Matt Harvey doesn’t get a lot of sympathies these days.
Can’t say I don’t understand why. If you want to be the self-proclaimed superhero of a town like New York, you’re essentially setting the bar so high it requires perfection to reach, and Harvey’s 2016 season has been far from perfect.
But has Harvey ever been asked/had the option to live up to realistic expectations? Last time I checked, there have only been a few perfect baseball players in New York, Jeter and Rivera. Then there’s like 20 miles of crap. Yet, we still default on the “perfection” setting for our new stars. Of course, if you ask the Yankees they’ll naturally tell you there are many more perfect players—all of them in pinstripes. Or you could attend one of their pre-game events featuring video documentaries of Yankee greats that rival presidential documentaries.
It’s not the town’s fault, and it’s not the player’s fault that expectations are so high for the players who rise to notoriety there. It’s what happens when a) you expect a player to perform in proportion to the magnificence of the place you call home, b) only get to know someone by looking through a keyhole into their lives, and c) believe your hype.
I doubt Jeter is as perfect as we all remember him to be. Rivera, however, could be a saint. But, again, that’s just from my tiny sample size of him and the fact that he’s always delivered to me that which I want from him——great baseball results. And really, that’s the big piece of this puzzle; performance. It’s easy to look past a player’s shortcomings when he’s winning for your town, right?
Harvey isn’t delivering right now. At least he wasn’t until last night. Case in point, after his Memorial Day gem, fans chanted the name “Harvey” as he exited the field. This after booing the guy, calling him fat, and railing for him to be sent to the phantom DL, or demoted to AAA. Aren’t fans just the best?
But fans aren’t the only vacillators. Analysts, both serious and shock-jock, had started nurturing commentary on how to get Harvey out of the rotation. Some dubbed his present struggles the result of karma——a comeuppance for his brash arrogance and shameless enjoyment of early success.
As if our enjoyment of his success wasn’t just as brash and shameless?
Honestly, I don’t see what’s so bad about a player enjoying his success and milking a town for all it’s worth. Especially when that town advertises itself as one of the best places in the world to milk fame in. And the funny thing about fame is, you always milk it after you earn it because you can’t do it in reverse. You’d think by now we’d factor this in before revving up our hype machine? Moreover, considering how fame works, can you get mad at a guy for enjoying what he’s earned when it was always there as an incentive for him to earn it? Can you get mad at a guy for struggling in a game that’s incredibly fickle and steeped in chance? And while we’re at it, can you get mad at a guy for getting thicker when he pitches next to the baseball version of the Michelin man in Bartolo Colon? (For the record, Bartolo Colon is my favorite pitcher precisely because he’s an athlete that looks anything but).
Harvey’s personality AND ability are what great pitchers are made of. He may never be perfect, but imperfect swashbucklers with swagger make for memorable sports icons… at least for most folks.
Personally, I can give or take all the machismo. What makes me like Harvey—and this is the former player in me talking—is his honesty through this recent rough patch.
Struggling sucks. Struggling for long stretches really sucks. Struggling for long stretches and not having answers while the press demands an explanation is the kind of thing that rattles you to the core. All aspects of sports on a stage as grand as the New York Big Leagues requires indomitable confidence. Harvey has recently admitted he’s been a bit shaken, and I respect that. Of course, Batman would never do that, but he’s not Batman… I am (don’t tell anyone).
If Harvey really were some flaming a-hole, completely oblivious to the outside world, he’d have tough-talked his way through it. Or, maybe he would have asked for sympathy.
Harvey’s reaction after his Memorial Day outing proves a lot about his character. No, I’m not talking about our perceived character as blended by analysts comments and failures to produce for our dreams. I’m talking about a player who hates to lose, hates not being able to compete, takes challenges as personal, and won’t accept success until he understands why he got and how to repeat it—and is transparent about it. Sometimes we misinterpret transparency or inject it context that isn’t there.
It’s one thing to tell the media you don’t know why you’re struggling—that’s honest. It’s another to tell them, after a fantastic bounce-back start, that you’re not satisfied because you’re still searching for what caused the previous struggles—that’s telling.
If Harvey were a pitcher truly wrapped up in enjoying his greatness, he’d be much less focused on his failures.
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