By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
With the Mets toiling in injury and mediocrity, they may be forced to make some unforeseen choices in the next two months.
And what would have been blasphemy two years ago is something that has to have entered general manager Sandy Alderson’s mind, if not reached his lips.
Should the Mets trade Matt Harvey?
The former cornerstone of the franchise, who, it seemed, went from promising pitcher to Sports Illustrated poster boy to comic book hero in a matter of weeks, is now perhaps the fourth-best pitcher on a team that may end up tanking through the summer.
Harvey was so celebrated you expected to see him as the centerfold and the cover story, every inch of his body dissected and photographed and coveted by some artist, writer, or supermodel. Yet, at 28, you hear far more tales about his past than hopes about his future. While few feel sorry for him, you must wonder what it’s like to have been the biggest thing in the biggest city, only to be chewed up by the molars of time, tendon, and celebrity.
Since we always try to mix sports and movie metaphors, with each genre constantly bleeding into each other, Harvey feels a bit like the James Dean of baseball — very talented, but so adored he could not possibly live up to the biblical expectations.
After three films, Dean was thrust into superstardom, an orbit reserved for people much older and accomplished. Similarly, Harvey was branded the Dark Knight of Gotham almost exactly four years ago (May 13, 2013), which shoved him through a portal of fame in which few are prepared. Both actor and pitcher were 24 at the peak of their powers and popularity.
When Dean died at 24, someone who knows something about stardom said that it was, in a tragically romantic sense, perfect timing. There was no way Dean could possibly have lived up to the heat and the hype surrounding him, no matter how naturally gifted he was.
The man who said it was Humphrey Bogart. Both had that thing we love or loathe or admire in a star.
Harvey had “It.” Whatever It is. Some hybrid of mojo and menace. We’ve seen the baseball mutations down the decades, from Bob Gibson to Nolan Ryan, from Randy Johnson to Roger Clemens. The great power pitchers live in some bubble that could not be broken, not by a homer, or a bad night. Eventually, he will get you.
Whatever it is, Harvey doesn’t have that anymore. He’s not dead, of course, but he’s not what he was. No doubt surgeries have sapped some strength from his divine right arm. But the answer lies beyond the physical. Harvey used to walk, stroll, strut onto the mound, knowing you were dead before you dug into the batter’s box. Now, he thinks he can get you, trick you with some cocktail of pitches, rather than just let the catcher flex his forefinger and bury you in an avalanche of fastballs.
And his problems aren’t restricted to the diamond, with reports of tardiness and subsequent suspension, while spending more time on Page Six than the sports page, where he used to own the bold ink. He spiraled into a personal and professional funk from which he really hasn’t yet recovered.
Harvey isn’t finished. As evidenced by his last outing — six rugged innings against the Pirates, allowing one run on six hits, with four strikeouts — he can still pitch quite well. His curveball and slider were sharp, and his No. 1 still hits the high-90s. But those four Ks would have been eight a few years ago. And those six innings would have been seven or eight.
Is trading him too much to ask? Are we breaking up a relationship before it has run its course? Do we just need a little counseling? A little time? The romantic in all of us wants to believe the old Harvey is still stewing in there, ready to romp, with his dark glare at home plate, that bulge of chew above his chin, ready to unleash a five-ounce ball with bad intentions.
But the truth is what we saw Sunday is the best we likely will see from Harvey. But based on his past, and the cinematic fervor that still surrounds him, some team will feel it has the key that will turn him back into a pitching monster, into that star that sparkled over Gotham for a beautiful, transitory moment.
For Harvey’s sake, you’d hope he has a few more fine seasons ahead of him, even if he can never be what he was again.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel