Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It's not that Matt Harvey minded the comparison. In fact he texted to say the opposite, after I wrote a column on Aug. 1, 2014 saying that he could be our generation's Joe Namath.
Broadway Matt. Who wouldn't like the sound of that?
"Sick article," Harvey wrote. But just because he enjoyed it, didn't mean I was right to have done it.
In those years, Harvey was not one to shy away from heady predictions about his future star power -- and, though it would later be hard to remember this phase, he was initially accessible and raw and with the media, neither bitter nor overly packaged.
Six years later, we know that Harvey landed far from iconhood. He was no Namath, and he wasn't Jacob deGrom, either. By 2019 he had washed out of the major leagues, and wasn't famous at all, at least not for anything he was still doing.
A reminder came on Sunday, when Harvey posted on Instagram a video that showed him throwing off the mound on some beaten-down field.
This was not Gerrit Cole on coronavirus break from his rich contract and trying to stay sharp. Harvey was unemployed and simply reminding the world of his existence.
The mind easily drifts to baseball seasons past these days, because there is no baseball in the present. And when Harvey popped up it called to mind the comparison I'd laid on him years ago.
Harvey seemed like he had all the elements to be baseball Namath: A dynamic MLB debut in 2012 when he struck out 11 batters. A desire for stardom that came to include a funny segment with Jimmy Fallon, a friendship with Henrik Lundqvist, and a fashion sense that stuck out in a sport where everyone tends to dress with a middle school mentality -- that is to say, the same as everyone else.
Once on a getaway day at Yankee Stadium, Harvey dressed in a manner designed to fit the Mets' Miami destination: White cotton shirt and pants and a white fedora.
Then he said something out of the corner of his mouth to another reporter that I always remembered and admired: That he didn't want to look like a ballplayer.
This was catnip to a young baseball writer desperate to chronicle anything interesting or different. And if Harvey could be a character worthy of not only magazine covers but history books, who wouldn't want to bear witness to that?
But the real Matt Harvey -- the one right in front of us whom we chose not to see -- was too complex and vulnerable to be ready to achieve what he wanted, and what others wanted for him.
Sure, he leaned into the Namath comparisons and other aspects of celebrity, but he also sunk into dark moods when fame turned on him.
In 2013, when he botched an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show by overselling the company that had booked it, Qualcomm, he ended up in tears in a back room of the Mets clubhouse.
Later, when two arm surgeries made a slog out of the sport he briefly dominated, Harvey would sometimes wander into manager Terry Collins' office and confess that he sometimes just wanted to quit baseball altogether.
The right way to cover Harvey would have been to see all this as it was happening. Instead, I became too invested in the myth. So did he, and so did many fans.
He was stamping Batman logos on the head of his bat. I was publicly comparing him to Joe Namath. And you probably fell into irrational love the moment he struck out his fourth or fifth Arizona Diamondback on the night of his debut. Looks like we all screwed this one up.
Back then, I was actually seen by some colleagues as going too easy on Harvey. My friend John Harper used to tease me by smirking and calling Harvey "your boy."
And while I did frequently defend Harvey in print, taking his side in battles against Mets management, I wasn't doing it for him. I was doing it for me -- or more precisely, to preserve my story. Which turned out to be an illusion anyway.
All told, it was just another little lesson about seeing people for who they are, not who we want them to be.