Is it really time for the Mets to think what was once unthinkable, a future without Matt Harvey? Would waiting for him to make the medically necessary transition from a pure power pitcher to a pure thinking pitcher be worth the headache (pardon the pun) of his apparent makeup issues?
Within two weeks, Harvey—returning from thoracic outlet surgery and struggling to adapt to a velocity drop—has been battered in a last-minute start for which he wasn’t informed until a couple of hours before game time, and suspended after an apparent communication mishap put his call-off last Saturday in the wrong place at the wrong time according to Mets team protocols.
Details actual and alleged continue seeping forth. Harvey apologised to his teammates when he returned from his suspension Tuesday, before the Mets waxed the Giants, 6-1, improving them to .500 and making them winners of eight out of eleven despite a pile of turmoil off the field. His contrition was real enough.
“It’s not like he’s facing any criminal charges for what he did. It’s a mistake,” said outfielder Curtis Granderson, who could have been speaking for all his teammates. “Everyone in this locker room, including the coaching staff and including the front office and the fans at home that are watching, have made some mistake at some point in time.”
And it’s reasonable to think that at least some of those people have been laid low by the way Harvey may have been, a way he didn’t address during his public apology—losing a girl who turns out not to have been as serious about him as he felt about her.
The New York Post says that was the case when Adriana Lima returned to her former flame, New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, and Harvey learned of it only by way of seeing pictures of the reunited two in the papers. That happened just about at the same time Harvey, with the Mets in Atlanta, got the last-minute nod to start in Noah Syndergaard’s place when Syndergaard first reported bicep and shoulder discomfort.
Syndergaard was scratched the night before. Harvey wasn’t told he’d be going until a couple of hours before game time. Between that lack of proper prep time and the inner turmoil over Lima, Harvey took the mound and was murdered for six runs in five innings.
Harvey’s depression over losing Lima, whom the Post says wasn’t half as serious about him as he was about her, provoked him to head out late last Friday night, to a hotspot in New York’s meatpacking district where it just so happened Lima and Edelman were photographed on the night the Braves handed him his ill-prepared hat. (The paper speculates that Harvey may have taken a phone call from Lima before he headed out to the hot spot.)
“The feeling among other players on the Mets,” the Post‘s Page Six writers Emily Smith and Ruth Brown write, “was that Harvey was out Friday night blowing off steam and trying to get over Lima, baseball sources told The Post.”
The following morning, Harvey played a round of golf—no alarm bells, folks, ballplayers do that on their off-duty time all the time—and drove his foursome back to their homes personally. Then, he had a small lunch, took a nap, awoke with a big migraine headache . . . and all hell began to break loose around the troubled righthander—struggling in his return from thoracic outlet surgery—and the Mets.
Somewhere between 3 and 4 p.m. New York time last Saturday, Harvey texted Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen to say he was ill and couldn’t make it to Citi Field. So it was said at first. Other reports suggest Warthen texted the righthander first.
The first problem: the Mets’ team protocol for night games instructs personnel that 3 p.m. is the cutoff for calling off, with players due on the field for practise at 4 p.m. The second: the team protocol for calling off due to illness or injury is to call Mets trainer Ray Ramirez first. The Mets were within their rights to fine Harvey for the late call-off, and even Harvey himself is thought to believe that would have been acceptable even if he was ill.
But the Mets suspended him three games instead, and it came forth further that it was the culmination of issues dating back to 2015, when Harvey missed an off-day team practise and had been late to the park on a few other occasions. And it got better when the Mets saw fit to send security guards to Harvey’s apartment, where the pitcher greeted them in pajamas, when, reportedly, Harvey didn’t return several phone or text messages.
The Mets said they decided Saturday to suspend Harvey three games—calling up Adam Wilk from the Las Vegas 51s to take his Sunday start (and get clobbered) against the Marlins—but told Harvey about the suspension when he reported to Citi Field Sunday. FanRag’s Jon Heyman said “people in contact with the Mets” claim the suspension wasn’t decided until Harvey arrived at the park.
An over-talented pitcher with a concurrent diva act and a comparable thirst for New York’s blinding spotlight heat, Harvey earned a tonnage of gravitas when he insisted on going out to try to finish what he started in Game Five of the 2015 World Series.
That he was finally gassed and that manager Terry Collins went with his heart and not his head in letting him try seemed irrelevant in the moment. Even if Lucas Duda’s throwing error on what should have been a game-ending, Mets-winning double play, sending it to the extras in which the Royals rousted them one more time for the rings, put paid to the Mets’ season at last.
The weekend past turned that heat against Harvey now, possibly for longer than he’d like to think. Assorted Mets—management and players alike—suggested in their few public remarks over the suspension that the team finally got fed up with his act. Meaning that, to a lot of observers, whatever mistakes the Mets did or didn’t make with Harvey, he remains a reclamation project, and he may have to finish that, if it can be finished, away from the Mets.
Good luck. “I just went through our pitch data on him,” Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci quotes an unnamed general manager. “It has regressed so much since 2012-13, especially the fastball. I think he has pitchability—he showed it in ’15—and I think he has a chance to morph into a different pitcher and very effective pitcher. The question is, will his makeup allow it?”
That was before it came forth that Harvey’s makeup apparently includes feeling it soul deep when he’s dumped by a girl who turns out not to have felt even half for him as he seems to have felt for her. There were players before Harvey who went through public and bitter breakups; there will be players to follow experiencing the same. And it’s not simple to shake it away when it’s time to go to work, even the serious work of baseball play.
Not every player is Willie Mays, going through a wrenching and too public 1962 divorce, but taking it out on National League pitchers while he was at it. (Mays led the league in home runs and total bases, drove in 141 runs, had a .304/.384/.615 slash line, and helped the Giants to a pennant while he was at it.)
And not every pitcher is Dennis Eckersley, traded from Cleveland to Boston during spring training 1978, when the Indians discovered Eckersley’s wife having an affair with teammate Rick Manning, then Eckersley’s closest friend, staying in his home while recovering from a back injury.
Eckersley learned of the affair only after he joined the Red Sox. He went out to win 20 with a 2.99 ERA for the 1978 Red Sox, helping them finish in a tie for the American League East title. (The Yankees won the Bucky Bleeping Dent playoff game, of course.) ”The mound became my refuge,” Eckersley remembered to Terry Pluto for The Curse of Rocky Colavito.
“Sometimes, away from the park, I’d completely break down. I’d just cry and cry and not know when it would stop,” he continued. “Then I would go out and party all night . . . Baseball was my salvation because I stuck my nose into the game. On the mound I was an angry young man, and that arrogance carried me a long way.” It carried him to an eventual conquest of the bottle and, after converting to relief pitching, the Hall of Fame after which he overcame a second broken marriage to re-marry happily.
Harvey may want to consider making the mound his refuge, sticking his nose into the game, whatever adjustments he needs to continue on an arm changed by Tommy John surgery and a body recuperating from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, but lay off the all night partying except for an occasional swing.
His diva moments in previous seasons may make it difficult to empathise with him now. But we might refresh ourselves in thinking that he, too, is only human; that he, too, finds life just as bewildering, and often as heartbreaking, as we who didn’t, couldn’t, or won’t get to take a shutout into the ninth inning of a must-win World Series game.