NEW YORK — Astros manager AJ Hinch has heard the chatter — that Rays starter Tyler Glasnow was offering a sneak peek on his off-speed deliveries, that Houston had a poker-worthy tell on Yankees hard throwers James Paxton and Luis Severino.
All that pitch-tipping paranoia?
“I think it’s kind of funny,” Hinch said.
A year after suspicions on sign stealing made headlines when a man associated with the Astros was caught pointing a cellphone into opposing dugouts, Houston is giving pitchers pause again, perhaps with nothing more than the naked eye.
There’s no rule against noticing a tipped pitch, and Hinch stated plainly during this AL Championship Series who is at fault if Houston knows what’s coming.
“If they don’t want to tip their pitches,” Hinch said, “then they should take consideration into doing the same thing over and over again.”
Batter’s box espionage can take two forms — pitch tipping or sign stealing. The first is totally legal, just a matter of good scouting. Hitters might get an idea from the angle of the pitcher’s glove or the wiggle of his wrist.
On sign stealing, legality can get blurrier. A runner on second base has a clear view of the catcher’s signals, and there’s no rule against taking a peek and discretely relaying that info to the batter — although the opposing battery might still take issue. That’s a practice as old as Cracker Jacks.
Smart devices and other fresh tech have opened another frontier for potential pilferers. Even before alarms were sounded in Cleveland and Boston last fall about the Astros’ man with a phone, paranoia about cameras, Apple Watches and other devices has made intricate signaling a full-time practice.
Major League Baseball has instituted rules to crack down on digital spying, especially because MLB said “a number of clubs” called commissioner Rob Manfred to express concerns about video equipment being used to steal signs last season.
Although teams surely remain suspicious about the Astros and sign stealing, Houston’s ability to recognize discrepancies in a pitcher’s delivery has caused concern this month.
After getting tagged by Houston in the decisive fifth game of the AL Division Series last week, Glasnow noticed on video he was broadcasting his breaking stuff.
“It was pretty obvious as far as the tips go,” he said.
More suspicions were raised in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series, when the Astros jumped on Paxton. Television cameras caught Alex Bregman saying “glove” to Houston’s dugout after drawing a walk, a moment many interpreted as Bregman sharing a tell on Paxton’s delivery.
Bregman has denied using such info this postseason and expressed annoyance Tuesday at social media sleuths searching for hints of it. But Yankees fans have good reason to be suspicious. Paxton was informed by former New York player Carlos Beltran after a start in April that Houston almost certainly knew what was coming.
Another former Yankees star is sure Severino was tipping in Game 3, when he threw 36 pitches in a rocky first inning of a 4-1 defeat.
“If you look at Astros’ hitters body language, this screams tipping,” Alex Rodriguez, who is now a broadcaster with ESPN, tweeted.
To recap Severino’s first inning:
18 secondary pitches
11 swings on fastballs
5 swings on off-speed pitches, no misses
No chases on off-speed pitches.
If you look at Astros’ hitters body language, this screams tipping.
— Alex Rodriguez (@AROD) October 15, 2019
It may be that Houston is noticing a wayward glove waggle in the moment, but cameras can also help _ and legally, too.
The Yankees are cautious even about what TV cameras might see in the dugout — after homering off Astros ace Justin Verlander in Game 2, slugger Aaron Judge walked up and down the bench whispering to teammates, using his batting helmet as a face shield. Whatever he knew, he didn’t want Houston — or the public — finding out.
Judge’s covert message didn’t hinder Verlander, who pitched two-run ball for 6 2/3 innings.
Hinch wouldn’t find Judge to be out of line if it did. He believes hunting for pitch tells is basic recon work in today’s game. Does a guy turn his glove grabbing at a change? Tend to throw fastballs in 2-0 counts?
All of it, fair game.
“It shouldn’t overshadow the quality of play or the players or what’s going on on the field,” Hinch said. “The paranoia is real, though. And it’s real across 30 teams.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Fantasy Insights – Just how high is the ceiling for Brewers 2B Keston Hiura?
Spring is here and Eric Karabell misses baseball, so he is going to write about all 30 MLB teams, covering myriad player values and his general thoughts for what he hopes will ultimately be a fruitful 2020 season.
Next up, the Milwaukee Brewers!
Top fantasy storyline: Outfielder Christian Yelich, in his two seasons in Wisconsin, has hit 80 home runs, stolen 52 bases, won a pair of batting titles and very nearly earned a second NL MVP award. In other words, he has been awesome and become a worthy pick for the No. 1 fantasy option. Long gone were his years in Miami, when we eagerly awaited the breakout. He broke out, and then some.
What’s new: More than half of the
Former Braves catcher Biff Pocoroba dies at 66
Former Atlanta Braves catcher Biff Pocoroba, an All-Star selection in 1978, has died at the age of 66, the team announced Wednesday.
No cause of death has been announced.
Pocoroba joined the Braves in 1975 and played all 10 of his major league seasons with the team, hitting 21 home runs with 172 RBIs and a .257 batting average over his career.
In addition to handling the pitching staff, Pocoroba was successful at nabbing runners on the basepaths — catching 34% of attempted basestealers in both 1976 (16 of 47) and 1977 (52 of 155) and 23% in 1978 (25 of 107).
Former teammate Dale Murphy remembered Pocoroba’s defensive prowess on Twitter.
Very sad to hear that the @Braves family lost another key member of our early 80s team. Poco once threw out 11 straight base-stealers in spring training. With shoulder problems he became our go-to LH bat off the bench. #rippoco pic.twitter.com/hgJzmTu7Zj
— Dale Murphy (@DaleMurphy3) May 27, 2020
Rest In Peace, Biff Pocoroba. pic.twitter.com/dwSP3mB1dp
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 27, 2020
Pocoroba was hampered by shoulder problems later in his career, retiring after the 1984 season in which he played only four games.
Inside Roy Halladay’s struggle with pain, addiction
STEVE TRAX WAS in his office in Reston, Virginia, not far from Dulles International Airport when the phone rang. It was mid-October 2013, around 11 a.m. The caller was Brandy Halladay, and she sounded distraught.
“He needs help. He knows it. I know it,” Trax remembers Brandy telling him.
He was Roy Halladay.
Trax, 54, had been the financial adviser to the Halladays since 2000 but by then had grown into far more than that. He’d become a confidant, a trusted friend. On that fall morning, Trax says, he knew his most accomplished client, arguably the most dominant major league pitcher of his era, was struggling with a “demon that had a stronghold on him.”
Roy Halladay was addicted to painkillers.
He’d become dependent on the prescription pain medication he’d been taking to pitch through back and shoulder injuries.
Trax left his office within minutes and went home to pack a bag while his assistant booked a plane ticket. By late afternoon, he was sitting at the kitchen table inside the Halladays’ Odessa, Florida, home, just north of Tampa.
“We talked through it, and it was unanimous,” Trax says, recalling the decision the trio made that day for Roy to seek inpatient treatment for drug addiction at a facility in West Palm Beach.
Brandy dropped off the couple’s two boys at her best friend’s house.
Halladay was quiet on the drive across Florida. “It was painful for him. He was a proud guy. He had a lot to be proud of,” Trax says.
After dropping off Halladay, Trax drove Brandy home that same morning. She went to her son’s baseball tournament and tried her best to act as though nothing had happened.
“I remember sitting in front of the tournament just crying my face off, trying to figure out how I can sit there and be a baseball mom, and not let people see what was really going on. How do you function?” Brandy says. “It was so isolating. … That’s when I realized, we’re really not OK.”
By 2013, Roy Halladay was 36 years old and winding down a Hall of Fame career. He’d pitched a perfect game and the second no-hitter in postseason history and was known in baseball circles as a stoic workhorse. But few knew about his private battle with addiction, depression and anxiety in the years leading up to his fatal Nov. 7, 2017, plane crash.
Over eight months, ESPN’s E:60 conducted exclusive interviews with Halladay’s family, friends, teammates and coaches. What emerges is a more complete picture of a man whose last years were gripped by physical pain, depression and an addiction to prescription drugs that included two periods of inpatient rehabilitation — one while he was still on the Philadelphia Phillies‘ roster. When his plane crashed, Halladay was flying recklessly and he had amphetamines, morphine and an antidepressant in his system, among other medications.
For Brandy, reliving her husband’s tragic last years has been painful but, by her own admission, necessary as she strives to contextualize her late husband’s drug use and struggles with mental health. She wants people to know: There was more to her husband and what haunted him. “I don’t want his end story to be: Roy Halladay’s a drug addict who crashed his plane,” she says.
HARRY LEROY HALLADAY III, or “Little Roy,” as he came to be known, was the middle child of Linda Halladay, a homemaker, and Harry Leroy Halladay II, or “Big Roy,” a corporate pilot. Big Roy remembers letting his son handle the aircraft controls as a toddler and making an entry into a logbook he started for Little Roy when he was just 2 years old.
Big Roy also introduced his son to baseball, coaching him in T-ball and Little League. The family home in Arvada, Colorado, just outside of Denver, had a basement nearly 70 feet long, large enough for a batting cage and pitcher’s mound. Little Roy, who’d become known for his unparalleled work ethic, forged those habits in three-to-four-hour-a-day workouts in that basement, hurling balls through a tire hung from the ceiling into a mattress for a backstop.
“Stick to the task until it sticks to you, for beginners are many and finishers are few,” his father says he would tell his son.
Big Roy held him accountable in myriad ways. He would draw a chalk mark on a stack of weights or place a hat on a piece of exercise equipment to ensure his son was doing his workouts when he wasn’t home to supervise them. To this day, there’s division within the family on the subject of whether Little Roy was driven too hard, too young.
“The way I saw it, I felt like Roy was pushed,” says his younger sister, Heather, adding, “Maybe he wouldn’t have tried so hard if he wasn’t pushed, or maybe he would’ve pushed himself. There’s no telling there.”
His father insists he didn’t push Roy. “At times, I had to be firm, but I think he had a lot of latitude in his life,” he says. “I didn’t have to be too strict with him.”
Brandy and Roy met when Roy was 12. Both raised as Latter-day Saints, their families went to the same church. She became friends with Roy’s oldest sister. Roy was the annoying kid brother whose life soon revolved around baseball.
When he was a junior at Arvada West High School, Roy led his team to the 1994 state championship. As a senior, he posted a 10-1 record with a 0.55 ERA, giving up only five earned runs all season. Shortly after graduation, he sprouted to 6-foot-6.
On June 1, 1995, a gangly Roy Halladay, then 18, smiled through his braces in the family kitchen when he was drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round of the MLB draft with the 17th overall pick.
BRANDY FIRST SAW signs of what she describes as her husband’s “personality of dependence” before the couple married in November 1998.
It started with chewing tobacco, a habit she says she hated. She’d find the partially empty tobacco tins everywhere — in toolboxes, under plants in the living room, in food boxes in the refrigerator.
Halladay, then in his early 20s, would frequently disappear, alone, into a room in the home he purchased outside of Denver to work on model airplanes or watch TV. It struck Brandy as odd that Roy would lock the door. She recalls one day finding a stack of empty Crown Royal whiskey bags inside the room.
When she confronted him, Roy explained it away, she says, by saying he relished his time alone, unwinding with a few drinks, adding he’d always had a controlled life growing up in a Mormon home and was enjoying his newfound freedom.
HALLADAY’S MAJOR LEAGUE career began with a bang. In 1998, in just his second start with the Blue Jays, he came within one out of a no-hitter.
But by 2000, the Blue Jays’ first-round pick looked like a bust. Hitters were teeing off on his fastball, in large part because of the over-the-top delivery he’d learned as a young pitcher, which allowed them to pick up the ball early in his release. His 10.64 ERA during that year remains the highest for any MLB pitcher with at least 50 innings in a season. The next spring, the Blue Jays sent Halladay down to Class A ball — essentially one rung removed from being completely out of professional baseball.
“Personally and mentally, it crushed ‘Doc,'” Chris Carpenter, Halladay’s former Blue Jays teammate, recalls.
Brandy says the team had sent Halladay to counseling to help him cope with failure, and because of his heavy alcohol use. A teammate had expressed concern about how much Halladay was drinking on road trips. Because of his habit of drinking in his room, teammates had nicknamed him “Minibar.”
Brandy remembers Roy sitting on the edge of the bed in the couple’s third-floor apartment in Dunedin, Florida, with tears in his eyes as he told her, “I would jump out the window, but with my luck I’d only break my leg and still have to go to the field tomorrow.”
By then, Roy and Brandy had their first son, 6-month-old Braden. They spoke of buying a home in Florida because Halladay was too ashamed to show his face in Colorado, she says.
That night, Brandy drove to the bookstore and bought Roy a book she now credits with saving his career and their marriage. The now-well-worn copy of “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, has few highlights or handwritten notes from the pitcher, but one passage is marked with a single pen stroke in the column:
“Pitchers must have a clue,” it reads. “One must know something is breaking if he is to keep it from shattering.”
Halladay curtailed his drinking, Brandy says. During his stint in the minors, he retooled his delivery, lowering his arm slot, which added devastating movement to his fastball. More importantly, he changed his mental approach to the game.
Carpenter, who reached the majors a year before Halladay, remembers him as the “tall, skinny kid” who walked into the Blue Jays’ clubhouse during spring training and appeared “introverted and shy.”
The two eventually became close friends, talking about their baseball dreams as they fished together, sometimes until 2 a.m. on the lake behind the condo they rented at spring training.
Carpenter was struck by the transformation he witnessed after Halladay’s season in the minors.
“I remember him coming back up,” Carpenter says. “He walked in like he belonged. I remember people on the team commenting on it behind the scenes and being like, ‘Damn, man! This guy’s a completely different dude.'”
From 2002 to 2011, Halladay led all pitchers in wins (170), complete games (63 during that stretch, 30 more than the next-closest, CC Sabathia) and shutouts (18).
But there was an undercurrent to that decade of dominance. While Halladay projected confidence to the world, he privately struggled in a way known only to those in his tight inner circle.
WHILE IN TORONTO, Halladay started using a sedative to help him sleep, particularly on nights before his scheduled starts, Brandy says. “He would get nauseous and throw up before every game,” she says.
Halladay was hardly the first professional athlete to deal with game-day nerves, but Brandy says it wasn’t simply the demands of professional baseball. Halladay had a lifelong fear, dating to his childhood, of disappointing others, she says, and dealt with deeply rooted social anxiety. Never comfortable in the spotlight, he dreaded the media interviews and public appearances that were part of the job.
Those pressures intensified in December 2009, when Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, a team coming off back-to-back World Series appearances. The deal was worth $60 million over three years with a vesting option for a fourth season.
Halladay’s 2010 season with the Phillies was historic. Beyond the perfect game he threw against the Marlins on May 29, 2010, and the no-hitter he threw against the Reds in the playoffs that October, there was another start in San Francisco during the 2010 postseason that further earned the respect of his pitching coach, Rich Dubee.
The Phillies were facing elimination in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Giants. When Halladay returned to the dugout after giving up a run in the first inning, he didn’t sit in his customary spot, where he’d placed his water bottle and towel. Dubee sensed something was wrong, searched for his starter and found him in the tunnel in obvious pain.
“I pulled my groin,” Halladay told him.
“OK, wait one second, I’ve got to get somebody going,” Dubee replied, meaning he needed to get a relief pitcher warming up in the bullpen.
“No, you’re not,” Halladay told him. “I’m going back out there.”
Unable to adequately push off the pitching rubber, Halladay proceeded to throw “the gutsiest six innings you could imagine,” Dubee says. The Phillies won 4-2 and extended the series.
To this day, every day, Dubee wears the Baume & Mercier watch that Halladay gifted to teammates, coaches, clubhouse staffers and front-office personnel after his perfect game 10 years ago.
“We did it together,” the engraving reads on the back of each watch.
“He had somebody put them in our lockers because he didn’t want the attention,” Dubee says. “It represents a human being, not only a baseball player but a human being I had the greatest admiration for. This guy was what you’d want your son to be.”
THE BEGINNING OF the end of Halladay’s professional career came during another postseason performance the next year. In a decisive Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals, Halladay was replaced in the eighth inning for a pinch hitter, after giving up six hits and only one run, and having thrown 126 pitches. He was outdueled on that night by Carpenter, who pitched a shutout.
What fans and television viewers didn’t see that night in Philadelphia was that Halladay was again competing through pain. Early in that game, Brandy says, in either the first or second inning, Halladay said he felt a pop in his back.
“When he came home, he was just in so much pain, and I remember watching him get up out of bed and … he sneezed. He fell onto the ground and was sitting on all fours, and he was in so much pain, he couldn’t get back up and he laid there for probably 10 to 15 minutes,” Brandy says.
As Brandy watched her husband grow more and more limited physically, his pain led to tension at home. She says she pushed him to walk away from baseball.
“He couldn’t stop playing. In his mind, he had to keep playing no matter what he was doing to himself physically,” Brandy says, fighting through tears as she searches for the right words, “I just wanted my husband. I wanted him healthy.”
BRANDY SAYS ROY told her he first started using prescription opioids during spring training in 2012 to mask pain so he could continue to pitch. On May 29 of that year, two years to the day after he’d thrown a perfect game, he was put on the disabled list because of a latissimus dorsi strain.
According to Brandy and Steve Trax, a person in the clubhouse — a teammate, Brandy says — referred Halladay to a doctor in Florida. That doctor, they say, sold Halladay pills for cash.
“Given the level of pain he was under, [opioids] allowed him to get on the field and compete,” Trax says. “And listen, I don’t fault Roy for that, given how I know him and his makeup and his focus and his desire to not fail.”
Brandy says she had no idea her husband was taking the drugs until the 2012-13 offseason. During that winter, she says, he was sick with flu-like symptoms, shaking and sweating in bed. When Brandy confronted him about needing to see a doctor, she says, he broke down and, through tears, told her he’d become dependent on the painkillers he’d been taking for months just to play. He was experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
“That’s when he realized, ‘Holy s—. This is really a problem,'” Brandy says. “I was so terrified for him. He was terrified. … He literally laid in bed for two and a half weeks, three weeks, and self-detoxed at home, which is so dangerous. But he just laid in bed, and told everybody he had the flu.”
Over the months that followed, according to Brandy, Halladay’s insistence on competing through injuries made him “less and less functional,” she says; he had difficulty getting into a car or out of bed.
“I said, ‘The more you do this, the more you’re taking away from us as a family. The things that we’ve wanted to do our entire marriage, our entire life, we’re not going to be able to do with you because you’re going to be in a wheelchair if you don’t stop.'”
IN EARLY MAY 2013, in Halladay’s final major league season, he was once again put on the disabled list because of a shoulder injury and, later that month, had surgery to remove a bone spur and fix damage to his labrum and rotator cuff. One of the most dependable starters in baseball was breaking down.
“I remember telling him, ‘If this is truly what you want to do, you’re doing it without us. I’m not going to watch you do this anymore,'” Brandy says.
Halladay rejoined the team in late August and willed himself to a 2-1 record with three no-decisions over his final six games. The Phillies finished fourth in the National League East. Halladay’s 6.82 ERA in 2013 remains the second-highest ERA for a Hall of Fame pitcher with at least 50 innings, second only to his 10.64 ERA in 2000. Teammates recognized a change in his demeanor. He appeared glassy-eyed, would sweat easily, even in moderate temperatures, and at times, his speech was slow and labored.
Fellow Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick grew increasingly concerned about the transformation he saw in his friend and teammate. Kendrick idolized Halladay. The two pitchers trained together, and their families socialized away from the ballpark. Teammates jokingly called Kendrick “Little Roy” for his attachment to the club’s ace.
“He’d be in his locker and I was right next to him, and I tried to talk to him. You felt like he wasn’t there,” Kendrick recalls. “You could tell that he was hurting and he was trying to feel better. It was just terrible to see.” Kendrick says he and a teammate approached someone who worked for the Phillies.
Dubee, the Phillies’ former pitching coach, says he saw Halladay “glassy-eyed a couple times” and became aware of Kendrick’s concerns.
“I did have one of our players, a player he respected greatly, confront him about it, and then it kind of … went away,” Dubee says. Dubee and Kendrick declined to identify the teammate who approached Halladay about his drug use.
Brandy saw a different Roy away from the field. For her, that 2013 season proved to be a breaking point. It was clear to her that the drugs he had taken just to keep pitching still had control of him. That’s when she contacted Trax in October 2013 so Halladay could be admitted to inpatient drug therapy for the first time.
But less than three weeks into treatment, Halladay panicked when someone sneaked a cellphone into the facility, Brandy says. He left early out of fear he’d be revealed publicly for going to drug treatment, returning home after detoxing but not fully treated for his addiction.
On Dec. 9, 2013, just weeks removed from treatment and with his family in attendance, Halladay retired from professional baseball. During his retirement news conference he acknowledged his shoulder problems were related to two pars fractures — stress fractures in his lower back and an eroded disc in his spine. Halladay pitched in 2012 and 2013 with a broken back, and in altering his delivery to compensate, he injured his shoulder as a result.
“Speaking with doctors, they feel like at this point, if I can step away and take some of that high-level pressure off of it, it will hopefully allow me to do some regular things and help out with the kids’ teams,” Halladay told reporters that day.
TRAX REMEMBERS THE time he took another phone call from Florida. This time the caller was Halladay, who was trying to adjust to his new life as a retired baseball player.
“Man, how the f— do you do this?” Trax remembers Halladay asking him.
“What are you talking about?” Trax asked.
“Man, normal life is really hard,” Halladay replied.
Faced with a life without professional baseball for the first time in 18 years, absent the routine and natural rhythm of the season, Halladay was rudderless. The former player, known for his fanatical workout habits, ballooned to 300 pounds.
Searching for a purpose, Halladay rediscovered his love of flying. It had never completely left him. He’d grown up around it and pranked players in the clubhouse for years with his mini drones. He continued to fly his private planes toward the end of his career, even though doing so meant violating his major league contract.
Mindful of her husband’s history of drug abuse, Brandy had reservations about Roy’s passion for flying. “I just felt that it wasn’t safe,” she says. “I didn’t feel that mentally he was in a place that he should be flying. He was trying to figure out how to manage the pain.”
She balanced her concerns, she says, with a recognition that Halladay needed something to look forward to, so she acquiesced and chose to support his hobby.
Halladay had owned a number of planes through the years, all of which he purchased with his father’s guidance — a four-seat Cessna 182 and, later, in late 2014, a much larger single-engine Cessna Caravan.
Halladay’s father, an experienced pilot with nearly 25,000 hours, would later tell National Transportation Safety Board investigators that Halladay had excellent stick and rudder controls and that he exhibited good decision-making and judgment. But Big Roy also told the NTSB there were times after his son became a certified pilot that he “observed him making decisions that he considered risky,” like the times he flew a single-engine Cessna Caravan over water on long flights, something a more experienced and cautious pilot would avoid.
Big Roy said he tried to explain to his son “that there is very little risk tolerance in aviation.”
BILL DAVIS, A captain with the Pasco County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Department, met Halladay in 2011 at a function for the Christian community school their kids attended. The two quickly bonded over the fact that both had jobs that included ample amounts of stress.
Davis remembers the fishing trips Halladay attended with him and other members of the sheriff’s department. In that setting, Halladay was just like them — the dad who showed up late, frazzled and decked out in flip-flops, carrying a cooler of beer and apologizing because he had to drop his sons off at school. Brandy and Roy made charitable contributions to the department, including a dog for the K-9 unit nicknamed “Doc.”
On several occasions, over glasses of bourbon and cigars, Davis and Halladay would talk about the pressures of marriage, parenting and, in Halladay’s case, a life lived in the spotlight.
He knew his friend was hurting.
“I could see the visible signs. There were days when I knew he was having to take pain medication because one of the adverse effects was the sweating. He profusely sweat.”
It was shortly after New Year’s Day 2015 when Halladay entered inpatient drug treatment for a second time for his ongoing addiction to opioids, according to medical records obtained by federal aviation authorities. By then, his sons, Braden and Ryan, 14 and 10 at the time, were old enough to understand their father needed help.
“They sat us down and told us, this is the deal,” Braden recalls of the conversation with his parents. “Honestly, there was a little bit of relief.”
Big Roy knew something wasn’t right when he hadn’t heard from his son in more than three weeks. He found out about Halladay’s second round of treatment when the two ultimately connected on the phone.
“He said, ‘Are you disappointed in me?'” Big Roy says, looking back on their conversation. “He was afraid to talk to me about that. I don’t know why. I think that he thought that I would be disappointed.”
Halladay remained in rehab until early March and afterward started seeing a psychiatrist who treated him for depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder, Brandy says. He was able to function with a daily combination of doctor-prescribed medications.
While still in constant physical pain, Brandy says, by then Halladay had reached a better state mentally after long drug treatment and ongoing counseling. He threw himself full throttle into coaching his sons’ baseball teams.
In early 2017, Braden’s Calvary Christian team capped a 30-0 run and won the Florida state championship. Roy served as the team’s pitching coach. “It was funny, after I got the ring, I was messing with him,” Braden says. “I was like, ‘Well, now I guess I’m the only Halladay with a championship ring.’ I was there for his surreal moments. For him to be there for mine, it was awesome.”
On Nov. 7, 2017, Roy Halladay’s amphibious aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off the West coast of Florida. This visualization depicts the moments before the Hall of Fame pitcher’s death.
IN OCTOBER 2017, Halladay bought a plane he’d been posting about on social media for nearly two years: the Icon A5, a light-sport, amphibious aircraft likened to a jet ski with wings. The Icon A5 had been involved in an incident earlier that year. The company’s chief engineer and a test pilot were killed when the Icon A5 they were flying crashed in a canyon in Napa County, California, near the company’s headquarters. The NTSB determined the crash was not due to the plane’s design but rather to “the pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude.”
Big Roy told the NTSB that shortly after Halladay took possession of the Icon A5, he confronted his son about his drug use. “What is the situation with the medication? You cannot mix that with flying,” he says he told his son. Halladay assured him at the time “he wasn’t taking any medication,” according to his father’s interview with the NTSB.
When Halladay visited Icon’s headquarters, founder Kirk Hawkins spoke personally with Halladay about the company’s low-altitude flying guideline, according to Hawkins’ interview with the NTSB. The written guidelines, which mirror those of the Federal Aviation Administration, clearly state that a pilot should remain at least 500 feet from “any person, vessel, vehicle or structure,” except on takeoffs and landings. “Do not show off,” the guidelines caution pilots.
But Halladay didn’t fly responsibly. A report from the NTSB released in mid-April shows that on Oct. 26, 2017, 12 days before his fatal crash, Roy flew under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which has 180 feet of vertical clearance over Tampa Bay. He made an entry into his logbook, noting he’d flown under the bridge with Brandy as a passenger, and she told ESPN’s E:60 she was on board at the time.
A few days after flying under the bridge, Halladay posted on Twitter: “flying the Icon A5 low over the water is like flying a fighter jet!”
“My concern was after he got the airplane, he started talking about how sporty it was, and what a sports car it was,” Big Roy says. One of his last texts to his son read simply: “Be careful with that thing.”
THE MORNING OF Nov. 7, 2017, Roy took Ryan to school and was back home by 10:30 a.m. Brandy had errands to run before a band concert for Ryan at his school that afternoon. Roy planned to attend Ryan’s concert, too, but opted to first take his Icon A5, which was docked on the lake behind their home in Odessa, back to Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, about 25 miles north.
He seemed “a little scattered that day,” Brandy says, looking back. “A little bit sad.”
While she was driving to run errands, Roy texted her: “I’m so sorry. I should’ve just gone with you, another wasted day,” he wrote.
“I’m so glad that I wrote back,” Brandy says now. She replied, “I’m not mad at you, I was just frustrated. I just wanted you to go with me and I love you.”
At 11:47 that morning, Halladay took off for his final flight. It was a clear day with only light winds.
By that point, he’d had more than 721 hours of total flight time and more than 51 hours flying the Icon A5.
Rather than flying north to Brooksville airport, Halladay turned west toward the Gulf of Mexico. Once over the Gulf, he descended to 600 feet before turning back south just off the coast of New Port Richey.
Witnesses “saw the airplane flying very low, between 5 and 300 feet, over the water.” One said he was shocked to see an airplane flying that low. In the final two and a half minutes of Halladay’s flight, witnesses said he performed maneuvers with “steep turns and high-pitch climbs,” according to the NTSB.
Another witness who spoke to the NTSB, Allan Dopirak, told ESPN’s E:60 he was fishing off the coast of New Port Richey when he saw Halladay’s plane fly right over his boat. In Halladay’s final maneuver, Dopirak says, the plane climbed to about 500 feet before descending toward the water. “I hope he makes it,” Dopirak said he thought to himself. As the plane continued downward, it appeared as if Halladay was trying to pull up, he says.
“He definitely had pulled up. There’s no doubt about it,” Dopirak told ESPN’s E:60.
Halladay’s plane impacted the water nose down, wings level at a 45-degree angle, according to witnesses. Boaters who rushed to the crash site found pieces of the aircraft scattered over 200 to 300 feet, and drifting into the mangroves. When Dopirak steered his boat to the crash site, other boaters had already arrived. One boater said there was a body “in there,” Dopirak said. Another made a sign of the cross.
The official cause of death was listed as blunt trauma and drowning. Halladay, 40, died in roughly 4 feet of water. Federal investigators found no evidence of mechanical failure.
At the time of the accident, Brandy was awaiting Roy’s arrival at the school concert. She was texting him to let him know where she was sitting, and he wasn’t responding. A girlfriend sent her a note 15 or 20 minutes into the concert.
“Tell me you’re not flying today. There was a small plane crash right behind my house,” her girlfriend said in the text.
Brandy texted Roy again: “Please tell me where you are.”
When the concert ended, she called Brooksville airport and discovered Roy had never landed there. In a panic, she called her brother and asked if he could go by their house to see whether Roy’s plane was on the lake.
“He called me back and he said, ‘Brandy, there’s a sheriff here, he needs to talk to you.’ And he was crying. I knew. I mean, at that point I knew.”
The marine unit of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department — the department for which Halladay’s friend Bill Davis worked — was the first agency to arrive at the crash site, where Davis and Halladay had been fishing just a few days before. After marine unit deputies recovered Halladay’s body from the crash site, Davis performed the somber task of returning his personal belongings to Brandy.
“That was brutal,” Davis says, his voice trailing off.
Among the items Davis returned that day was Halladay’s wedding ring, which was attached to a necklace he wore around his neck because it no longer fit his finger. Brandy kept the ring and gave the necklace to Braden, who carried it in his pocket for a few days. He wore it two nights later when he insisted on maintaining his place in the pitching order in a game for his high school team.
“I threw it around my neck, and that’s when I felt him,” Braden says.
IN JANUARY 2018, the results of a toxicology report were made public for the first time. It revealed that Halladay had had a combination of medications in his system the day of the crash: zolpidem, a sleep aid sold under the brand name Ambien; fluoxetine, an antidepressant, sold under the brand name Prozac; baclofen, a muscle relaxer; amphetamines, which were likely from the ADD medication Halladay was taking; and hydromorphone, a prescription opioid sold under the name Dilaudid.
The NTSB has yet to release its final conclusions about the probable cause of Halladay’s crash, but ESPN’s E:60 spoke to four forensic pathologists, including Dr. Jon Thogmartin, the chief medical examiner for Pasco and Pinellas counties, who performed Halladay’s autopsy. All four said it’s more likely than not that Halladay was impaired the day of his final flight. They also acknowledged, though, that it’s impossible to know to what degree.
Thogmartin says that the amount of amphetamines found in Halladay’s blood, which approached the level of someone abusing the drugs, could have registered far higher in the sample taken at autopsy than they actually were the day of the crash. Sample results taken from one area of a deceased body can vary wildly from those taken from another area, he explained.
Still, Thogmartin says, “Anybody with these types of drugs in their system, I wouldn’t let ’em drive me, fly me, be my bus driver, anything. That would be ill-advised.”
According to the NTSB’s factual report, Halladay “reported no medical conditions and no use of medications to the FAA” as he was required to do in May 2017, when he obtained a medical certification relating to his private pilot’s license.
IN THE YEARS since the crash that claimed her husband’s life, Brandy has struggled with the question of how much of Halladay’s private life to reveal. After all, how much do you divulge about a person who never wanted the spotlight to begin with, especially after that person is gone?
She only hinted at Halladay’s personal issues during her Hall of Fame speech last July, when she said, “Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect. We’re all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle.”
Ultimately, she came to the conclusion that there are other families struggling with addiction and mental health issues. The culture of silence surrounding both, especially in professional sports, is often a barrier to getting necessary help, she says. So she chose to speak out, even though speaking out means reliving painful memories.
While she has considered the possibility that her husband’s ability to control the plane might have been impaired, she understands she and her sons will never have the answer to that question.
Big Roy spent hours on the phone with the NTSB’s lead investigator to understand what happened during his son’s final flight.
“The only one that knows is him, and he’s not here to tell us,” Big Roy says, adding, “I’m just going to have to accept that I’ll never know exactly what did take place that day.”
Braden just completed his freshman year at Penn State University, where he’s a pitcher for the Nittany Lions. He says he doesn’t need to get caught up in why his father died on his final flight. “The only thing it can do is hurt if it’s something I don’t want to hear,” he says.
Brandy finds comfort in knowing that Roy never stopped fighting. He fought his addiction. He fought his demons. And he fought, she says, for their marriage — the two went to weekly therapy sessions right up until his death.
“You can still struggle but still have a good intention,” Brandy says. “His intention wasn’t to take these pills. … He still wanted to be a good person. I think that’s the hardest part is I know what was in his heart. I know what he wanted. He just couldn’t do it. And that’s the heartbreaking part.”
ESPN researcher John Mastroberardino contributed to this report.
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