Roy Halladay apologized for his bad performance while pitching hurt. As Steve Silver argues, the problem is he was only doing what the fans expect.
The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose has been in the news lately as an athlete under considerable pressure to come back from an injury when he wasn’t ready, for which he’s been lambasted by fans and even some of his fellow athletes. Recently on The Good Men Project, James Haberl wrote that it’s Rose’s body, not anyone else’s, and fans and media aren’t in better position to judge his fitness to play than he is.
For the contrast, look at Roy Halladay. The Philadelphia Phillies’ ace pitcher has been hurting this year, but kept pitching through the pain—not very well, it turned out—while denying repeatedly that anything was wrong. Age 36, Halladay got off to a bad start, had some rough outings, and in one game gave up 9 runs in just three innings. A few days later, he announced he had been hurt for several weeks and was going to see a specialist, who determined he needed surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff and remove a bone spur. Halladay is likely to miss several months, and may not return this season, the last of his contract.
A week after announcement of the surgery, Halladay did something not many athletes do—he approached the media before a game and apologized to the team’s fans for pitching when he wasn’t in the right condition and treating fans to a bad loss when they’d paid good money.
Halladay’s apology was admirable, but completely unnecessary. He was merely doing what is regularly demanded of every athlete, all the time—to go beyond the limits of comfort, of good medical sense, or even long-term risks to health, to help his team win. These days, with a whole lot of ex-athletes dropping dead in their 30s and 40s, and others having their 15th and 16th knee surgeries and unable to walk at way too young an age, that’s an attitude that could use a readjustment.
Professional athletes shouldn’t be asked to risk their long-term health, and they certainly shouldn’t have their drive, toughness or masculinity questioned if they miss a game with a legitimate injury. After all, it’s always a lot easier to be make judgments about someone else’s pain when it’s not your own.
Then there’s the matter of athletes not playing up to the best of their abilities if they’re suffering from, or recovering from, an injury, or playing hurt. That’s what happened when Halladay pitched with diminished velocity and got shelled. And even though Derrick Rose was “medically cleared” to play, does that mean a man who hasn’t played competitive basketball in a year is in peak condition to play the Miami Heat in a playoff series?
For his entire career in Philadelphia, Roy Halladay has done just about every single thing that is asked of an elite professional athlete. Name your cliche. He’s a workout machine in the offseason. He’s the first to arrive at the ballpark and the last to leave. He’s pitched through injuries, never complains, and never gets into confrontations or feuds with the fans or the media, which certainly isn’t something you can say for every Philadelphia athlete. His $20 million per year salary, much more than he was making with his previous team, Toronto, doesn’t appear to have gone to his head.
Until late last year, Halladay also pitched superlatively. The Phillies haven’t won a championship since Halladay joined the team in 2010, but that’s through no fault of his own; he even threw two no-hitters in that 2010 season, including a perfect game in May and a no-hitter in the playoffs, just the second in baseball history. That second one in particular I’ll always cherish, as it was the first major baseball moment I shared with my then-9-month-old son. Now 3, he can recite the entire Phillies lineup.
This year Halladay, for the first time in his Phillies career, came in for some criticism for his poor start, and later, after he admitted the injury, for “lying” to the team and the fans about the severity of it.
But all Halladay was doing was exactly what every fan and media member wants from athletes, all the time: Get out there, no matter how much pain you’re in, don’t complain and win the game. You’re a not a real man if you don’t. It would be great if sports culture could acknowledge that injuries are injuries, and not a sign of moral or competitive defect.
Photo: Rob Carr/AP