Phillies

Through the tears, the Halladay family finds joy in Cooperstown honor

Through the tears, the Halladay family finds joy in Cooperstown honor

NEW YORK — It was a beautiful family portrait, a mom with a shining smile flanked by her two handsome teenage sons.

There was a fourth person in this snapshot and though you couldn’t see him, you could feel his powerful presence in the words of the people who loved him most.

“I never saw him as Roy Halladay,” 14-year-old Ryan said. “I just saw him as Dad.”

Of all the touching tributes that poured out about Roy Halladay the day after his first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame, that was the sweetest. Ryan, his 18-year-old brother Braden, and their mom, Brandy, had made the trip from Tampa to New York (on Phillies owner John Middleton’s private plane) early Wednesday morning and now, here they were, in a 20th floor ballroom at a posh Manhattan hotel for the official day-after-election Hall of Fame news conference.

Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez, all elected with Halladay, sat on a dais in front of the room, their elation justified and impossible to hide. The Halladay family, at their choosing, sat quietly among the seated guests. They are still hurting, and always will, after losing their husband and dad at the age of 40 in a plane crash 15 months ago. But, make no mistake, they felt the same elation and pride as the other men on their first day as Hall of Famers.

“To be able to be here and see the appreciation and love that everyone has for Roy and his efforts and hard work, that means the world to us,” Brandy said off to the side of the dais.

She glanced proudly at her two sons. As little boys, they followed their dad around the Phillies clubhouse. On the night Roy pitched his playoff no-hitter at Citizens Bank Park in October 2010, Ryan played in the kids’ room downstairs while Braden sat in the seats with his mom and squirmed nervously while dad put the finishing touches on a masterpiece.

“It’s crazy just to know a person who is a Hall of Famer,” said Braden, blond and lanky, looking so much like his dad. “That’s big in itself. But to have that person as your dad — that’s something that is crazy that I still can’t comprehend.”

Little known fact: The Phillies strongly considered selecting Halladay, a Denver-area high school prospect, in the first round of the 1995 draft. Team officials, however, had concerns about the young pitcher’s delivery, worried that he might not hold up physically, and instead selected outfielder Reggie Taylor with the 14th pick. Other teams had the same concerns. Halladay was picked 17th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Phillies were right to have concerns about young Halladay’s delivery. Oh, he made it to the big leagues quickly and flirted with a no-hitter in his second start. But by the end of his second season in the majors, he was “getting his ass kicked” in the words of then Jays manager Buck Martinez. In the spring of 2001, the Jays sent Halladay, then 23, all the way back to the low minors to see if they could save his career with a complete overhaul of his delivery. 

“He hated me for it,” Martinez recalled recently.

Brandy was with her husband for every difficult step.

“That was a really tough year … or two … or three,” she said Wednesday.

The couple considered giving up the dream and walking away from baseball. Roy thought about going to college.

“We thought we were done,” Brandy said. “The truth is, they didn’t send us back thinking we were going to make it. They sent us back to figure out what they were going to do with us and who they could trade to get for us. Roy fought really, really hard to get back.”

With the help of pitching coach Mel Queen, Halladay went through a complete mechanical remake that season in the minors. He lowered his arm angle to increase movement on his pitches, added a shoulder tuck to increase deception and gained body momentum by straightening his direction from the rubber to home plate. He made it back to the majors — triumphantly — and won 19 games in 2002. He won 22 the next season and earned the American League Cy Young Award in 2003.

Halladay would not have made it back to the majors without the support of his wife, a fiery extrovert who is not one to sit on the sidelines. After her husband was sent to the minors, she went to a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Florida.

“I bought every self-help book I could find,” she said with a laugh. “I still have a stack of them at home.” 

There was gold in that stack of books. Halladay read The Mental ABC’s of Pitching by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman. He didn’t just read it, he lived it. Dorfman became a mentor to Halladay to the point where the pitcher was well on his way to becoming a “performance specialist” at the time of his death. He had even worked with a number of Phillies prospects on the mental aspects of pitching the day before his death.

There was another factor in Halladay’s growth from potential first-round flame out to Hall of Famer.

He had the inner drive of 100 turbo engines.

Where did it come from?

“I don’t want to say fear, but when you’re terrified to lose you’ll do anything you can to succeed,” Brandy said. “And he did not want to lose and so he did every possible thing he could to win. That’s what he did. He worked hard every day.”

Halladay wanted to win so badly that he pushed for a trade to the Phillies in 2009. The Phillies were up in those days. The Jays were rebuilding. In 12 seasons in Toronto, Halladay never pitched in the postseason. Pitchers only have so many bullets in their arms and his clock was ticking. He saw the Phillies as a team that could get him to the postseason. He was traded to the Phillies before the 2010 season and experienced the thrill of the postseason twice with his new club.

Philadelphia was so special to Halladay that his family has made the decision he will go into the Hall of Fame without a team’s logo on his cap. Out of respect for both of his baseball homes, including the one in which he spent just four of his 16 seasons, he will go into the Hall with a blank cap on his bronze plaque (see story).

“It was an amazing opportunity,” Brandy said of her family’s time in Philadelphia. “It’s the most loving, passionate, insane city. It was everything we hoped to have a chance to be a part of.”

Halladay did not win a World Series ring in Philadelphia. But late in his career, as he gained wisdom and perspective, he often talked about the importance of enjoying the journey. He loved his Philadelphia journey, loved pitching in front of those sellout crowds. He laid the foundation for a Hall of Fame career in Toronto and pushed it over the goal line with two postseason berths, a perfect game, a no-hitter and another Cy Young Award in Philadelphia.

Halladay will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 21 in Cooperstown, New York. Those who earn their way there gain a measure of immortality and that is certainly comforting to a family that has been through so much.

“Just to be able to think that people are going to be able to remember him for hundreds or thousands of years after we’re all gone is pretty special,” Braden said.

His mom’s eyes welled with emotion.

“I don’t think time heals wounds,” Brandy Halladay said. “I think time gives you an opportunity to learn how to live with your new circumstances. You don’t ever heal. You don’t ever forget somebody. You don’t ever get over something. You just learn how to deal with it in a new way.

“I’m super choked-up right now but things really are great and I’m grateful and we’re learning and we’re growing and we’re good …

“These are good tears.”

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Didi Gregorius impacts Phillies in more ways than meet the eye

Didi Gregorius impacts Phillies in more ways than meet the eye

The Phillies will host the New York Yankees in a doubleheader today. Zack Wheeler, the Phils' big offseason free-agent acquisition, will start the first game and Aaron Nola will get the ball in the second game.

Dating back to August, the Phillies are winless in Nola's last eight starts. The trend needs to stop today.

Wheeler, so far, has been everything the Phillies could have asked for when they signed him for five years and $118 million. But, of course, he's only made one start — seven innings, one run in the 1-3 Phillies' only win of the season. Many more efforts like that will be needed from Wheeler over the life of his contract.

But this isn't about Nola, who needs to pitch well over these next two months if the Phillies are going to make the 16-team postseason field in this shortened, 60-game season.

And it isn't about Wheeler, the so far, so good right-hander who also needs to continue his good work if the Phils are to have a chance.

This is about the Phils' other free-agent acquisition this winter.

This is about Didi Gregorius.

Now, obviously the sample size is ridiculously small because, well, you know all about the Miami Marlins and how they forced the Phillies into an unwelcome hiatus after just one weekend of play — but through the first four games, hasn't Gregorius been fun to watch?

He's made all the plays, smoothly, some even with a flare, at shortstop.

He's hit in every game.

He's shown pop with two homers. (And the way he turns on anything middle-in, he'll hit a lot more at Citizens Bank Park.)

And, he's played with a smile under the mask he wears to protect himself and others in this time of COVID-19. Gregorius is committed to wearing the mask because he has an underlying health condition.

Having watched Gregorius up close since the start of spring training back in February, we have been captured by his smile, his energy, his effervescence and love of playing the game. These can be infectious qualities of the most beneficial kind on any team and they have shown on the diamond in Gregorius' next-door neighbor, Jean Segura. 

Over the winter, there were questions about how Segura would deal with coming off of shortstop to accommodate Gregorius. Would he feel slighted, pushed aside? Would he pout? These were legitimate concerns because Segura has always been a little high maintenance.

Well, Segura moved over to third base with nary a protest. He put his head down, started working, and has taken to the new position. Having been a shortstop, Segura has the ability to succeed anywhere in the infield if he puts his mind to it. He's the one who has made the transition. But we believe that Gregorius' encouragement and positivity has played a role in Segura's acceptance of the challenge. Gregorius has bonded with Segura, convinced him of his importance and even gotten him to smile a little bit more. All of this might end up making Segura a better player. It has already helped the team solve the matter of how to get Scott Kingery to his best position, second base.

Over the winter, when the Phillies signed Gregorius, we asked a scout about him. We heard all the expected stuff about Gregorius' play on the field, the pop, the throwing arm that was getting better after surgery. But we also heard something that surprised us.

"He was the leader of that Yankees team," the scout said. "Great makeup."

So far in Philadelphia, we're seeing that. We're seeing that with the connection he has made with teammates, particularly his next-door neighbor, Segura.

But these Phils will need more than leadership and strong teammate behavior from Gregorius if they are going to make the postseason. Intangibles can only take you so far.

So what will the Phils need from Gregorius on the field? That's easy. Sound defense, left-side pop, big hits with men on base, get on base, hit for average. Basically, what every other team needs from its top players if it is going to be successful. Gregorius is just two seasons removed from a career-best .829 OPS with the Yankees. An elbow injury derailed that season. He's healthy now. Maybe a season like that — over a shorter track — is in the cards.

If it is, it won't just help the Phillies, it'll help Gregorius, as well. He signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Phillies in the offseason and he'll be right back out there on the market this winter.

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Injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic NL East picture

Injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic NL East picture

A little less than two weeks into the season, injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic picture in the NL East.

Two teams have played 11 games. One team has played seven. One has played four and another has played three.

The only NL East teams who haven't missed any early-season games are the Braves (7-4) and Mets (4-7). The Braves are 2½ games ahead of the Phillies and one game ahead in the loss column. 

The Phillies are in a better early-season position than the Mets just because the Mets have already accrued seven losses. The only two teams in the majors with more are the Pirates and Royals.

Though, which team would you rather be: The team that already has seven losses or the team that has five additional games to make up? It's an advantage for the Mets and Braves that they have less hectic remaining schedules than the rest of the division. The Phillies have 56 games left to play in just 54 days. The Mets and Braves have 49 games left in those same 54 days. 

The Phillies' first series with the Braves is this weekend at home after they finish with the Yankees. Early as it is, that series carries major significance. The Phillies will play 40% of their games against the Braves in this one weekend wraparound series from Friday through Monday. Going 1-3 or 0-4 against the Braves would put the Phillies in a deep hole from which their jam-packed schedule might not allow them to dig out. 

As the Phillies and Marlins have sat, the other three teams in the division have dealt with injuries. The Braves on Monday night lost Mike Soroka, their No. 1 starter. Just hours before his 23rd birthday, Soroka tore his right Achilles and is done for 2020. He is one of their most important players. Soroka was an All-Star last season who finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to Pete Alonso and sixth in NL Cy Young voting. In 37 career starts, he's 15-6 with a 2.86 ERA. With Soroka out, the Braves have Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright and a to-be-determined fifth starter. Not exactly a starting staff you look at and expect to ride to a division crown.

The Mets scratched three infielders on Monday — Jeff McNeil with back tightness, Robinson Cano with a groin strain and Amed Rosario with a quad strain. Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the 2020 MLB season over the weekend.

The Nationals are still without Stephen Strasburg, who has yet to make his season debut. Strasburg was scratched from his first start because of a nerve impingement in his right wrist. He's back to throwing off a mound but is still unlikely to pitch for the Nats until at least the weekend. At minimum, Strasburg will end up missing two turns through the rotation, which in a 60-game season represents one-sixth of the starts.

Reliever Will Harris, whom the Nats signed away from the Astros after beating them in the 2019 World Series, is on the IL with a groin strain. Two other Nats, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames, are dealing with back injuries.

Is it a coincidence to see these sorts of injuries early in the everyday grind of Major League Baseball after so much time off and an unconventional ramp-up period? No, probably not.

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