Dorfman's legacy: A strong mental game

Harvey Dorfman, the pioneering and hard-talking sports psychologist who passed away Monday in North Carolina at age 75, had a phrase that served his clients for at least 30 years, and himself for much, much longer.

It went like this: “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

Harvey didn’t care for snivelers, and his question was his challenge, culled from years of observation and personal experience. He had been born sickly, an asthmatic, and by his account was bedridden for much of his first 12 years. He’d become an athlete, a soccer player at Brockport (N.Y.) College, before decades later aiding in the emotional rehabilitation of professional ballplayers.

He served 10 years with the Oakland Athletics, three with the Florida Marlins, and the past 10 on the staff of agent Scott Boras. In that time, he counseled hundreds of players, and in that role he is survived in the game by pitchers who couldn’t trust where the ball would go, hitters who didn’t think another ball would ever fall, and catchers with the yips.

He died from a lung affliction, according to a friend, leaving a legacy of tough love, empathy and the notion that sports and life are connected through the soft tissue that is human frailty.

Dorfman wrote four books, and co-authored the seminal “The Mental Game of Baseball,” which holds a revered place in most baseball clubhouses, and should in the rest.

“Today,” Boras said in a statement, “hundreds of people in baseball, education and business across the nation have lost a true mentor and friend. Harvey pioneered the introduction of psychology into the mainstream of baseball both on and off the field. His presence will always be felt in the game.”

Even before he hired him, Boras frequently referred his clients to Dorfman, who sat on the benches of world champions in Oakland and Florida.

Twenty years ago, he introduced Dorfman to pitcher Jim Abbott, then with the California Angels, and the two forged a friendship that carried to Dorfman’s death.

“Harvey could be brutally honest, but always his guidance gave me direction and purpose,” Abbott said Monday. “In those times, Harvey could be absolutely demanding and tough, but never did his amazing compassion disappear.

“I will miss talking to Harvey. I loved the sound of his voice. But his wisdom will always be in the back of my mind. Through the memories of our time together, I will never have to search far to evoke his image, looking at me and asking, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’ ”

Dorfman is survived by his wife, Anita, children Dan and Melissa, and grandchildren Ethan, Owen and Riley.