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An appreciation of Matt Harvey

Harvey’s Mets career was quite turbulent at the end, but he should be remembered for the good times, not the bad.

World Series - Kansas City Royals v New York Mets - Game Five Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Everyone has heard the news by now. The Mets will designate Matt Harvey for assignment today, ending his Mets career 2,109 days, 104 starts, and 639 innings after it began. A lot has happened in that time that’s worth celebrating, and a lot has happened in that time that’s worth lamenting. For many, including myself, this is an incredibly sad day. This is the conclusion of a story that was an emotional rollercoaster, and this is not the happily-ever-after ending we so desired.

Personally, though, I am probably most struck by the amount of Mets fans, on social media and otherwise, celebrating the DFA of the former All-Star. As necessary and progressive as the move is, I see nothing worth celebrating here. Don’t get me wrong, Harvey was undoubtebly a drain on the team and, frankly, a waste of a roster spot at this point. But to be extremely happy, or even merely ambivalent, that Harvey is no longer on the Mets is to be completely unmindful of everything he gave to this franchise and its fans, no matter what type of attitude he had off the field.

This conversation begins where all conversations with Harvey begin: the 2013 season. That was the season that, in the span of four April starts, Harvey saddled the entire team, fanbase, and city on his back, and became effectively the biggest sports star in town. That fourth start was, of course, the famous “Harvey’s Better” game, in which he unofficially became the savior; the sole hope for a team in the midst of its fifth-straight losing season. Citi Field hadn’t had a lot of great moments by that point, but the atmosphere that night was a glimpse of what would come a few seasons later, and Harvey was the one who ushered that feeling into the ballpark.

Of course, he didn’t stop there. By his tenth start of the season, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was given the famous label of “The Dark Knight of Gotham.” He pitched one of the best games in franchise history that year. He started the All-Star game at Citi Field. And we all remember Super Tuesday, right?

Simply put, Harvey had himself one of the best seasons a starting pitcher has ever had for this franchise. He captured the imagination of Mets fans everywhere and gave us all hope for the future of this team. Sadly, his season was cut short due to Tommy John surgery; Harvey was human, after all. But he was determined to get back and help the team, so much so that he wanted to pitch before the end of the 2014 season, though that was not in the cards.

Flash forward to April 2015, though, and Harvey took no time in reclaiming his spot in the spotlight. Mets fans packed Citi Field on a Wednesday night just to watch his first game back at home in almost two years. I attended that game, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Listen to the crowd as soon as Harvey toes the rubber. That is unlike anything else you’ll ever experience at a weeknight game in April. We were standing the entire first inning. The crowd was hanging on every pitch. Chase Utley ruined it with a home run, but it was absolutely electric, and I will never forget it.

As we know, though, late in that 2015 season was where the biggest controversy with Harvey occured. When meeting with the media prior to a game in September, Harvey mentioned that his agent Scott Boras, along with Dr. James Andrews, had advised Harvey not to go beyond 180 innings pitched that year. Now, Harvey never actually said he was actually going to shut it down at 180 innings. He never said that’s what he wanted to do. He merely iterated that he was advised not to go beyond 180 innings that year, and that he trusted the input of those whom he’d hired to advise him on such matters.

Regardless, fans and the media were still outraged. This is where Harvey really began to grow a label as being “selfish”. Obviously, this incident reflected poor communication with the Mets at the very least, and was clearly something that should never have been revealed to the media before management. But any tag placed on Harvey for being “selfish” or “me-first” for reflecting concern about his own well-being was taking things completely out of context, and proven completely irrelevant in a few weeks anyway when Harvey, possibly in part because of the scrutiny, blew completely past his innings limit and pitched well into that postseason.

And that postseason is where Citi Field, filled with many of the same fans who had completely turned on him just a month earlier, chanted Harvey’s name in unison throughout his three home starts that October, the last of which just happened to be one of the best postseason pitching performances in franchise history. One of the iconic moments of that entire postseason was when 45,000 Mets fans were standing on their feet, screaming for Harvey to come back out for the ninth inning of that game. He did, and got possibly the biggest cheer of the night for doing so.

Going from zero to 200+ innings in one year—which doctors and his agent advised against doing—could certainly have at least partially contributed to Harvey’s Thoracic Outlet Syndrome the next season; exactly the kind of procedure he was trying to avoid. But Harvey went through that operation, and the grueling rehab afterwards—not two full years removed from an arduous rehab from Tommy John surgery—and worked extremely hard in order to be ready for the start of the 2017 season. Unfortunately, he was not actually physically ready for the season, unless you consider a pitcher to be ready while still dealing with signifcant muscle atrophy in his shoulder.

But even with that, Harvey gave it all he had in 2017, and got thoroughly detroyed nearly every single time out. And after every single beating, he faced the media, dejected and defeated, and eventually just ran out of things to say. The same story repeated itself this season. He wanted to succeed. He was trying just as hard to get hitters out as he was before, but his body wasn’t letting him. Nonetheless, though, he was still criticized by the public, for pitching poorly, for not “being focused” because he chose to have a life outside of baseball, for not speaking to the media, and for anything else you can imagine, as if anyone actually knows for sure how determined Harvey was or still is, or how seriously he has taken his craft the last few years.

Sandy Alderson said it himself in the press conference yesterday: Harvey gave it his all to come back. And he really did, which is why it is mystifying to me that any fan can thoughtlessly say “good riddance” to a fixture of this franchise. Sure, what transpired the last few seasons has left a bad taste in all of our mouths. He’s undoubtebly messed up a few times off the field. But he’s never gotten into legal trouble, and the spotlight is a tough place to be.

This is a man who gave his right arm up pitching for this franchise. He went through tremendous physical ailments, pushed himself to the limit, and gave us all wonderful memories in the time being. He wasn’t always the perfect person, but that anyone would celebrate this ending after all he has been through is dissapointing to me. It would be a travesty for his contributions to go underappreciated in Mets lure because of how things ended.

So thank you, Matt Harvey. Thank you for the memories and for the amazing expereinces you’ve given us all. I will continue to hang your picture and plaque on my bedroom wall, and I will hold on to my Harvey All-Star Game jersey for as long as it fits me. One day, I may even wear it to a game again.