Dorfman understood baseball's mental side
Renowned sports psychologist helped countless players
"They're just like you and me, only more gifted," Harvey Dorfman said. "They bleed like you and I, only they do it in public."
Harvey Dorfman passed away Monday, and there are hundreds and maybe thousands of grievers. I remember when he called me in the 1970s to ask if he could use part of a story I did for Dick Schaap and Sport Magazine about the psychology of players trying to get out of slumps. He was living in Manchester, Vt., was working on "The Mental Game of Baseball" with Karl Kuehl and we talked ever since.
Dorfman changed the game because he understood that players are human and sometimes fragile and very often insecure. He worked with Oakland and Florida and Tampa Bay, but he would try to help anyone. He went to work for The Boras Corporation a decade ago, but I can vouch for the fact that Scott Boras never stopped Harvey from helping another agent's client.
Al Leiter never hesitated to credit Dorfman. Same with Kevin Brown. Roy Halladay is a disciple. Greg Maddux. It has to be thousands, and he cared so much. One of his proudest friends homered in the postseason last October, and he called the next morning to share the joy of knowing and texted that player's wife when the ball left the park. "How happy are we today?" he said.
Most fans would be shocked if they knew how many great players relied so much on Dorfman. He had that rare knack. He never came across as an academic; he always seemed the jock, and he understood the mentality.
In the late 1980s, he worked with a great prospect in the Twins organization who developed the so-called Steve Blass Disease. When the pitcher visited Dorfman's house in Prescott, Ariz., they talked, then played catch. Dorfman's house sat high on a hill, an eighth of a mile to the street.
They went out and played catch. When the pitcher threw to Dorfman, who was downhill, he was perfect. "He was focusing on me and not wanting me to have to walk an eighth of a mile to retrieve the ball," Dorfman said. "Then when we reversed and I was in front of the house, his first throw broke a second-floor window."
It's the brain. It isn't funny. It's human.
Many in baseball have never understood the fragile, human element. That's why Theo Epstein and the Red Sox paid to have Bob Tewksbury -- who went through serious shoulder surgery, reinvented himself and became an All-Star -- get his graduate degree in psychology and become one of the Boston organization's most valued members. Andrew Miller cited Tewksbury as one of the reasons he wanted to get to the Red Sox.
Tewksbury and Miller dined and began their relationship this week. On Monday, Miller pitched against the Twins, reaching 95-99 mph. Great change. Breaking ball. One Red Sox official tweeted, "Wow."
It is a human game, thus a mental game. We did a forum on pitching as part of a fundraiser for the Foundation to be Named Later in January, and the subject of Maddux came up. At one end of the dais, Curt Schilling began talking about a pitch he saw Maddux throw in San Francisco. Tewksbury was at the other end and was talking about the same pitch. Both had watched from their hotel rooms.
Maddux had the lead on the Giants. Eighth inning. Bases loaded. Davey Martinez at the plate.
Schilling and Tewksbury recalled watching as Maddux threw a 2-2 fastball out of the strike zone. In unison, they said, "So he could strike him out with a 3-2 changeup."
On Monday, Martinez, now a coach with Tampa Bay, said, "I remember that like it was yesterday."
Dorfman understood that. There ought to be a place in Cooperstown for one of the best persons baseball has ever known.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.