- Each Branch, Each Needle: An Anecdotal Memoir, The Final Stories
Each Branch, Each Needle is the third and concluding volume of sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman’s memoirs. Dorfman, who died on February 11, 2011, is perhaps best known for his 2002 work, The Mental Game of Baseball. In addition to his writing, Dorfman served as a sports psychologist for the Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland A’s, Florida Marlins, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1980s and 1990s, before joining the Scott Boras Corporation as a consultant in 1999. The tough love advocated by Dorfman made him a trusted confidant to many players such as the troubled Rick Ankiel, but his memoir also makes clear why the blunt psychologist also antagonized both ballplayers and management.
As an anecdotal memoir, Each Branch, Each Needle is a rather eclectic work in which Dorfman pays more attention to case studies than chronological development. Following an approach that both disciples and critics describe as “brutally honest,” Dorfman asserts that his job is to help professional athletes rediscover success after they have suffered failure; many of them for the first times in their playing careers. Dorfman writes, “I [End Page 170] must devote my time to helping clients formulate their own personal answers to their own personal questions. I ration the energy I still have, using it to lend a hand as they struggle to pull off the bars of their cages and free themselves, so they may live in a world removed from the ‘reality bequeathed’ them at birth—and beyond” (p. 17). Thus, the former English literature teacher turned psychologist concludes that a preoccupation with results obstructs effective thinking and behavior necessary to harness emotions.
Acknowledging that most professional athletes display physical courage, Dorfman pushes for his clients to exhibit the resolve to do the right thing in the face of external pressures and personal adversity. Real courage is “appropriate selfishness,” which allows the individual to maintain freedom of choice. By being honest with one’s self, it is, indeed, possible to change attitude and behavior. But this does not happen when psychologists defer to athletes. Instead, Dorfman argues that he must be frank with ballplayers in fostering the virtues of simplicity, consistency, honesty, resiliency, and humility—traits that the psychologist asserts that he has sought to incorporate into his own life.
Dorfman writes warmly of his admiration for numerous ballplayers, including Bob Tewksbury, Greg Maddox, Walt Weiss, Jim Abbott, Roy Halladay, Al Lieter, and Don Carman (a protégé who eventually replaced Dorfman with the Scott Boras Corporation). In fact, Dorfman has only positive comments regarding the controversial Boras, concluding that the agent should be admired for the dedication he displays toward his clients. On the other hand, ballplayers with whom Dorfman failed to connect are rarely mentioned by name. Dorfman, however, has no difficulty with taking management to task. For example, he expresses his displeasure with the way Toronto General Manager J.P. Life dismissed club manager Carlos Tosca, with whom the psychologist formed a close professional relationship. In addition, Dorfman was upset with the way that Oakland club executive Billy Beane suggested that his players were becoming too dependent upon the psychologist, proclaiming, “My agenda has always been—and immediately made clear to players—that independence is a major goal” (p. 99).
By the conclusion of this memoir, Dorfman, who suffered from asthma throughout this life, succumbs to the frailties of the body and retires from his practice. Dorfman expresses few regrets regarding his life, family, and career, comforted by a degree of self-awareness and his passion for literature and music. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note the lack of diversity in his practice, focusing primarily upon professional white baseball players and eschewing females or amateur clients. Perhaps these omissions reflect upon the limitations of Dorfman’s own background and comfort level. On the other hand, the rather narrow clientele for the acclaimed sports psychologist may suggest that baseball management perceives only a certain type of player warranting or perhaps able to...