Matt Harvey became universally loved by Mets fans after arriving on the scene in 2012 with an electric fastball and wipeout slider.
The kid from Connecticut had at all: talent, charisma and a smile that could illuminate Citi Field. Before Jacob deGrom became the heir apparent to Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, there was Harvey. And he embraced the challenge.
By the time Harvey departed Queens, he was a broken man, physically and emotionally. We know the latter because of his admission this week that he used cocaine while pitching for the Mets. That information came in testimony he delivered during Eric Kay’s trial in Texas. Kay, a former Angels employee, has been charged with supplying opioids to pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died in 2019 with fentanyl and oxycodone in his system.
Harvey’s admission hardly came as a shock to those around the Mets. There had been unsubstantiated rumors Harvey used cocaine, and his reputation as a hardcore partier only grew with each new team infraction, whether it was missing a workout before the 2015 NLDS or skipping a game two years later after he had stayed out late the previous night.
As somebody who covered Harvey throughout his Mets career it was easy to spot a line of demarcation in personality. He started the All-Star Game at Citi Field in 2013 as the toast of New York. A month later, he received the diagnosis of a torn elbow ligament that necessitated Tommy John surgery. Harvey returned carrying a burden, perhaps with the realization he still could be a good pitcher, but that he had missed his golden chance at receiving a nine-figure contract.
That’s not to say Harvey’s cocaine usage began then. We may never know when it started or the full effect it had on a pitcher whose remaining superpowers disappeared completely after he lobbied for the ball in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series against the Royals. The Mets were about to lose their lead and the series.
Soon, Harvey’s velocity disappeared and a new diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome arrived. That meant more surgery. Harvey has barely survived in the major leagues since then. Last year, he pitched to a 6.27 ERA in 28 starts for the Orioles.
“Especially as a pitcher, you just never know,” deGrom told me two springs ago. “That is why I say I am thankful every day I can put this uniform on and do this, because you just never know when your time cam be up as far as playing. The main thing is try to stay healthy. It’s easier said than done.
“There’s some things that are out of your control, like nobody knows much about thoracic outlet and then Harvey gets it and you do the surgery and you just don’t know. There’s so many things that are unknown.”
One of the great disappointments in Mets history was never receiving an extended stretch with Harvey, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz in the same rotation. Injuries to all of them limited that talented group to only one turn in the rotation together. That came in 2018, shortly before Harvey was traded to the Reds.
Harvey has acknowledged in recent years that his lifestyle and immaturity contributed to his undoing with the Mets. The fans still showed their appreciation for him last season, when he pitched at Citi Field for the first time since the trade.
The confirmation of Harvey’s cocaine usage while pitching for the Mets shouldn’t change anybody’s opinion of him. If anything, feel bad for Harvey that he was broken enough emotionally to use the drug.
More than a generation ago, Gooden and Darryl Strawberry sabotaged their careers with substance abuse. Both are still largely revered for helping the Mets win the World Series in 1986.
Harvey never delivered such a championship, but took the ball in 2015 when forces were pulling him toward shutting down because of innings workload concerns. He still wanted the ball in the ninth inning in Game 5 of the World Series, but couldn’t finish the job.
He deserves to be remembered as a shining star — if even for a brief moment — who through a confluence of physical ailments, emotional distress and lifestyle choices never found sustained success.
Let’s just hope he has found peace in his life that doesn’t require nefarious chemical inducements.