Posted by Peter Hyatt at 8:00 AM
What's wrong with Matt Harvey?
To best answer this question, we must listen, very carefully, to what one tells us.
Consider this: When you are asked, "What did you do this morning?" a process takes place before you say a single word in answer.
First, you have a personal dictionary within you that has, on average, about 25,000 words. If you grew up a reader, it is likely larger, perhaps as much as 30,000 or more.
When you are asked, "What did you do this morning?" you must go into this personal dictionary and choose:
which words to use out of 25,000 to use and which to leave out;
choose which information to yield, after all, you cannot tell everything you did this morning and you'd never stop talking;
chose what order to put this information in;
choose which words to best communicate what you want to say;
choose where to place each word, next to each other (syntax)
choose what verb tenses to use;
choose what pronouns to use, singular and plural...
This all takes place in less than a millisecond of time.
What one chooses to say is important.
I have listened carefully to both what Matt Harvey has talked about, and even what his parents have said.
The brain is quite efficient at processing this information. This is why it is critical to listen to what one says.
Then, we move to what is called, "the expected." The "expected" is what one is expected to say under specific context. When one is accused of stealing, we presuppose innocence and expect the person to say, "I didn't steal." When the one under suspicion of stealing says anything but "I didn't steal", we sit up and take notice.
What do you expect a young major leaguer experiencing new success to talk about when interviewed?
The expected is baseball, the major leagues, his fast ball, the challenges faced, the commitment to work, his routine, team mates, and so on. In fact, if you listen carefully to repeated words, you'll note priority as repetition increases importance. We listen to the order of information as well, as the brain tells the tongue what to say in less than a millisecond of time.
With Harvey, it was quite different. Coming off a great start to his major league career, Harvey's interview went right to night life, with "beer" very important to his vocabulary as well as "girls", "women" and "night life" in New York City. He spoke more of his love of Italian food than baseball. When his parents were interviewed, there was no "he is young and will settle down" parental admonition; they clearly were enjoying the ride of fame with him.
What was absent was "sleep" as well as "exercise, routine, preparation" and so forth. This early interview revealed what was, at the time, very important to Matt Harvey.
He burst on the scene with a powerful right arm and comparisons to Tom Seaver were immediate. His early success was thrilling to behold and before Tommy John surgery, it seemed like there was nothing he could not accomplish.
Seaver was the coach's antithesis in description: 'We usually get a 35 year old arm with a 22 year old head' but with Seaver, they got a '22 year old arm with a 35 year old head' referencing Seaver's maturity.
Seaver got under the skin of some of his teammates as early as 1968. In his rookie year, 1967, he did not embrace the "lovable loser" mentality that characterized the New York Mets since their inception in 1962. He came to win and did so by example, including his famous wind sprints exercise to strengthen his powerful legs. His stint in the Marine Corps taught him discipline and by 1968, he lectured some of the power hitters who routinely hit fly balls to the warning track explaining, "if you are missing a home run by ten feet, and you lift weights during the off season, this increase in strength..."
Some bristled under the young man's suggestions but by 1969, the atmosphere of losing was eradicated by their famous World Series "miracle." The world was shocked, but not Seaver, Kooseman, Agee, Harrelson, Grote and the others. They came into Spring Training '69 hungry and competitive.
The first crack in the armor of "The Dark Knight" was, in my opinion, agent Scott Boras. Boras is a master manipulator who's language can mimic sociopathic. It takes little imagination to consider what he fills the heads of these kids with using his multi-media presentation of how each pitch is worth x amount of dollars to the "greedy cooperate" entities and how "they care nothing for you."
Fans saw this when Harvey said he would not be pitching in the post season only to have the fans' reaction so extreme as to reverse himself.
The second crack of "The Dark Knight" was believing the hype of indestructibility.
Harvey is a big strong kid yet his love of nightlife during the specific period of time when the young body is being taxed with unnatural and violent motions of power pitching must be met with lots of sleep, high protein and no or low alcohol. Although there have been lots of bodies that can absorb nightlight punishment (Babe Ruth, Mark Messier), they are not the norm.
Alcohol increases estrogen which works against the protein that seeks to repair the microscopic tears in the muscles that weight lifting (and power throwing) does.
When we lift weights, we make microscopic tears in the muscle which, around 30 minutes post workout, begin to absorb protein to repair itself. Do this in repetition, and the body learns to anticipate the microscopic damage by establishing an increase in muscle. 6 straight weeks and the muscle fibers will give an actual visible change.
Tommy John surgery is brutal. Period. "The Dark Knight" posed naked, spoke of Derek Jeter's "conquests" of women, and gave "the finger" to the surgery.
The road back would be tough.
Does he work out? Yes.
Does he give full dedication to the workout recovery process?
Without lots of sleep and high protein recovery, sans alcohol, this less than 100% dedication to baseball was evident.
His 2016 campaign was a disaster by the standards that Harvey himself had set.
The New York Mets (some say) allowed a photo of Harvey, last year, to reach the Post where Harvey's body fat increase was visible to, perhaps, embarrass him.
The Mets were said to be in constant clash with Boras about Harvey. What did the Mets want?
They wanted the young man to eat, sleep and breathe baseball and let the night life wait until later. Harvey, perhaps fueled by Boras, with the hype well in place, refused. Boras blamed the innings pitched after TJ surgery pitted the Mets, once again, versus Team Harvey. What Boras sees is money and if it means turning an athlete into a clown and it will bring him his cut, he'll do it. Take a peek at the marketing of that world class -talented Noah Syndergaard and see the furrowed brow of the collective Mets' leadership. This is also why they sought to "tone down" the narcissistic behavior of Yoenis Cespedes and his 2016 Spring Training dog and pony show.
The battle to reign in Harvey was incessant and it led to frequent trade speculation where even the New York Yankees were mentioned.
The thoracic injury is acute and it takes a great battle and dedication to overcome it for anyone, no less a top shelf athlete.
In 2017, Harvey showed up at Spring Training distinctly leaner and in terrific shape.
He got the memo.
He looks like the Harvey who's rookie season electrified the Mets' fanbase.
The only way Harvey could have accomplished this was to quell the night life, beer and carbs, and eat, sleep and breathe conditioning for baseball. He is lean and he is strong and his language, thus far, indicates baseball, baseball and baseball.
We will never know what his lack of dedication to conditioning contributed to the injuries or to the recovery period but we do recognize now:
Whereas some pitchers throw even harder after TJ Surgery, Harvey's fastball is down and it is hittable.
If he stays the course and strength returns, his mature rebound could produce magic for baseball. He did not cope well with early success but has paid a deep chastising price for it and appears to be poised for success with the only question being:
It is difficult for any young person to handle early success, so Harvey gets no condemnation from me. As a parent and grandparent, the language of his parents bothered me more so. Had they jettisoned Boras back to the swamp from which he emerged, and stood firm with the then young Harvey, imploring him for 8 hours of sleep and postponing the nightlife, would things have been different?
We'll never know for sure but we know that the body that dedicates itself wholly to recovery has the best chances for success.
Let's hope Harvey's dedication to excellence, on and off the field, has not come too little nor too late.
Should he recover, to any degree, some of the magic, the Mets must consider trading him.
The bitter waters between them are all too much. During the playoff controversy, the suggestion of trading him, for example, to Colorado, was a subtle signal of humiliation. Boras knows the Mets will never pay Harvey what Boras has promised Team Harvey in the past and the Mets know that Boras will blame them for each and every failure, set back or issue that arises.
Boras is poison and with even modest success, Harvey should be offered...perhaps for a 3rd basemen.
update: March 16, 2017, NY Post took photos of Harvey mugging for the camera with a 36 year old model, following another rough spring training game. The Post described him as "boozy" with photos showing an abundance of alcohol on the table, as he put on a show for the camera.
With the build up of lactic acid (the "burn") from strenuous muscle exertion, the alcohol hinders recovery.
If Harvey does not excel, and he and Boras blame the Mets, consider what Harvey's words (and actions) reveal about what is most important to him. Rather than eat, sleep and breathe baseball, for a short window of life, he wants to be "The Dark Knight."
He may end up being "The Dark Fizzle" with all the potential in the world that amounted to very little.
Fully expect that that if he does not regain success, the Mets will be blamed for the innings after Tommy John surgery, and not the party life style that meant so much to Harvey.
The Mets should consider strongly that with a few good games, a trade will bring value.
He is not going to sign as a free agent with us. He will want the Yankees or the Dodger, but not the Mets.
Imagine a third base prospect with power...or something of value. It's better than watching him walk.
As he watches the Boras video presentations and dreams of endless wealth and paparazzi like attention, he'll sabotage his own physical health.