What Harvey Dorfman did for the Phillies

"The Mental ABC's of Pitching" was written by Harvey Dorfman, whom Roy Halladay credits for his success.
"The Mental ABC's of Pitching" was written by Harvey Dorfman, whom Roy Halladay credits for his success.
Posted: March 02, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - In some parallel universe, there lives a successful insurance salesman named Roy Halladay. Nice guy, good family man, almost made it as a big-league baseball player.

In that version of reality, Halladay is sent to single-A ball by the Toronto Blue Jays, but his wife never happens upon Harvey Dorfman's book. Halladay never meets the no-nonsense sports psychologist. There are no Cy Young Awards, no perfect game, no Hall of Fame career.

Dorfman, who died Monday at 75, had that big an impact on Halladay's career.

"I don't know where I'd be," Halladay said Tuesday morning, before the Phillies game against the Detroit Tigers. "I'm certain I never would have had the success I've had if it weren't for the time I spent with him. It really helped me turn the corner professionally, personally. It really made all the difference."

There are plenty of baseball players who can and do say the same about the impact Dorfman had on their careers. When you consider that his clients/disciples include Jamie Moyer, Brad Lidge, and Raul Ibanez, it is possible that, without Dorfman, many of the greatest moments in recent Phillies history might have disappeared into that same parallel universe.

Overstatement?

Moyer, a rock throughout several of the Phillies' division-winning seasons, credits Dorfman with helping him make the transition from marginal prospect to 25-year major-leaguer.

Ibanez was a solid but unspectacular player before finding Dorfman.

And without Lidge's perfect season and playoffs, there might not have been a World Series title in 2008. Without Dorfman, Lidge might not have handled Albert Pujols' epic walk-off home run in 2005, his demotion, or his injuries.

"He did tremendous work that people inside baseball and outside baseball will never know about," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "Just the way he could watch people and tell what was going on between their ears was phenomenal."

No current player is as closely linked to Dorfman as Halladay. He replaced Greg Maddux as the most successful protegé. As a young prospect, Halladay said, he was "very distracted by the big picture. I'd be thinking about pitching seven innings and giving up three runs instead of about the pitch I was about to throw."

The Blue Jays sent him all the way from the majors to the low minors in 2000. Halladay wondered whether his career was over. Then his wife made an impulse buy of Dorfman's The Mental ABC's of Pitching, and Halladay's life changed. Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi put him in touch with the author.

"He was quick to call your bluff on a lot of stuff," Halladay said. "He made you be accountable to yourself and accountable to him. I don't think you ever got the feeling that he was a psychologist. It wasn't warm and fuzzy, you know, it was 'Let's figure this out.' You didn't feel like you went in and told him all your problems and he gave you a solution. He teaches you to do it yourself."

Halladay and Dorfman's other clients will have to do it for themselves now. Dorfman won't be there to call, as Halladay would do several times a month. He even called Dorfman the day of his last 2010 start, during the National League Championship Series in San Francisco.

"He gives you a perspective," Halladay said, slipping into the present tense out of long habit. "In situations like that, he always preached paying attention to the job at hand, not focusing on other stuff going on. Whether it's the umpires or the team you're facing or how your body feels - it was always attention to the task at hand and simplifying things. He was very good at that."

Dorfman played an irreplaceable part in Halladay's life. And he won't be replaced. Halladay will continue to read from his mentor's book before every start.

"I've carried it for 11 years," said Halladay, who estimates he's given away nearly a hundred copies to fellow pitchers. "I still have a lot of his stuff. I saved every e-mail I've gotten from him over, I think, the last five or so years. There's a lot of information there. You're obviously going to miss talking to him, but I'm going to stick to the stuff he left behind as much as possible."

When Dorfman was interviewed last October, his admiration and pride in Halladay crackled through the phone. Nothing delighted the old man more than seeing one of his guys succeed.

Along with Ibanez, Halladay plans to attend services for Dorfman in North Carolina. He feels a need to be there, to show in some small way his respect for the man who turned his career around.

"I struggled over the years, trying to find ways to thank him for it," Halladay said.

He should take comfort in knowing that he did - every time he took the mound.


Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter at twitter.com/SheridanScribe.

Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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