Mining the notebooks. Monday Morning. October 12. The Old Mannion Homestead.
New York Mets ace Matt Harvey in one of his least knuckleheaded moments on the mound, as the starting pitcher for the National Leauge he 2013 All-Star Game. Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr/Newsday.
Last night, the sportscaster on the eleven o’clock local news called Matt Harvey a knucklehead.
Pop Mannion took umbrage.
“Why did he say that?” he asked indignant on Harvey’s behalf. Pop’s a lifelong Dodger fan but the Mets are his second team, the way the Dodgers are my second team, and he roots for the Mets almost as whole-heartedly as he roots for the Dodgers, until they play each other. Usually. His feelings are conflicted this time out. He likes these Mets. He likes Matt Harvey. “Why did he call Harvey a knucklehead?”
“Because he is a knucklehead,” I said without thinking.
“How so?” Pop continued to ask. “How is he a knucklehead? I haven’t heard he’s a knucklehead. What makes him a knucklehead?”
I was suddenly stumped. I didn’t have an immediate, specific answer. My agreeing with the sportscaster that Harvey's a knucklehead had been reflexive. I’d never called Harvey a knucklehead before myself and hadn’t heard him called a knucklehead by anyone else, but it had sounded like the right word. It fit with my sense of what Harvey’s like as a person and a pitcher.
I don’t dislike Harvey. I certainly don’t think he’s not a great pitcher. But he drives me nuts sometimes because he’ll be pitching a brilliant game and then all at once he turns into a...knucklehead.
My impression has been he gets not cocky, exactly, but over-confident in a belligerent way. It looks to me as if, late in a game, when the Mets are ahead and he seems to be cruising towards another brilliant victory, he starts throwing pitches he’s daring batters to swing at, as if he’s saying, “Ok, meat, see if you can hit this!”
And they do.
Often they hit it right out of the park.
And when they do he gets pissed. Not mad. Bob Gibson got mad. Pissed. And pissy. Anger made Gibson more focused, more determined to get the next batter out. Harvey seems stuck in the moment, as if he’s forgotten where he is and what he has to do while he’s focusing on how pissed he is. It’s why I think deGrom is going to be the real ace of the staff in the future. He’s never stuck in the moment. His mind is always on the next pitch. Harvey eventually shakes it off and gets back to work but for too long you can see he’s nursing his grievances. Not that it matters so much what we fans see on television. But the other team sees it too and they know they’ve gotten to him and that tells them they can get to him again.
And they do.
Like I said, this usually seems to happen later in a game, when it’s understandable he’d be feeling confident after having pitched brilliantly for the past several innings but it’s also the point when he’s beginning to lose gas and the opposing batters have begun to figure him out and he should be focused on getting batters out, not on showing them up or showing off.
And whenever I see this happen, I want to shout at him through the screen, Get your head back in the game, you knucklehead!
Or words to that effect.
But, you see. This is just my impression from watching games on TV and I don’t watch that many. I listen. I prefer baseball on the radio. So I really haven’t seen Harvey pitch more than a handful of times and one of those times was in the 2013 All-Star Game when he definitely didn’t pitch like a knucklehead.
Ok, he did give up a double on his first pitch to the first batter he faced, Mike Trout, and plunked the second, Robinson Cano, in the leg, sending him limping out of the game. But that was nerves not knuckleheadedness and Cano didn’t hold it against him. And then he struck out Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera and got the next two batters to end the inning and then went out in the second inning and sat the next three batters down in order.
The orange shoes might have been a knuckleheaded fashion statement, but the game was at CitiField and he was wearing them for the hometown fans.
So it may be that my impression that Harvey can be a knucklehead on the mound sometimes is based entirely on a single instance in one game from early this season that I actually can’t specifically recall and, given the way imagination and memory work, I now “see” it happen every time I hear Matt Harvey give up a hit or walk a batter late in a game and that’s not something he does very often at any point in a game.
You could look it up.
And it may be that I’m predisposed to think he’s a knucklehead on the mound is based on my sense that he’s a knucklehead in his daily life. And that is based on gossip.
Gossip from 2013, his first full season with the Mets when he appeared on his way to winning the Cy Young Award and was also actually on his way to needing Tommy John Surgery.
Gossip I wasn’t really paying attention to. It just filtered through somehow.
Word was he’d gotten full of himself. Fuller of himself. He was having too much fun being Matt Harvey. Which, you know, you can’t blame him for. To borrow from Vin Scully, O to be young and Met in New York City! Young, good looking, and a star in New York City! But he was rumored to be swaggering around town in a way that was obnoxious and vain, well, dumb. Or it made him look dumb. And a little mean, particularly towards the women he made sure we knew wanted to sleep with him. He reveled in his nickname the Dark Knight of Gotham, which I heard he may have bestowed on himself but more likely seems to have been thought up for him by Sports Illustrated. However he came by it, he liked it, still likes it, a little too much. He has it carved into his bats. (Holy Baseball Bats, Batman!) And however he got it, it doesn’t have much to do with his performance on the mound or at the plate. He happens to look like he could play Batman in a movie, but the nickname was based on the fact that like Batman he stayed out all night, patrolling the streets of Gotham. The difference being, of course, that Batman was out chasing criminals and Harvey was out chasing women---or, and again he made sure fans knew, women were chasing him. He chronicled all this himself on Twitter where he did a lot of boasting and swaggering and virtual showing off. I didn’t see any of it. I didn’t and don’t follow him and I didn’t bother to go look at his feed. Frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t care that he was being a knucklehead. I don’t care that he is a knucklehead, except when his being a knucklehead costs the Mets a run...or a lead...or a game.
But since I only vaguely recalled any of this and couldn’t come up with a single specific instance of this kind of knuckleheadedness, I didn’t try to tell it to Pop. But I had an inspiration.
“He’s like Nuke LaLoosh,” I said.
Nuke LaLoosh is the Tim Robbins character from Bull Durham, the cocky, feckless, irresponsible but incredibly gifted young pitching phenom Kevin Costner’s and Susan Sarandon’s characters, Crash Davis and Annie Savoy, try to teach how to be both a grownup and the real major league star he has the potential to be.
Nuke is a likable goof who relies on his talent to get him through not just games but through life. He’s vain and full of himself and he thinks having talent gives him permission to do whatever he wants on the field and off. Fortunately, he’s not malicious or mean. But he is...a knucklehead.
That sounds like Matt Harvey to me. He’s a Nuke LaLoosh. But a Nuke who’d found his control without help from an Annie Savoy and made it to the majors without a Crash Davis to teach him responsibility, discipline, and self-respect and respect for the game.
The thing is, even as I was saying all this to Pop, it didn’t sound right. I wasn’t convinced. Because I really didn’t know if Harvey was like this.
My thinking Harvey’s a knucklehead was the result of these things feeding into each other, my impression, possibly based on one moment from one game, that he tends to lose focus on the mound at moments when he should be becoming more focused; my sense, based on some half-remembered gossip, that he’s kind of a jerk and goof in his personal life; and my imagining a resemblance between him and a character in a movie.
That’s it. That’s my evidence for thinking Harvey’s a knucklehead.
Ain’t much to go on, is it?
Pop wasn’t persuaded either.
And even if I was right, it didn’t mean that’s why the sportscaster was calling him a knucklehead.
That, however, became clear when I went back over what he’d been talking about when he called Harvey a knucklehead.
He was speculating that Harvey was knuckleheaded enough to retaliate against the Dodgers tonight for what Chase Utley did Saturday night to Ruben Tejada and get himself thrown out of the game, costing the Mets the division title and their shot at the pennant.
By the way. I don't want Utley suspended. I want him declared out, interference called, the batter out, the run erased, and the game resumed from there.
That wasn't a slide. It was a tackle. Utley should have been called out for interference. Ump didn’t see it that way. Maybe in a former life he was a fan of Ty Cobb. At least he called him out. And the call should have stood. But the neighborhood play is a tradition not backed up by the rules and the umps back in New York apparently didn’t believe in tradition
I wonder if the MLB suspended Utley just to keep the rest of the series from becoming 3 days of chin music and bench clearing brawls.
It occurred to me that however the sportscaster had come to his opinion that Harvey’s a knucklehead, he thinks Harvey’s the kind of knucklehead who doesn’t listen to anybody but himself and is inclined to do what he thinks best even if it costs the team and himself. And the most recent evidence the sportscaster is likely to have had in mind was the controversy last month before the Mets clinched over whether or not the Mets should sit Harvey down to save his arm for the post-season even though it meant he wouldn’t be available to help them get to the post-season.
Actually, it was more than that. The possibility was raised that Harvey wouldn’t even pitch in the post-season.
It was Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, who stirred up the trouble. But that’s an agent’s job, to look out for his client and stir up trouble if his client’s interests are threatened.
And Harvey’s interests were threatened. Are threatened. He wants to have a long, successful, and financially rewarding career. That’s not guaranteed to any young player no matter how talented but a young pitcher is especially vulnerable and one coming off Tommy John surgery is very, very, very vulnerable.
The Mets want Harvey to have a long and successful career too, but they aren’t quite as committed to his having a financially rewarding one and they have a competing interest---they want to win now.
So, Boras was doing his job. The question at issue was what was the agreement between Harvey and the Mets at the beginning of the season? What did the Mets promise Harvey and what did he promise them and which party, if either, was backing away from their promise?
Boras isn’t the most tactful of agents, apparently. He can annoy people just by saying hello. So things got heated between him and the Mets management quickly. But add to this the rantings of loudmouthed fans whose interest is only in their team winning so they can feel good about wearing their overpriced Mets gear to work and shouting down Yankee fans in bars and their being egged on by cynical and knuckleheaded sportswriters and sportscasters and talk radio blowhards, and you can see how things got ugly.
And Harvey contributed to the ugliness by not keeping his mouth shut.
He should have kept quiet and left it to Boras. He was told to keep quiet and leave it to Boras by no less than David Wright. And he seemed to listen. He shut up and kept quiet for, what? A day?
Then, last week, after things had been worked out and had worked out, the Mets in the playoffs and Harvey apparently in good shape, he went and missed that workout!
Monday night. Post-game update: Chase who? Harvey didn't pitch like a knucklehead tonight, but he wasn't at his absolute best. Not that it mattered. Jon Danziger on Bartolo Colon: "You magnificent bastard, you doughy steroid-addled teddy bear!" Martha Plimpton on Grandy: "GRANDERSON IS THE MANDERSON!" Thers on Grandy: "Curtis Granderson is far more a Met than he ever was a Yankee." Newsday on the 13-7 win: Mets exact revenge with power display for 2-1 series lead.
When you get down to it, it’s not the least bit knuckleheaded of a young player to try to protect his future. The way things are structured, young stars like Harvey aren’t paid what their worth to their teams when they're in the primes and worth the most. They don’t start making the big money until age begins to take its toll and their skills start to decline and with that their value. In order to make the money they deserve, players have to have long careers. If Harvey permanently wrecks his arm now, the Mets aren’t going to come knocking on his door when he’s thirty-five to drop off anywhere near the money they or another team would have paid him over time had he stayed healthy. At NBC Sports, Joe Posnanski has a good column explaining this as a dilemma for all young players and their teams present and teams maybe to be: Harvey Danger: Both Matt Harvey and the Mets are behaving rationally, and therein lies the problem.
Former San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher turned sportswriter Dirk Hayhurst, speaking from sad experience, makes this point in a column for Vice Sports, Matt Harvey’s Health is More Important Than the Mets.
Along the same lines, at SBNation, Grant Brisbee writes that although Harvey and Boras could have handled things with more tact and consideration---the implication is that Harvey behaved a bit too much like a knucklehead and Scott Boras behave too much like Scott Boras---they were right on a couple of points.
"1. There's never a good reason to trust a team completely."
The corporation, though, is repeating "CHAMPIONSHIP" over and over again, like a panicking Hodor, completely unable to think of anything else. A championship brings a lot of money to an organization, with estimates that hover around $40 million or so, but that's just in the tangible boost in immediate ticket and merchandising sales. It's a lot harder to account for every last penny that the thousands of new fans will spend over the next 30 years. Plus, there's the whole bit about winning a championship. It's sort of the point of this whole thing.
And if using Harvey for 20 or 30 innings more than the recommended limit gets them there, well ... I mean ... no one is really going to notice, right?
Harvey and Boras are right to be skeptical. The history of wholly selfless decisions by corporations can fit on an index card. That goes for Chevron, Walmart and US Steel, and it goes for the Mets.
"2. Seriously, fans don't care what happens to you."
The biggest miscalculation is that Boras was hoping that public sentiment would put pressure on Sandy Alderson and the team, except he forgot that sports fans hate the idea of a player sitting out for preventative measures. Thirty-six doctors could hold a press conference and announce that if Harvey throws one more pitch, thousands of tarantulas will burst out of his elbow and scuttle into the Citi Field crowd, and the response would still be, "Innings limits? INNINGS LIMITS? DO YOUR JOB. YOU ARE A MILLIONAIRE PLAYING A KID'S GAME ARRRRGGH."
And at CBSSports, Jon Heyman says that in thinking about calling an end to his season, Harvey wasn't being a knucklehead. He was just being human, and "being human is no crime":
Mets fans finally need to come to grips with the fact that Harvey isn't really Batman or any other superhero, even if the tabloids once suggested he was. He is a human, a kid who bleeds, experiences pain and may even cry on occasion.
He's doing what almost anyone in his shoes would do -- and should do -- and that is to listen to his doctor, who also happens to be one of the world's foremost authorities on Tommy John surgery.
Heyman has a few other things to say, some of it along the lines of Harvey's being...not a knucklehead, exactly, but immature. You might want to read his whole post.