COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Follow Brandy Halladay’s lead and power through the tears, the grief and all those conflicting emotions to celebrate the joy, the impact and all that Harry Leroy Halladay III left behind.
He’s in the Hall of Fame now, a posthumous induction for the man known as Roy and more frequently called Doc, his on-field accomplishments immortalized on a plaque that fittingly begins its description of him with the words “top-of-the-rotation workhorse.”
That he wasn’t at the Clark Sports Center’s rolling grounds Sunday, under a searing sun burning through partly cloudy skies, hurts. That won’t ever go away. Listening to fellow class of 2019 members Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Lee Smith, Harold Baines and Mike Mussina recount memories from their days on the field only reinforced his absence.
“This,” Brandy said poignantly early on, “is not my speech to give.”
Still, neither baseball nor life stops moving, and as she walked up to the dais to speak on her late husband’s behalf, wiping the emotion from her eyes, the 53 previous inductees on stage behind her stood and applauded, as if picking her up and willing her forward.
“I was not as prepared as I thought I would be. That caught me off guard,” she conceded afterwards. “I don’t mind speaking in public. Emotion in public is difficult. When something hits you and you get that little wobble, it’s hard to let go. Knowing I had friends behind me, some new friends, some old friends, they made it so much easier for me. … I worried I would be out of place. They made sure I was welcomed and supported.”
Over the course of a seven-minute speech, she showed the type of poise that was a Halladay staple on the mound. She shared her family’s gratitude for all the love they’ve received, praised the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies for working as one to celebrate a pitcher iconic for both franchises and even revealed some of the humanity beneath the armour.
“I think that Roy would want people to know that people aren’t perfect,” she told a crowd estimated at 55,000. “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. Roy was blessed in his life and in his career to have some perfect moments, but I believe they were only possible because of the man he strived to be, the teammate that he was and the people he was so blessed to be on the field with.”
Certainly, Halladay’s journey from first-rounder made good to A-ball rebuild project to dominant pitcher of his era qualifies on that front, but 20 months after his personal aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico near New Port Richey, Fla., killing him at age 40, questions linger.
Asked what message she meant to convey with her comment during a post-induction discussion with media afterwards, she said she wanted to make a point that Halladay was “a very normal person with a very exceptionally amazing job.”
“These men who are up here doing these outstanding things, they’re still real people, they still have feelings, they still have families, they still struggle,” she continued.
“So many of the guys I’ve known in my life through baseball, they work so hard to hide that. I know Roy did, and Roy struggled, a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to present the image that you know everybody wants to see. It’s also hard to be judged by the image 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.
“That’s all I meant to say there, real people doing really great things.”
Without a doubt that suits Halladay, and as much as Sunday was bittersweet, it was also a reminder of how much of him still remains to fete.
Brandy spent months thinking about what she wanted to say, ideas coming to her while in the shower or in the car. Translating that message into specific words was a challenge, especially when her goal was in trying to say things that Halladay might have wanted to say if he had the chance.
“He was a very private person, often quiet and introverted, but he was also very generous and caring,” she said. “He was a great coach, a nervous husband and father, only because he so desperately wanted to be as great and successful at home as he was in baseball.”
Their two sons, Braden and Ryan, sat in the front row as their mom spoke, and Braden later joined Brandy for the post-induction media session. Their time in Cooperstown offered him a window into his father he hadn’t previously known, saying “most of the stuff I saw was more his personality, just him being stupid.”
Braden, a pitcher bound for Penn State after being symbolically selected in the 32nd round of the draft by the Blue Jays last month, relished picking the brains of the Hall of Famers he met.
He called that an “absolutely surreal experience” that his dad would have enjoyed, too.
Braden also heard stories about his father’s early mornings and drive to improve.
“…It’s a different side I get to see. I got a lot of stories about work ethic and things like that,” he said.
As for Brandy, Braden said he wasn’t worried about her as she delivered the speech, even when the first emotional tugs moistened her eyes, set off by a tribute video featuring Chris Carpenter.
“My mom, she’s a rock, she gets through everything,” said Braden, “so I didn’t have to even think twice if she’d be nervous or anything like that.”
She was far from that, instead striking the right balance between the celebratory tone typical of induction speeches and sombreness.
Her speech was engaging, happy, sad, revelatory and strong, even on the touchy subject of the family’s decision to have no logo on the hat on Halladay’s plaque.
“Both teams quickly reached out to us, telling us how proud they were of that decision, validating the choice we knew in our hearts was right, was in fact, the correct one,” she said.
“We know without a doubt had Roy been here with us today, this is the decision he would have made, and more than anything would want both organizations to know that they hold a huge place in our hearts and always will.”
The same holds true for fans of Halladay, who first belonged to the Blue Jays, then belonged to the Phillies and now with his place in the Hall, belongs to all of baseball. Courageously, Brandy reminded everyone of that, of the mortality of the immortal, and of how greatness should be celebrated, even amid sorrow.