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Photo Credit: ESPN

Remembering Roy Halladay the man, not the machine

During his 16-year career, Roy Halladay posted inhuman numbers as a starting pitcher. Need proof? Go to his Baseball Reference page and marvel at all the columns in bold and italics. Those are categories where he led the league or the majors.

By all accounts, Halladay approached the game of baseball with a Terminator-like demeanour. He was cold, calculated and never one to show emotion. He was only interested in completing the mission. Every five days, that mission was to finish the ball game.

He wasn’t a man … he was a machine.

Despite that lasting image most fans have of Halladay — the straight-faced competitor devoid of emotion — we don’t know the man. We only know the baseball player who took the mound every five days. The ones who know Halladay the best, like his family and dear friends, understand that Halladay was a regular person.

Brandy Halladay gave us a glimpse into that little-known side of her husband during her Hall of Fame acceptance speech on Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown. She painted the picture of a down-to-earth Doc; one that fans didn’t know.

“I think 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.”

It’s hard to believe that a baseball specimen such as Halladay struggled in life, but he did. Stephanie Apstein’s article in Sports Illustrated chronicled Halladay’s struggles with substances and depression. It’s difficult to read, and it’s a heartbreaking revelation about Halladay, but it’s an important read.

It’s important to know that even one of the best players of his era, one who seemed to have it all put together, had mental health issues. Brandy said something else very poignant in Shi Davidi’s piece on Sportsnet:

“It’s also hard to be judged by the mage people expect of you. It’s a perception and an idea and I think it’s important that we don’t sensationalize or idealize what a baseball player is, but really look at the man and the human that’s doing such an amazing thing.”

I’m guilty of it as anybody else; building up Halladay as a baseball deity. Holding him to a high standard as a human being because he embodied near-perfection at the plate. At home, away from the ballpark, it was a different story.

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What Brandy said rings true; it’s important that we don’t sensationalize the definition of a baseball player. They aren’t perfect and shouldn’t be held to a higher standard. Because they make millions of dollars and their occupation is under the scrutiny of the public eye, somehow, people feel like they “know” professional athletes. Because we watch these athletes every day, we may feel like we’re entitled to be included in every aspect of their lives.

Brandy also said: “I think Roy would rather be remembered by who was, not what he did on the ball field.” Halladay was a very private person. Since he showed very little emotion and didn’t open up very much in the public eye, all that bystanders knew about Halladay was his professional baseball career. It’s important to remember that what he did on the mound was only one small fraction of the man he was.

Baseball is the first thing that most fans know about Halladay, but to the people close to him, it might be the third or the fourth item down the list of his life’s treasured accomplishments. Father, son, brother, a coach, an avid fisherman and someone who sought freedom by taking to the skies … these are the people that Halladay was.

Professional baseball players are everyday people whose occupation allows millions of people to track, measure, and quantify every aspect of their daily lives. Some might say that professional athletes know what they’re getting themselves into, but for even the most level-headed athlete, it’s a pressure cooker environment.

People look at the accolades, the money and the fame professional athletes receive and to the everyday citizen, all those things seem like a blessing. Those distinctions can also be a curse. The weight of expectations not only from family and friends, but from thousands of people you’ve never met.

They’re all expecting you to be perfect. Surely, Halladay not only demanded perfection from himself, but so did droves of onlookers. The relentless pursuit of perfection is enough to drive someone to exhaustion, and the burden of those expectations must be crippling.

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We thought we knew who Roy Halladay was. Despite all those years of watching him weave his magic on the mound, it’s becoming clearer that we don’t have insight into the mind of Harry LeRoy Halladay III. What if that’s how he wanted it? That was his entitlement, and that’s every professional athlete’s entitlement.

Today, the tools are there for public figures to allow access to their lives like never. Some athletes read like an open book. Other times, they put up walls for protection, privacy and their peace of mind.

As Brandy said, “imperfect people have perfect moments”. Halladay was a flawed human being, but the combination of his natural talent and tireless work ethic allowed him to experience many perfect moments.

Despite the facade of some people “having it all figured out”, most people don’t. And that’s okay. It’s okay to have flaws. It’s okay to have weaknesses. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to be unsure about life’s path. That’s what makes us human.

The lasting memory of Halladay shouldn’t be as the best pitcher of his generation. It should be of a regular man who was a loving husband, raised a family, worked tirelessly, helped others and as a minor footnote … he kicked ass on the mound.

That’s the man we should all remember.