By Jason Keidel
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Is Matt Harvey the best young pitcher in baseball or a self-indulgent child who needs to wait his turn?
He’s both, it appears.
Harvey landed on the mound like a meteor. He dazzled the masses with a fastball that we haven’t seen in our city since another Met, Doc Gooden, came on the scene 30 years ago.
He’s not as good as Gooden, but he’s close enough.
And he needs to be quiet.
Harvey is already wearing us out. Between the middle-digit tweet, the talk of no Tommy John when they first found the torn ligament in his golden arm, posing for nude photos for ESPN and the perfunctory, courtside Barbie doll on his arm at every game, he’s making way more noise in the stands than on the diamond.
Harvey sparkles on the diamond — where he belongs — but not in the media, the front row or the operating table.
Do your slicing on the mound. We don’t need to hear from you now, particularly that you think you can start six or seven games this year, when you need to wait until next year. Unless Harvey got his medical degree during the offseason, he shouldn’t go all James Andrews on us. The recovery time is what it is, even if the repaired arm is more magical than the others.
It’s too cliché to say that all stars and All-Stars are fueled by hubris, that their outsized egos are essential to their success.
Just ask Gooden. Despite his personal problems, Gooden was refreshingly modest on the stage. We can fly down memory lane and find ample, humble heroes, from Greg Maddux to Sandy Koufax to Lou Gehrig to Roberto Clemente. Mike Trout, already crowned the next Mickey Mantle, still speaks in the humble, small-town colloquialisms that make the sport so charming.
And, frankly, Harvey doesn’t yet have the bio to back his verbosity. He might, someday, if he stays healthy. He’s got the stuff and the swagger and the physique. But we so often confuse self-assuredness with self-aggrandizement.
Harvey certainly does. And if he has an ounce of sense in his skull he will snap a lid on his mouth. Mere mortals — and Harvey is all too human — must wait a year to 18 months to return from Tommy John. And his spastic case of machismo isn’t appealing, encouraging or refreshing.
He may not be Gooden on the field — or off, hopefully. But he’s strolling down the spiritual path. When you’re that good that young you learn early that “No” is not in the lexicon of your peers, fans or bosses. You stroll down a gold-plated path to stardom, and only the rules he needs to obey are balls and strikes.
We’re quite acquainted with the duplicity of success. Behavior is viewed through the warped lens of hungry scouts, GMs and managers whose careers could ride on your slider. If you throw a fastball around 88 mph, you’re pretentious; when you throw one around 95 mph, you’re precocious.
Folks have forgotten by now, but Miguel Cabrera was a disaster off the diamond not too long ago, languishing in a jail cell hours before an essential series at the end of the season. But now that he’s a certified savant, history has scribbled over his malfeasance as maturity deficiency.
We get Harvey. He’s young. He’s talented. He’s single. He’s in NYC. And he’s bored. If the Mets are smart they’ll put a gag order on Harvey, who will soon say something he’ll regret — even more than the middle finger he flashed on social media.
None of this amounts to a misdemeanor. But it feels like a haunting precursor. Harvey acts like he owns the Big Apple before his first full bite. You want the competitive vigor but not the self-diagnosis. You want the confidence but not the arrogance. You want the focus and fearlessness but not the recklessness.
Even for a Yankees fan, like yours truly, Harvey represents an enchanted future for New York baseball, the flashpoint of a new era. Between Harvey and Zack Wheeler the Mets can pivot toward the sun, reversing their predictable plunge down the standings. Even if you despise the Mets, it’s not nearly as fun when they’re irrelevant, playing before swaths of empty seats in that beautiful new ballpark.
Even when the Mets were winning under Bobby Valentine and Willie Randolph, there was an aura of bad luck or bad karma, perhaps an old hex or hoax. Once Endy Chavez caught that Game 7 ball over the left-field wall, NYC was ready to ride a charmed comeback for the Mets, an inning from immortality. Until it was dashed the next inning.
And so it has been for the Metropolitans, who find new, fascinating ways to implode. Only the Mets are wrecked by Bernie Madoff. Only the Mets have spats between ownership and players. Only the Mets fly west to fire their manager during a road trip. Only the Mets bungle their medical reports, misdiagnose head injuries and brittle, broken limbs. Only the Mets watch their franchise player saunter off the field in his final game — the same day he wins the batting title — and never return.
But it’s better to have bad luck in the NLCS than in April, which always seems to be the month of the Mets’ demise; the yearly, springtime epitaph that we can write before the season even starts.
Harvey is the face of the Mets. Whether that’s a new, fresh face or one of those subway billboards doctored by devious teens depends on many, moving parts.
But it all begins with Harvey, who may be young and restless but needs to mature if he’s going to bite the Big Apple. It’s been 30 years since our city dangled from the divine right arm of a phenom. Harvey’s harvest will make the Mets or break the Mets for years to come.
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