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Book Review: “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay” perfectly encapsulates the Hall of Famer’s legacy

Todd Zolecki, the author of “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay”, describes the humility, work ethic, and mental health issues of the first-ballot Hall of Famer that passed away in 2017. The two-time Cy Young award winner was arguably the greatest pitcher on the planet from 2001-2011. Thus, it is only fitting that Zolecki begins the story of Roy Halladay at his height of heights: a no-hitter in his first-ever postseason game. 

Zolecki continues to highlight Halladay’s supernatural abilities by transitioning to his baseball career before the Major Leagues. Halladay was the perfect teammate; he led his team to state, was an absolute workhorse on the mound, and at the same time thought of his teammates first before himself. The Colorado native eventually was selected by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 1995 draft. He quickly passed through each minor league level and made his MLB debut in 1998; Halladay had the world in the palm of his hands and nothing appeared to get in his way.

Yet, Halladay never faced adversity. He was a people pleaser that hated to disappoint others and did not know how to bounce back from failure. Despite impressing in his first cup of coffee at the big league level, Halladay’s jump to the majors hit him like a truck. “Doc” always faced pressure growing up. He feared disappointing his caring, yet no-nonsense father who acted as both his mentor and coach, as well as the plethora of scouts, coaches, and teammates who believed he would be a Major League star. However, the pressure at the highest level was too much for young Halladay. 

For the first time, Halladay has an Achilles heel. The team expected him to put the city of Toronto on his back and help them return to postseason baseball. Unfortunately, Halladay was too focused on the results, and since he was not performing well, his confidence wavered. In 2001, the Blue Jays forced Halladay to reset and demoted him to Single-A ball to rebuild his delivery and his mind. Halladay, with all his natural, god-given ability, and a relentless desire to win was filled with embarrassment, shame, and even suicidal thoughts in Single-A ball. He was lost.

Halladay was a selfless man who just wanted to live up to the endless expectations that everyone has for him. The reader pulls for him to get out of his funk; even when Superman encounters kryptonite, he still somehow saves the day. The rollercoaster of events where Halladay goes from his peak to rock bottom in a span of three years draws the reader in with one burning question: how does Halladay return to greatness?

A lowered arm slot and a book called The Mental ABC’s of Pitching by Harvey Dorfman saved Roy Halladay’s career. The new arm slot allowed Halladay to develop insane movement on his fastball, which helped him develop his dependable sinker, cutter combo. Meanwhile, the book taught Halladay to focus not on the results, but just one pitch at a time. Dorfman’s philosophy demanded that Halladay be aggressive in the strike zone and pitch to contact but at the same time miss barrels. This incredible piece of literature convinced Halladay to become the most prepared player in the game. He took endless notes on every batter he faced, developed an unmatched workout routine that he was constantly adding to, and had a fierceness on the mound that was comparable to Randy Johnson. Halladay found a system that worked for him, and thus began a decorated Hall of Fame career.

Even with his rise to stardom, Halladay remained loyal to everyone who helped him along the way. The eight-time All-Star always made room to help his fellow teammates, oftentimes handing out copies of Dorfman’s book, and speaking about the values it taught him. He was incredibly grateful to the organization and even bought watches for every member of the Philadelphia Phillies major league team after his perfect game. Despite all the ongoing pressure, Halladay spent the next decade receiving accolades nearly every season and was an ideal teammate.

Nevertheless, good times don’t last forever. Following the 2011 season, Halladay’s immense workload took a toll on his well-being and led to horrific back problems that knocked him out of the game by 2013. His addiction to painkillers to remove his physical pain towards the end of his playing career eventually led him to rehab. He also struggled with depression and social anxiety. Halladay found himself in another obstacle with seemingly no hope of escaping.

Luckily, rehab, finding the right medication, support from his family, and a new sense of purpose eventually led Halladay to the right track. Halladay was devastated by the loss of Harvey Dorfman, his dear friend, and mentor, but knew he could pass on his teachings. Halladay began working as a mental skills coach for the Phillies towards the end of his life and was a reliable mentor to countless prospects. Halladay was beginning to find peace in his life.

Sadly, Halladay’s redemption ark was cut short as he accidentally crashed his private plane in 2017, which led to his untimely death. He had some of his prescribed medication in his system, but hard drugs were also found in his autopsy report. Halladay was facing his demons before he passed, but he was trying to turn a corner. In a cruel twist of fate, he was never able to fully redeem himself.

The success and tragedy of Roy Halladay remind others to constantly go after their dreams and to cherish the time you have with their loved ones. Halladay modeled his success after healthy habits, a tireless work ethic, and depending on others for help, which are all defining traits that make his story so inspiring. Above all, though numerous interviews, anecdotes, research, and stories, Zolecki preserves the legacy of Roy Halladay; a man with unbelievable talent, but still human. 

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