COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Thrust by tragedy into an unimaginable position, Brandy Halladay knew for months she would mention the interconnected nature of baseball and family in the speech she made on behalf of and in honor of her late husband, Roy.
But until Halladay stepped to the podium Sunday afternoon at Clark Sports Center, she had no idea how much her newest baseball family was going to help her get through an unprecedented challenge.
“I think I might be the luckiest person on the planet,” Halladay said later Sunday afternoon, after she’d delivered one of the most graceful and dignified speeches in Hall of Fame history. “Because these men are the most genuine, kind, loving, affectionate people. And I’ve gotten more support, hugs and pick-me-ups and ‘you got this (comments).’”
The annual Hall of Fame weekend is usually all about welcoming the newest members of the family, albeit in a fraternal, make-the-new-guys-pay-their-dues sort of way. On Saturday, Lee Smith said Goose Gossage warned him repeatedly not to let his speech go over 12 minutes (he didn’t).
But fate demanded a different touch Sunday, more than 19 months after Halladay, one of the six men elected this year, died in a plane crash in Florida. Halladay, who earned enshrinement in his first try on the ballot following a career in which he won 203 games and two Cy Young Awards, is the first player elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America to be posthumously inducted since Rabbit Maranville died a little more than seven months before his induction on Aug. 9, 1954.
“It’s impossible for someone to say ‘Hey, I know how she felt,’” Smith said.
Maranville’s wife accepted Rabbit’s plaque on her husband’s behalf. But the task was more intricate 65 years later, with Halladay entrusted with making a speech in front of 55,000 fans and a national television audience.
“We just tried to make her feel as comfortable we could,” fellow inductee Mike Mussina said. “We just tried to include her in everything that that we would be doing as players. The Hall of Fame included her in everything we were doing as players.”
Halladay said she practiced the speech for months while in the car or in the shower. But as composed as she felt heading into Sunday, she was overwhelmed upon seeing her husband’s close friend and ex-teammate, Chris Carpenter, speak eloquently of Roy during an MLB Network feature that preceded her speech.
“I was not as prepared as I thought I would be,” Halladay said. “That caught me off-guard. I don’t mind speaking in public, that’s fine. Emotional in public is difficult. So when you get that little wobbly in your voice, it’s hard to let it go.”
Over the course of about seven minutes, a teary-eyed Halladay managed to convey the difficulty of getting up on a stage in front of tens of thousands of people — “This is not my speech to give,” Halladay said in what was certainly the most heartbreaking sentence ever uttered at a normally joyous event — while also expressing what joining the most exclusive club in sports would have meant to her husband.
“Anybody who thinks baseball truly isn’t a family has never been involved in baseball,” Halladay said. “I know how honored Roy would be sitting here today with such accomplished men who have represented this game so well over the course of all of your careers.”
Halladay referenced Roy’s famous work drive and stoicism, and how much he enjoyed immersing himself in the lives of his sons, Braden and Ryan, following his retirement due to back injuries in 2013.
“He was a great coach, a nervous husband and father only because he desperately wanted to be as great and successful at home as he was in baseball,” Halladay said.
Halladay also found a delicate and poignant way to remind everyone of the humanness of her husband, whose difficulty in adjusting to a post-baseball life was spelled out in a remarkable Sports Illustrated story last week, and the rest of the baseball legends on stage behind her.
“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect,” Halladay said. “We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle, but with hard work, humility and dedication, imperfect people still can have perfect moments.”
But perfection was on display Sunday afternoon, thanks to Halladay and her new baseball family.
“I’m proud to be able to go up there on the stage and have her speech (be) the same day mine was,” Mussina said.
“Knowing that I have friends behind me — some new friends, some old friends, some really old friends were there — they made it so much easier for me,” Halladay said with a slightly quivering voice. “And they made me feel very welcome, very supported.
“I worried that I would be out of place, and they made sure that I didn’t feel that way. Amazing.”