Very often -- most times, in fact -- the world of sports is reduced to its most common denominators: winning, losing and statistics.

Hardly anything else matters.

Except to guys such as Phil Kessler.

Kessler, 76, died on Monday, Feb. 25, at his residence, after a long fight with Alzheimer's disease. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Patricia; three children, Kathy Silar, Karole Bentz and Thomas Kessler; and four grandchildren.

He will be missed. He is missed already.

And not because he participated in sports. Not because he pitched and played for Pleasureville in the Central League from 1954 to 1971 -- that's 18 years. Not because he coached baseball and basketball at both Northeastern and York High. Not because he umpired for the American Legion, Central and Susquehanna leagues for many years. And not because of his years playing in the York County Old-Timers League.

Kessler
Kessler

He did all of those things, of course. And he had fun doing them.

But his bottom line had nothing to do with statistics. Or wins. Or losses. It had to do with relationships made and friendships held for a lifetime, while participating in sports.

Some guys learn that earlier than others.

Now that my own playing and managing days are over, I have to admit the most important thing I've gotten out of my own participation in baseball is the relationships made over more than 50 years.

But Kessler understood that instinctively, way before I figured it out.

Kessler was one of those rare guys -- especially guys with a competitive nature -- who was liked and appreciated by just about everyone he rubbed elbows with.

He'd shake hands with you before a game, during a game and after a game, no matter how the game turned out. And he always had a smile on his face. It's just the way he was. He couldn't help himself.

"He had a great temperament," said fellow Pleasureville Hawk Dan Kinard. "He was a terrific teammate and a great friend. The best way to say it is he was a heck of a nice guy. And everyone thought so."

Kessler was a 1953 graduate of York High and a 1957 grad of Millersville University. He taught social studies at the Northeastern and York City school districts for a combined 37 years.

His first love, according to his family, was baseball. First, that is, after his religion and his family. And, of course, his legion of friends.

He considered himself a pitcher before anything else, Kinard said, "but he was always a pretty good hitter, too. So he played some second base and outfield when he didn't pitch."

If one checks the stat books, Kessler was a lifetime .285 hitter. He had eight seasons where he hit above .300, including 1956, when he hit a Ted Williams-like .406 as a 20-year-old.

Kinard, who also was a pitcher in his younger days, remembered Kessler as a "guy (pitcher) who never overpowered anyone, but had one of the best right-handed curve balls I've ever seen. He had great control of it. It gave lots of hitters -- good hitters -- trouble."

Except for 1955 and 1958, however, he was never more than a part-time player and a guy who pitched a handful of games each season. From 1963 on, he never won more than four games in a season. His record for his last nine years at Pleasureville, was 12-8. His pitching stats before 1963 have not yet been entered in the league's database.

But impressive stats were never his value to his team. His value, said Kinard, Kessler's teammate and manager for many of the years he played at Pleasureville, was his commitment to the game and his attitude.

"I never met a nicer guy," Kinard said, "and I've known a lot of nice guys. Phil was a real gentleman. I have nothing but admiration for him as a player and as a man."

Participating in sports gives all athletes a chance to develop lasting friendships with people who have a common interest.

And Phil Kessler did that as well as anyone I've ever known or played against.

Better than most.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick s@yorkdispatch.com.