There have been few athletes feted by the city of New York in the way that Matt Harvey was in 2012 and 2013. If you want to go old-school, we can talk about Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. More recently, there’s Joe Namath, of course, and Reggie Jackson, Bernard King and Derek Jeter.
Then there is Jeremy Lin, a player who owned the headlines and imaginations of New York for a sliver of time, and immediately disappeared. Right now, Harvey is on the verge of becoming the baseball version of Lin: He is at the crossroads of relevance veering sharply toward irrelevance. Heck, he’s not even on an active roster, after being suspended by the New York Mets for three days for violating team rules.
If you have a Dark Knight mask or cape, well, pack that away into your box of memories, along with your Jeremy Lin jersey, because that Matt Harvey is almost certainly gone forever, because of injuries. After Tommy John surgery, after surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, Harvey will never be Dwight Gooden of 1985 again, in how he could overpower hitters.
But Harvey can still be good, and still be someone who can have a long and productive career. He still has time to rebuild his value — and maybe his reputation — which has hit a low point among rival evaluators right now. What is being said about Harvey now, over and over and over, is that he does not put himself in the best possible position and that he does not care as much about his work as much as he should. The Mets’ reinforced those thoughts with their decision to suspend him without pay.
Harvey will be a free agent in the fall of 2018, and Clayton Kershaw and David Price and Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto can all testify to the reality that you can make a pretty good living as a major league pitcher. But hours before the Dodgers play their games, early-arriving scouts have seen Kershaw religiously going through his workouts on the days he does not pitch. They have seen Price’s effort, his physical training honing his athleticism. They have seen Cueto take the ball start after start after start, succeeding even in the bandbox of Cincinnati amid concerns about his elbow.
What some wonder about Harvey is his conditioning and his devotion to physical preparation. Evaluators see the weight gain in-season, and they ask questions. Harvey’s performance is not deflecting any of that concern. He had a 4.86 ERA in 2016 before his surgery, and so far this year his ERA is 5.14. At a time when Harvey has the most at stake — when he is less than two seasons from free agency — he is pitching his worst, and now the Mets have taken him off the field without explaining why. And this is how this business works: If and when general manager Sandy Alderson ever does offer a detailed explanation, or Harvey does, rival evaluators look for more layers, and they will assume the reality is worse.
Harvey’s time with the Mets could be nearing an end. If they continue to be crushed by injuries, this season of promise could be turned into a rebuilding situation, and it might make sense for them to dangle Harvey on the trade market and move him, even if they feel they’re getting less than equal value. They’ve seen him at his best and they know firsthand about his worst, and it may be time for the Mets and Harvey to go their separate ways in a professional divorce. They know he’ll probably move on through free agency anyway.
Harvey’s days as the toast of New York are part of the past. But the more pertinent question about Harvey is his own investment in himself. He is 28 years old, and it’s up to Harvey whether he’ll be able to look back at his suspension as a turning point. If it isn’t, his time as a major league pitcher could end a lot sooner than he realizes, and in the decades ahead, he’ll be remembered as a trivia question: Who was that guy they called the Dark Knight?