Death of a Mentor

Phil Sheridan

Updated: Monday, February 28, 2011, 6:46 PM

Roy Halladay has long credited sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman with turning him into a top pitcher. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Before he took the mound against his former team, Roy Halladay had a brief unpleasant flashback. He had walked into this minor-league ballpark under some pretty unpleasant circumstances when he was a Blue Jays prospect.

“I got sent down four times in the (manager’s) office back here,” Halladay said Monday. “The last time was to A ball. I’ll be glad to get out of here today.”

It was that last time, when his career was in grave jeopardy, that Halladay found Harvey Dorfman. He has long credited the sports psychologist with turning him into the focused, poised pitcher who has won two Cy Young awards. Earlier this year, Halladay even gave all the Phillies’ young pitchers copies of Dorfman’s book, The Mental ABC’s of Pitching.

Dorfman, who has worked with a number of other players including Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge and Jamie Moyer, died Monday. He was 75.

I had the privilege of talking to Dorfman in October. The Phillies had beaten the Reds in the division series. Halladay had thrown his no-hitter in Game 1. With the NLCS about to start, I was looking for some insight into the big righthander. I remembered talking to him in Clearwater a year ago, how earnest he seemed when he talked about Dorfman.

Halladay had worked with Dorfman personally as well as studying his book the way scholars ponder the Bible.

Dorfman called me to say he was too busy too talk at that moment. He could talk a few hours later, but he didn’t want to leave me hanging. He’d worked as a writer. He knew what it was like to have a deadline looming and not know whether you’d get your interview done.

When we did talk, it was clear just how smart and observant he was, and how sharp a communicator. The things he told his clients weren’t all that revolutionary. He just made tough concepts – self-control, discipline, focus – seem simple.

"When I met him, he was innocent, naive, about the mental part of the game,” Dorfman said of Halladay. "Now he gets it. He applies it. He integrates information into behavior. It's not like in school, where you get high grades for what you know. In baseball, you get high grades for what you do. It isn't a question of being perfect. It's a question of knowing your imperfections and correcting them."

And yeah, if you’re getting a vibe like this guy was Yoda to Halladay’s Luke Skywalker, that’s kind of what I thought, too.Lidge, whose perfect season ended with the final pitch of the Phillies’ 2008 World Series win, said, “To have him on speed-dial is a pretty good thing,” Lidge said.

Moyer went a bit further: "Every team should have a Harvey Dorfman," he said.

Now no one does, and the baseball world is just that much poorer for it.

Phil Sheridan

Read full story: Death of a Mentor