‘Imperfect’ reveals the cost of being one of the most dominant pitchers

E60’s latest documentary is a wonderful tribute to one of the best pitchers ever.

Roy Halladay was properly celebrated last Friday night when ESPN E60 debuted its new documentary Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story. A “stoic warrior” and “one of the five-best pitchers all-time” were just a few of the titles given to Halladay during last week’s documentary.

With a compelling look into his childhood and the work ethic he developed at such a young age, E60’s hour-long look into Halladay’s life illustrated the unique qualities professional athletes must possess to reach heights few ever manage. From throwing pitch after pitch in the basement of his childhood home in Denver, to a mid-career transformation that altered the way he processed pitching altogether, Imperfect clearly illustrates just what it took for “Doc” to ultimately evolve into one of the best big league starting pitchers of his era.

However, the writers at E60 also showed us the cost of those remarkable baseball accomplishments, detailing a side of Halladay none of us were aware of throughout his dominant major league career. The perfect game, the National and American League Cy Young awards (one of just five players to ever win the award in both leagues) and the 203 career wins all came at a heavy price for Halladay.

With his wife Brandy sharing the ups and downs of his struggles with depression and addiction, all-in-all Imperfect did more than just reveal the secret life of Halladay, but for a moment it peeled back the curtain and showed us truly just how difficult being a pro athlete really is, especially one like Halladay who constantly strived to be the best.

Even during an era where workloads are perhaps at an all-time low for pitchers, the constant battle, both mentally and physically, is a never-ending job that takes a massive toll on a player’s health. Unfortunately for Halladay, that toll caused him severe pain even while off the mound.

And it wasn’t like Imperfect was there attempting to tell us why for no one really knows the answer to that question. In the first few minutes of the documentary, Brandy talked about wanting to “slow him down” but that “Roy was never content”, at times using toys, cars, and even the rush of flying to fill an empty void. If anything, E60’s program perhaps showed just how much in common we have with Halladay.

Of course, on the other hand, perhaps there aren’t many of us that could truly relate to the two-time Cy Young winner, as Halladay’s place amongst the best of the best was a space occupied by very few within his profession. But like many perfectionists who strive to always be the best, the right-hander’s fear of failure ultimately consumed him.

Halladay was diagnosed with ADD, depression, and anxiety, and as so common in this country, his mental ailments were remedied with a variety of addictive drugs. The lesson from Imperfect not only teaches us about the battles of an acclaimed major league pitcher but also just how scary America’s health system still is to this day.

Watching clips of Halladay’s precision while with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies bring back a familiar feeling for those of us who grew up watching him as a star. And for the unknown portions of Halladay’s life — the parts we didn’t understand then — almost seem to connect seamlessly in Imperfect.

In the end, we knew Halladay was struggling with injuries; and his final two seasons in the majors featured enough shoulder ailments for an average pitcher’s career — though he still managed 38 starts combined from 2012-13 (his age-35 and 36 seasons), despite, according to Brandy, shrinking almost three inches in height due to the compression on his injured back. But now the slurred and dazed interviews make sense. Halladay wasn’t just battling chronic injuries… he was also very sick.

As we expected, Imperfect ended in tragedy. With baseball behind him and his incredible yet painful career completed, Halladay seemed to be in the process of finding new ways to enjoy his post-baseball life. Another hidden stint in rehab, coupled with his time as coach of his son’s high school baseball team, Imperfect provides reason to believe that perhaps Halladay would’ve eventually overcome his struggles, or at least learned to better cope with them.

Regardless, Brandy was right when she concluded her speech at last year’s Hall of Fame ceremony, stating that “imperfect people can still have perfect moments”. And even though it’s a horrible tragedy, it was an absolute pleasure to witness the many perfect moments of Halladay’s.