, who was described by his wife as an adrenaline junkie, found in performing tricks a similar feeling to that of excelling on the mound.
Investigations found no mechanical failures during the flight and the toxicology report showed that Halladay had a “combination of psychoactive medications in his system when he crashed.” Roy likely did not mention the use of these drugs when renewing his piloting license six months prior to the crash. According to his wife, Roy seemed “a little down” the morning of the crash, but did not seem impaired. “I know in my heart it was an accident,” she said. Though the public may yearn for the truth behind the accident, his son Braden doesn’t think the “why” matters. “I don’t think I need to be caught up in why it happened, honestly there’s no benefit of me knowing,” said Braden.
The documentary highlights that many people suffer in silence. Had Roy asked for help, he may still be coaching baseball. “I hope that somebody hears our story and says wow, I’m going to ask for help,” said Brandy.
Roy “Doc” Halladay III was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2019 and his wife gave a speech that she felt was not hers to give. “I think Roy would rather be remembered by who he was, and not what he did on the baseball field,” Brandy said.
In her closing remarks, Brandy added, “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 can still have perfect moments.”