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Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Big leaguers will never forget Dorfman

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Harvey Dorfman never wore a uniform. His name never appeared in a big league box score. He never stole a base or rounded one.

But Dorfman made as profound an impact on modern baseball -- and on modern baseball players -- as any manager, any coach, any general manager on Earth.

So the sadness over his death this week, at age 75, rippled through clubhouses everywhere.

The headlines will say he was a sports psychologist. But he was more. Much more. He was a mentor. He was a friend. He was a father figure to hundreds, maybe thousands, of players.

"I've always said that my dad taught me to be a man," Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez said on Wednesday. "But Harvey taught me how to act like a man."

A little more than a decade ago, with his career at a crossroads, Ibanez was introduced to Dorfman by his teammate, Jamie Moyer. At the time, Ibanez needed help with his baseball career. Little did he know that Harvey Dorfman would help him with much more than baseball.

"He taught me about life," Ibanez said. "It just so happens to spill over onto the baseball field."

The life lessons that Dorfman espoused still echo in Ibanez's memory. He still hears them -- every day. And Wednesday morning, he recited many of them, not just by heart but from the heart:

• "He would say, 'I don't care how you feel. I care how you act.' "

• "He taught me what courage is. He said, 'Courage isn't how you act in the absence of fear. It's how you act in spite of fear.'"

• "He also taught me: 'Who you are is what you do when no one's around. And it's not what you do, but why you do it -- and no one knows that but you.'"

Across the same clubhouse sat another man whose life and career were changed forever by Harvey Dorfman. And Roy Halladay had no reservations about letting the world know that this week.

A decade ago, at the lowest point of Halladay's career, he too turned to Dorfman, all because Halladay's wife happened to see Dorfman's book -- "Coaching the Mental Game: Leadership Philosophies and Strategies for Peak Performance in Sports and Everyday Life" -- in a bookstore.

So one minute, Halladay was leafing through that book. The next, he was reaching out to Dorfman through his general manager at the time, J.P. Ricciardi. And life has never been quite the same.

"I'll never forget the last thing he put at the end of every e-mail," Halladay said. "He used to write: 'Be good to yourself.' And it made a lot of sense. As a baseball player, you always tend to beat yourself up. You're hard on yourself. And that was the last thing he always put in there. And I always used to remark to him that was the hardest thing to do. So that's a piece of advice that will always stick out."

But for both of these men -- and for the hundreds of other players just like them -- Dorfman was not merely just a guy with catchy sayings and words to live by.

"He was such a great guy," Halladay said. "He was always there for you. He was always helpful. He was always concerned."

"He was one of the best human beings I've ever known," Ibanez said. "You could call him at any time, and he always had your back. But he was still going to shoot you straight. You couldn't B.S. him. He knew. He'd let you talk. And when you were done talking, here came his zinger."

Ibanez will miss those zingers. But he is comforted by the fact that the life-changing messages Dorfman imparted don't have to die. In fact, he said, he's determined to breathe life into every one of those messages.

"The stuff he taught us," Ibanez said, "for the players and the people whose lives he blessed, those teachings -- and the caring, and the passion -- we can pass that along to other people. And through them, he can live on longer than any of us will be alive, if we can make sure it just keeps getting passed down.

"And I hope that happens," Raul Ibanez said, "because I wouldn't have had the career I've had without him."