Injuries, Indifference, Self-Immolation Exile Harvey

The second most astonishing thing to notice about the news that Matt Harvey's days as a Met are over is how little anyone seemed to empathize with him. The most astonishing is how swiftly they lined up to say what amounted to "good riddance."

Harvey declined a Mets request to report to the Las Vegas 51s (AAA) to work whatever is left to work out away from New York's towering inferno. So the Mets designated him for assignment, announcing it on May 4. As a five-year major league man, Harvey had every right under the rules to decline the request.

What he no longer had was the personal credibility to do so. The Dark Knight was long enough eroded by injury and, in due course, apparent indifference, but Harvey couldn't even resemble a light jester.

It was a long enough and painful enough tumble down from the height he'd forged himself in Game Five of the 2015 World Series. When he came off the mound after eight innings with a 2-0 shutout in the works, then all but demanded then-manager Terry Collins let him go out to try finishing what he started in the ninth, which would have made the Series 3-2 as it moved back to Kansas City.

Collins went with his man's heart, not his own eyes and sense. A leadoff walk to Lorenzo Cain and a followup RBI double by Eric Hosmer ended the shutout and Harvey's night. Before a one-out calamity on a should-have-been game-ending double play sent the game to extra innings and, in time enough, the Royals' World Series triumph. Harvey worked more innings in 2015 than medicine recommended for his first round back after Tommy John surgery. From 2016 forward, Harvey's been a mess.

That 2016 ended prematurely when he was forced to undergo surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. From the time he returned in 2017 — with a rude interruption from a shoulder injury — he hasn't been anything much resembling his younger, 2013 all-star (when he started the game in Citi Field itself), World Series-virtuoso self. His 2018 began with a mess and continued with his forced move to the bullpen.

From there, it went from a mess to more of Harvey's too-manifest self-immolation. The one thing opposing hitters couldn't wait to see anymore was Harvey coming in from the pen. Some may have been tabulating the hikes in their batting averages or slugging percentages before he shouldered out of his warmup jacket in the pen. Harvey only helped by seeming unable, if not unwilling, to adjust to the bullpen mentality.

The talent was once electric. His 2.56 earned-run average before Game 5 says so. But the 5.93 ERA since says it's barely acoustic. And if you speak to anyone on or around the Mets, so it seems, the only thing more electric than Harvey's talent once was has been Harvey's inability to think of anything or anyone above and beyond himself.

"Besides life on his fastball and bite on his slider, you know what was missing with Matt Harvey? Compassion," wrote Joel Sherman of the New York Post after Harvey's DFA was announced. "There was no empathy from a teammate or member of management for Harvey's plight. They wanted him to rebound and do well, but that was about the team and their own selfish desire for success."

Noah Syndergaard once got so fed up with Harvey's abuse over his volume of spring 2015 interviews that Syndergaard began asking writers to meet him outside the clubhouse out of Harvey's sight. Jesse Hahn, a pitcher now in the Royals' system and a high school classmate of Harvey's, says he has no relationship with Harvey "because he always big-timed me."

Harvey once chose to rehabilitate in New York, rather than Port St. Lucie, where the Mets prefer their players to rehab, because he preferred to be in New York where he could watch the Rangers play hockey and what was left of Derek Jeter play for the Yankees and himself play in the city's most supermodel-magnetic playpens.

Until one fateful night in 2017, when he didn't show up on time to the park and got himself docked three days, but it turned out he'd been out among the demimonde looking to kill the pain of a broken romance with a girl who turned out not to have been into him as he was into her. He'd had to read in the papers that she returned to her former boyfriend.

Baseball's history is riddled with tales of party boys who once rode high only to crash down to and sometimes through the earth and discover their randy ways left them alone and naked. Often, they didn't bring their teammates along for the ride; Mickey Mantle was a notable exception. Or, if they did, it depended on their mates' actual or alleged star power.

Even as his health eroded his pitching repertoire, Harvey seemed unable to put the bright lights in their proper places. Which is why you can surely say other Mets players aren't exactly immune to fun off the field times but neither are they liable to provoke nasty debates about it. Or find themselves as parties of one when the going goes from tough to impossible.

There was a reason CC Sabathia enjoyed nothing but love from the Yankees when he lost the hop on his former power stuff and then went public with his battle against alcoholism. Sabathia was known even among Yankee haters as a teammate who gave and a guy who had his teammates' backs. He made it impossible for them to leave him alone and afraid in his time of need.

Go back further. Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson got to hang on two seasons beyond his usefulness as a player because — knowing he was sunk deep in debt over his failed sporting good business, which failure came more from his generosity than anything else — the Orioles thought that much of him as a man and wanted to help him out of the canyon. "Around here," said one fan on Brooks Robinson Day, "people don't name candy bars after Brooks — they name their children after him."

Ted Williams, Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr forged such a bond as actively playing Red Sox that it endured for the rest of their lives, through the good, the band, the glad, the sad, and inspired a lyrical ballad of a book, David Halberstam's The Teammates. Someone should think about giving Harvey a copy.

Mets manager Mickey Callaway couldn't persuade Harvey that time in the pen could work for him the way it had for Carlos Carrasco, whom Callaway coached in Cleveland. Harvey couldn't even persuade himself of it. But he reacted publicly as though he'd been stripped of a birthright without justifiable cause. That's the ol' team spirit.

The Mets couldn't convince him that a spell in the minors could resurrect him the way such spells had done a decade and a half earlier for Cliff Lee and the late Roy Halladay. Harvey flatly rejected the option, perhaps thinking not just, "I'm a starting pitcher," but, "I'm a major leaguer." Never mind that his health had eroded his former power pitching prowess.

Never mind that the only one getting in the way of Harvey remaking himself as a thinking off-speed pitcher was Harvey himself. And he still couldn't resist the lure of the glitter world. On the road in San Diego last week, the pitcher who was supposed to be trying to remake himself beginning in the bullpen made a two-hour drive to Beverly Hills for a tony restaurant opening.

The Mets might have shrugged it off — general manager Sandy Alderson tried to, though it came out like faint damnation — if Harvey hadn't looked like an arsonist in what proved his last relief assignment. With the remade/remodeled Braves looking to sweep the suddenly-too-vulnerable Mets, Harvey came in to relieve Jason Vargas last Thursday night, barely back from rehab when he began looking like a pinata for the other guys.

He ended the fifth inning carnage by inducing a force-out to retire the side. He worked a spotless sixth including a strikeout. In the seventh, disaster: an RBI single, a sacrifice fly, a walk, and a 3-run homer. That made it 11-0, Braves, which ended up the final score.

"At first, he seemed like a welcome force of change for a team that had become too comfortable losing," wrote John Harper of the New York Daily News, remembering Harvey's electrifying beginnings, "but as it became clear he wasn't one of the boys, if you will, preferring to hang with [Rangers goalie] Henrik Lundqvist rather than his teammates, it became equally clear that Harvey would never be a leader in the clubhouse. Not when he was all about himself."

Last year, as the Mets' injury-destroyed season wound down, Harvey was murdered en route a 13-1 loss to the Marlins. After the game, Harvey actually let himself appear human, and even owned his role in the annihilation. "There is nothing to say," he told the writers who'd gathered. "It's terrible, not fun, there is no reason for questions, there are no answers. You are going to write what you are going to write, anyway. Obviously, it's deserved, so whatever you want to write, but there is nothing to say."

That was a lot more mature than saying he didn't effing want to talk to anyone after one of his relief appearances in the last couple of weeks.

Could the self-elevating bravado that many thought pure recklessness really have been this son of his high school baseball coach being, really, too insecure to trust anyone else with himself?

Maybe in his heart of hearts Harvey believed that, rather than teammates being unworthy of him, he was unworthy of his teammates. Maybe he should have shown that side of him more than once. And maybe he's going to learn the hard way at last that one of the loneliest places in the world — whether you're 29, as Harvey is; or, whether you're an old man — is the place to which you fall good and hard, discovering nobody there to empathize, nobody there to offer succor, nobody there to offer a sight toward a better and less self-immolating way.

Maybe, too, those add up to the reasons Harvey decided to reject the minor league trip. Maybe he knew he'd overstayed his welcome with the Mets and could only begin to remake and remodel himself someplace else. There just might be another team willing to take that chance on him. Especially if the Mets end up having to eat most of the rest of Harvey's 2018 salary.

For the sake of what's left of his career, and certainly for the sake of the rest of his life, Harvey has to hope and pray, assuming he does pray, to rediscover the strength he needs to take the same chance. Then, for God's sake, pitch first, party later. And don't be so unwilling or afraid to let others care.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site