“When you’re in a video game, and you’re building a pitcher in a video game, all of his qualities – mental toughness, determination – he is the prototypical guy you’d build for me. Listen, his arm was great and he had good stuff, but there was much more to it for him to have that amount of success.”
That is a quote from one of the greatest and most popular players in Philadelphia Phillies history, second baseman Chase Utley, regarding his 2010-13 teammate, Roy Halladay. The quote is taken from this year’s biography on the great right-hander written by Todd Zolecki.
Zolecki, the Phillies beat writer for MLB.com who has covered the ball club since 2003, takes the time in this excellent profile of Halladay’s life and career to visit each of those qualities described by Utley: mental toughness, determination, natural ability.
The ability was indeed natural for Halladay. The God-given talent to throw thunderbolts with his right arm. But to finally and fully tap into his abilities would require a journey filled with ups and downs. Zolecki sketches out that journey in a fantastic, easy to read and enjoy book written in the same straightforward style that can be found in his everyday articles on the team.
Zolecki was Pennsylvania’s Sportswriter of the Year in 2008 when Utley and the Phillies captured the second-ever World Series championship in franchise history. It was the pursuit of his own elusive first world title that brought ‘Doc’ to Philadelphia, a pursuit that would ultimately prove futile.
Doc’s introduction to Harvey Dorfman, the personal performance guru who would turn around his career, came thanks to a fortuitous, fateful trip to a book store by his wife, Brandy Halladay, and her happening upon and picking up Dorfman’s book “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching”. Over the last decade-and-a-half of Doc’s life, no one had more influence over the future Hall of Famer’s success than Brandy and Harvey.
Zolecki explores both relationships in depth. These were the two people who always held Roy accountable in life and baseball, and you could not tell his story without telling theirs as well.
Dorfman, as quoted by Zolecki, on his experiences meeting with big-leaguers: “For some of these guys, this is the first time they have had to admit they were not the world’s greatest expert on themselves. This is their first recognition of their own humanity. They’ve been coddled their whole lives, worshipped in every setting, told they were exceptional, and all along, they were deficit.”
Brandy, quoted by Zolecki, on Roy’s early-career struggles: “He needed to learn how to fail. He had always been a big fish in a little pond, then he was a big fish in a little bigger pond. But he finally was just a fish. He wasn’t the big fish anymore. He was just a guy trying to figure out what the heck he was doing. So when he got to that point, he had never been taught how to fail. He had never been taught how to handle adversity. He was scared of it. He was terrified to fail.”
Zolecki’s book begins with a night at the ballpark, a night when I was there, along with my wife. It was October 6, 2010. That would become, along with Game Two of the 1980 World Series, one of the two greatest baseball games that I ever personally attended. It was the night that Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in the playoffs.
Halladay was riding his stationary bike, eyes glued to a television. He was trying to get into “the zone” before taking the mound in less than an hour.
Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino walked directly past Halladay, who remained entranced. “Any human being, when somebody walks by them that close to them, they will give some kind of look. It’s like I wasn’t even in the room.”
The book opens with that night of triumph. It closes with the final controversial moments in the life of the great hurler. Zolecki quotes Brandy on their final morning together, how she learned of the tragic plane crash that forever separated her from her husband, and her thoughts as to what might have happened.
In between are all of the highs and lows of a great baseball career filled with Cy Young Awards, All-Star Game and postseason appearances, a big trade, and a Perfect Game. But also, Zolecki covers the pitcher’s relationships with his father, ‘Big Roy’, sons Braden and Ryan, best friend and fellow big-league pitcher Chris Carpenter. And, of course, Brandy. Their meeting, courtship, and marriage.
The book is 321 pages split into 21 chapters filled with intimate, personal stories that provide fans with an inside look at the life of an admired and beloved superstar, but one who was also very much misunderstood. It is also packed with quotes from every player you could want to hear from whose life and career intersected with Roy’s.
This is one that should be high on the reading list of every fan. And sure, particularly Phillies and Blue Jays fans. It is an outstanding baseball book, and I know there are many fans of the game who are always, like me, on the lookout for another one of those.
However, this is also a human story that would hit home for anyone. It is timely in exploring the issue of opioid addiction and its effects on families and careers. And haven’t we all experienced that internal struggle against our own shortcomings and personal demons? Trying to find a way to become the best that we can be, both to ourselves and to others?
I couldn’t recommend Todd Zolecki‘s book “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay” any more enthusiastically. There is an old saying used in motion picture advertisements from a bygone era: “You will laugh! You will cry!” Well, you will experience those emotions and more in reading this outstanding biography of the late, great Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay.
NOTE: I had the pleasure of joining “Phillies Talk” podcast host Rich Baxter in doing an interview with Todd immediately following the release of the book back in the spring. You can listen to that interview here: ‘Phillies Talk interview of Todd Zolecki‘