By Joe Rini
It’s interesting how a post can evolve. In the wake of the Matt Harvey soap opera of earlier this season, I envisioned a humorous yet cautionary post comparing Harvey to the contrasting fortunes of a pitcher born in California who starred on the field in New York, Tom Seaver, and a Brooklyn born pitcher who flopped in Los Angeles but played the field in 1960s Hollywood, Bo Belinsky.
Seaver started his career with 16 wins and a Rookie of the Year trophy on his mantelpiece in 1967 and ended it 20 years later with 311 wins and a plaque in Cooperstown. Belinsky blazed across the sky like a lightning bolt when he pitched a no-hitter one month into his career for the expansion team Los Angeles Angels in May 1961 but he gained greater renown for dating starlets and the Hollywood nightlife. One year after Seaver won a career high 25 wins in 1969, Belinsky finished his career with only three more wins for his entire career, 28, against 71 losses.
So the cautionary part of the tale was for me (like everyone else it seemed) to warn Matt Harvey about not squandering his gifts and the privilege of being a major league baseball player and to get serious about pitching again. Even his manager Terry Collins said that baseball needed to be Harvey’s priority again. But as I started drafting this post, the thought, “Who am I to judge?” gnawed at me.
I don’t know Matt Harvey personally. I remember crossing paths with him by the Mets dugout before a game in 2015 as he’s returned to the clubhouse and we exchanged hellos. As a call-up in August 2013, he autographed a baseball for my daughter and asked, “Pink?” as he saw the color of her highlighter. So based on my personal experience, he can be civil, he can recognize bright colors, and he hasn’t acted like a “jerk.”
I’ve never been AWOL from a job, so I can’t give Harvey a pass for that but I was also never a 28-year-old single athlete making $5 million a year living in New York City dating Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. I don’t know what it’s like to be young, single, and wealthy (or as my wife can attest, I also don’t know what it’s like to be old, married, and wealthy). I’d like to think I wouldn’t have acted like a jerk if I was in that position at 28. But maybe I would have.
He tried coming back from a second major injury this year and unlike his triumphant return from Tommy John surgery in 2015, the recovery from TOS surgery has been more difficult. Maybe he came back too soon.
There are worse problems in the world but maybe it isn’t easy to go from being the “Dark Knight” and the next Tom Seaver to being a punching bag on the mound and a punchline off it. About 20 years ago, I was in a community theater production of a “Death of a Salesman,” by Arthur Miller, and among the many memorable lines from that play, I always remember the final scene at the gravesite with Charley telling Biff and Happy about the travails of their salesman father, Willy Loman as he said, “He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back — that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished.”
I don’t think Matt Harvey’s finished but he appears to have a lot of hurdles, physical and otherwise, to clear. Like any of us with problems, Harvey needs to get to the root of them for his own well-being whether or not he ever becomes the “Dark Knight” again.