COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – It is supposed to be one of the happiest days of a major-league baseball player’s life, and that will be true again Sunday for five of the six players being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, and Lee Smith will look out from a stage at waves and waves of adoring fans while previous Hall of Fame inductees sit behind them and listen to their personal stories of struggle and glory.
This year, however, there will be some tragic mixed in with the baseball magic this event annually provides. The Roy Halladay story will be told by his wife, Brandy, and the forecast on the expansive field beyond the Clark Sports Center is calling for a 100-percent chance of tears.
Halladay died Nov. 7, 2017 when his ICON A5 aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. He was 40 years old and his death left a void in so many ways, including the one that will unfold here Sunday.
According to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s web site, a total of 108 inductees have gone in posthumously. Perhaps the saddest story of them all was Roberto Clemente’s 1973 induction just eight months after he had died in a plane that crashed on its way to a relief mission following an earthquake in Nicaragua.
“This is Roberto’s last triumph,” Clemente’s wife, Vera, told the Cooperstown crowd on Aug. 6, 1973. “If he were here now, he would dedicate this honor to the people of Puerto Rico, to the people in Pittsburgh, and to the people all over the United States.”
She was too overcome with emotion to speak anymore. Brandy Halladay will face that same challenge Sunday. She has already spoken with remarkable grace and dignity during similar events when Roy Halladay was honored by the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park and the Blue Jays in Toronto, but this figures to be the last of her husband’s individual honors, and it’s the greatest of them all.
A twist was also thrown into the equation a few days ago, when Sports Illustrated published a story about Roy Halladay’s death through the eyes of the pitcher’s father, also named Roy, and his sisters, Merinda and Heather. It was a post-playing career tale of addiction to pain medication, trips to a rehab, depression, and of a man who liked to go fast and live on the edge.
Near the end of the story, the author, Stephanie Apstein, asked the question: Did he take his own life?
Brandy Halladay declined to be interviewed for the story and she also chose not to attend the Hall of Fame news media availability Saturday. Her decision was understandable, but it was also another indication that this was not a business-as-usual event this year.
Halladay’s father offered the perfect answer to the impossible-to-answer suicide question: “I don’t know. I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that I don’t need to know exactly why. I just know that it did happen. And I’m not going to investigate it anymore, because the more you get into it, the more grief you can cause yourself. Now I don’t have to concentrate on those things. I can think about what a cool kid he was.”
Remembering Roy Halladay for who he was is the best way to handle his premature death. His father can remember the cool kid and others can remember him as a cool person despite a driven demeanor that undoubtedly guided his greatness on the mound.
Former Phillies clubhouse manager Frank Coppenbarger believes Doc’s greatest moment on the mound also summed up his substance as a human being. He pitched a perfect game May 29, 2010, against the Florida Marlins and immediately started sending the credit elsewhere.
“All he wanted to do when he got into the clubhouse was talk about Chooch,” Coppenbarger said, referring to catcher Carlos Ruiz. “He kept saying, ‘Chooch is the man.’ ”
A few days later, Halladay met with Coppenbarger.
“He came to me and said he wanted to do something for everybody,” Coppenbarger said. “I said, ‘That’s a general term, what do you mean by everybody?’ He said, ‘Help me, you’ve got a good feel for these kinds of things.’ ”
At Coppenbarger’s suggestion, it was decided that “everybody” would get a watch. Now, they just had to figure out what “everybody” meant. As it turned out, it meant the players, the coaches, the manager, the general manager, the team president, the guys in the video room, the guys on the training staff, and the equipment guys. It meant damn near everybody.
“I kept giving him names and he never said no,” Coppenbarger said. “This was a $4,000 watch. It was beautiful. It had the line score on the back of it and it came in this really beautiful presentation box that said, ‘We did it together. Thanks, Roy Halladay.’ ”
Halladay didn’t want his name on the front of the box. Coppenbarger insisted that it be there.
“He didn’t want any credit,” Coppenbarger said. “I said, ‘This is all about you and I’m speaking for everyone when I say it needs to be on there because some day we’re going to show this to our grandkids.' ”
Coppenbarger said a total of 69 people received a watch. If you do the math, that meant he spent $276,000 just so “everybody” could share in his incredible moment. Hopefully he got a discount.
“It was just so him,” Coppenbarger said.
That was one of many great stories Coppenbarger told about Roy Halladay. Hopefully, Brandy Halladay and her two sons – Braden and Ryan – got to hear that one and a lot more during their special weekend in this magical little town. And hopefully Brandy Halladay has the strength for one more speech she was not supposed to have to make.