Sports This Week - Book looks inside life of Jays great

If you are a baseball fan in general, and a Toronto Blue Jays fan in particular, then you probably watched Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay with a certain level of reverence and awe.

When Halladay was on his game there was simply no better pitcher.

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Halladay made his major league debut with the Jays in 1998, nearly pitching a no-hitter in his second career start, which immediately made him a hero for the team, creating expectations were in the short term beyond his ability to deliver.

Halladay struggled, was demoted to the minors, and for a time had fans wondering if he was a flash in the pan.

But, the man who became known simply as ‘Doc’ found his game, and in 2002, Halladay began establishing himself as an elite starting pitcher, earning his first All-Star selection.

The following year, he won the American League Cy Young Award and led the AL in complete games, something he accomplished five times in seven seasons, through 2009.

Then, to the chagrin of Jays fans Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2010 season. It was a move he sought as he wanted to compete for a World Series and Toronto was not investing enough money at the time to build a contender.

In his first season in Philly Halladay pitched the 20th perfect game and second postseason no-hitter in major league history, led the majors in shutouts for the second consecutive year, and won the National League Cy Young Award.

Simply put Halladay was something special.

But it did not come easy for the tall, lanky, right-hander who still stands in the top three or four pitchers to ever toss for TO.

The man had his struggles to overcome on the field, and perhaps bigger ones he dealt with off the field.

That is the man Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay a recently released book by author Todd Zolecki takes an intimate look at.

Sports biographies can often be drier that five-minute toast, reliant on a barge-load of stats and game reports. Thankfully Zolecki avoids that pitfall. Of course there are stats and Halladay’s biggest games are given their due, but this is a book that looks inside the pitcher more than it does at the outside results.

It is simply put, a great read, and a must for Jays’ fans.

A teaser for the book noted Halladay “was born and raised to be a superstar.”

There is no doubt his father saw greatness in his son, and he pushed hard to bring out the best in him as a baseball player. The book leaves a sense while Halladay loved baseball, in his youth it might have been a bit all-consuming. It might have been the first step into a life that the book left me as a reader was always in the shadow of sadness.

He was a first-round draft pick in 1995, and after nearly throwing a no-hitter in his second big-league start in 1998, Halladay suffered arguably the worst season by any pitcher in baseball history. He was months away from being out of the game.

More sadness, some regret, and a feeling he had let many down, but Halladay found his game. “He altered his pitching mechanics and rewired his brain to become one of the greatest pitchers of all time,” note the teaser.

The Life of Roy Halladay tells the story; based on more than 100 interviews with Halladay’s family, friends, managers, coaches, teammates, and competitors, including extensive interviews with his wife, Brandy; comprehensive archival research; and previously unpublished commentary from Halladay himself.

It’s a book about baseball, about dealing with depression, about failure and about great success, all coming together in a fascinating book.

It read like Zolecki and Halladay had been close prior to the pitcher’s untimely death when the airplane he was piloting crashed in 2017.

“I had a reporter’s relationship with him,” said the book’s author in a recent telephone interview. He added that it was hard to get to know the pitcher closely. “Roy was so into preparation,” he noted, so there was not a lot of chatting about the game.

But, Zolecki said he respected the player.

“It always really impressed me with how dedicated he was as a player,” he said.

Zolecki said while Halladay is seen as being good, maybe he was better than we tend to think.

“There’s no doubt about it in a weird way he was almost kind of underrated in how good he was,” he said, adding modern statistics suggest “Roy probably should have won two or three more Cy Young’s,” adding as a Jay he did what he did “in the toughest division in baseball.

“He is recognized but also a little underappreciated too.”

So was Halladay a man shadowed by sadness?

“I think so,” offered Zolecki. “He always felt a lot of pressure to make people happy ... I think that was a real burden for him.”

It is something the book leaves the reader feeling, from Halladay’s own words, and from those around him. He was always pushing himself to win.

“He (Halladay) felt bad letting people down,” said Zolecki, whether losing a game, or having to contemplate retirement over injuries. It was regret to the point where Halladay apologized to fans about retiring, something the author said players just don’t normally do.

Ultimately, Halladay dealt with depression. Zolecki said not many realized at the time “how much he sort of struggled with his mental health throughout his life.” It was a case of feeling the pressure to succeed every day, and if he didn’t Halladay “didn’t feel good” about himself, and no one “understood the seriousness of it.”

Through the struggles Halladay probably didn’t appreciate “how much of an impact he made on people in a positive way,” said Zolecki.

The mental health struggles are a huge part of the book, and one Zolecki said he hopes by telling it, will help others.

“Everybody has struggles. Roy was no different,” said the author.

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