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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

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Deconstructing Harvey

The infrastructure of a baseball season encompasses a surfeit of components that don’t show up in the box score, including intramural dustups in March that dissolve into the murkiest of memories by May. They are as much part of the National Pastime landscape as the crack of the bat, the flight of the ball, the layering of convenience fees and the finding of Cuppy. There’s no use in rolling our eyes toward them. If whatever episode we attempt to haught away as a silly controversy didn’t materialize, another seemingly dubious contretemps would come along in its place to grab our inevitably evanescent attention. It’s how things work when we’re relentlessly interested in a subject as broad and deep as our Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’ Mets.

A few weeks from now, if an anvil doesn’t quash him from above, Matt Harvey will be diligently rehabilitating his right elbow in one of two geographic locations. Now and then we’ll receive an update whose key takeaway will be “progress” or “setback” and we’ll react accordingly. Then we’ll turn our attention to whoever’s starting that night’s game, as Harvey’s specter recedes in the moment because, unfortunately, he won’t be available to pitch.

Until then, judging by the fascinating-on-several-levels account written by Andy Martino in the Daily News the other day, young Matthew seems intent on tying Mets management in the kind of knots he previously reserved for roving bands of Rockies, Phillies and White Sox. I don’t believe he’s doing it out of malice. Matt Harvey got this far this soon hewing to his competitive nature. Disingenuously dismiss him for possessing a ton of nerve for someone whose major league record boils down to a scant 12-10, but what a 12-10 it’s been.

Besides, his won-lost mark in his year and change as a Met is far brighter than anything the Mets have put up over the past half-decade. When it comes to taking winning seriously, I’m willing to put a wee bit of faith in Harvey’s instincts, whereas the Mets…I’m still waiting to find out what business they’re in exactly.

Harvey will rehab and it will go encouragingly swell or distressingly slow whether it transpires in Flushing or Port St. Lucie. I’m rooting for the former mainly because Port St. Lucie in July — no matter its springtime charms — sounds spectacularly depressing. When I think of a Met serving injury time in PSL, I think of Kaz Matsui literally seeking shelter from the storm, riding out a Florida hurricane in the home team clubhouse. I also think of Keith Hernandez on Tuesday suggesting a player can “die on the vine” when exiled to far-away minor league precincts. It’s worth noting that in his final, hobbled days as a Cleveland Indian, Hernandez resisted a rehabilitation assignment in Winter Haven — and he’s Keith Hernandez.

The ace and his employer will figure it out and put a happy enough face on the decision, but Martino’s column remains fascinating even if we speed ahead to the part where we decide this was much ado about little. When you read it, you’re taken aback by how nervous the Mets are to have their marquee attraction (we’re attracted to him even when he’s technically inactive) speak to a reporter on his own. Spring Training is traditionally the long, languorous stretch when players are blessed with the opportunity to talk at length. It’s when there’s nothing to but talk once the workouts are over and it’s too late to golf. As antsy as the Mets are to generate interest in their product, it’s strange that they’d so assiduously try to hide one of the best pieces in their inventory from public view.

It’s Spring Training. There’ll be plenty of chances to forget about Matt Harvey once he’s not pitching.

You might also wonder why it took columnist Martino to successfully seek out Harvey and why it took more than a month after Pitchers & Catchers for this story to fully bubble up. I don’t know if Martino was the first media member to directly approach Harvey or the first one to break through a psychological barrier the Mets set up to keep their ace from saying too much to any one reporter, but since when does the vaunted New York press yield to unilaterally imposed prohibitions? I’ve seen allusions throughout the spring to the Mets making Harvey available in only gang-interview settings. I wondered how such a restriction could possibly fly in February and March (as opposed to a postgame setting during the regular season). Apparently Harvey wondered, too.

On a larger scale, I marveled at how the current administration hasn’t really had to withstand any kind of withering assault from those who are paid to cover the team. Oh, there are continual 140-character shots, snarks and snipes at the owners and their enterprise amid a generally almost passive-aggressive portrayal of the Mets as something less than wholly successful, but given that this is New York, and New York has this reputation for unforgiving media focus, you don’t really see anybody take much issue with what those charged with running the baseball operations have produced in the standings. The trees are examined to within an inch of their bark, but the forest tends to go undisturbed.

It’s possible that there is unanimous concurrence among all current and recent members of the Met press corps that the best of a bad situation has been made since 2011 — when there was so much leftover hash left to be cleaned up; and it wouldn’t be fair to fully judge the franchise until 2015 — when its most prized ducks are projected to line up in a row. But it doesn’t seem likely that among a diverse group of professional inquisitors, somebody wouldn’t think to pointedly ask, in so many words, “Why haven’t you guys made this team tangibly better than you have? You’re in your fourth year here, you’ve never put together a winning record and you’re well shy of constructing a legitimate 1 through 8 for this year. Why are your team’s fans left to wonder which least bad option will get the bulk of the playing time at two key positions?” We surely don’t lack for granular coverage of this team, but everybody seems eerily satisfied that the big picture is taking care of itself with all deliberate speed.

It could be that the Alderson group knows exactly what it’s doing and their slow build in the shadow of all the Wilponian mishegas will pay off relatively soon. This ongoing frustrating epoch may yet prove to have been the early stages of Cashen II (even if we’re at least one Strawberry shy of reincarnating 1984 ASAP). Still, it’s odd that nobody on the credentialed side of the divide really pushes the matter. You’d figure someone would bang the drum impatiently if just to generate a little old-fashioned headline heat.

Does the Mets’ path to on-field competence let alone glory really appear that unimpeded to everybody who has a close-up view? If so, clear my next few Septembers for meaningful games.

In any event, kudos to Martino for digging in with Harvey and for having the best spring in St. Lucie of anybody not named Eric Campbell. The News’s “Baseball Insider” has become something of a Met Whisperer of late, eliciting soul-searching stuff from Daniel Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud and now capturing Harvey in mid-smolder. (On the other hand, Martino’s smug defense of anonymous “one Met said” sourcing, in response to Howard Megdal’s enlightening talk with the scorned Justin Turner, was rather dispiriting considering the great work he’s done having players speak on the record this month.) Baseball newspaper columnizing, particularly in this digital day and age, can stand a point of difference.

One night late last season, Howie Rose was moved to bring up the grand tradition of the New York sports columnist, mentioning three names in particular: Vic Ziegel in the News, George Vecsey of the Times and Steve Jacobson at Newsday. I found myself thinking I’d happily read anything any of them had written, but in 2013, I wasn’t going to be reading much new. Jacobson hadn’t penned a regular newspaper column in a decade, Vecsey was primarily blogging whatever struck his fancy (sports or otherwise) on his own and Ziegel passed away in 2010. As someone who heard the same broadcast put it to me a few days later, “Two of those guys are retired and one of them is dead.”

I don’t know if anybody’s around today at any New York daily quite matching the kind of work those gentlemen did. I’m not suggesting talent has taken a sabbatical in the wake of their respective absences from press boxes across America. It’s just a far different media world balancing far different demands. The 800 well-thought words crafted to meet the thinking sports fan’s line of sight first thing in the morning doesn’t serve as the pinnacle of sportswriting anymore. There are still newspapers and there are still columnists, but as a reader who picks up or clicks on a local paper, you rarely experience columns that reflect and consider and breathe…all on deadline, no less. There’s information and there’s immediacy, but within what’s left of the sports pages, there just isn’t as much in the way of elegant engagement.

Granted, a vast array of venues exist to feature writing that fits more or less in that realm, but the general daily sports column in your newspaper isn’t necessarily one of them.

If you want a reminder of how well a general sports column could capture your fancy, you might want to pick up a collection that came out about a year ago called Summers At Shea. It contains the Mets-themed work of one of the contemporaries of the columnists listed above, Ira Berkow, long of the Scripps-Howard’s Newspaper Enterprise Association and later the New York Times.

I’d never particularly identified Berkow with the Mets, but that’s fine. A degree of detachment served his occasional forays into our obsession quite nicely between 1967 and 2007. While by no means naïve about the machinations of professional sports, this columnist didn’t fully tamp down a romantic’s heart when it came to the game and the individuals he was covering. He grew up a Cubs fan and never stopped wishing for their eternally elusive success. It’s refreshing to hear someone in the media confess to a lingering loyalty besides “the best possible story”.

And if you can be a lifelong Cubs fan and still write about the 1969 Mets without snarling, then you’re probably going to do justice to your stories anyway.

From Stengel to Seaver to the latter days of Shea, with a welcome Roadblock or two along the way.

From Stengel to Seaver to the latter days of Shea, with a welcome Roadblock or two along the way.

The columns featured in Summers At Shea are snapshots that prove worth preserving. There’s Tom Seaver in Rochester in 1970, having recently ascended to the peak of popular consciousness (but having misplaced his overcoat). There’s Willie Mays in St. Petersburg in 1973, doubling off the wall and proving himself viable for one more spring. There’s Rusty Staub battling gastronomical temptations as he would lefty relievers in his final season of pinch-hitting in 1985, the last year his conditioning would be served up for public consumption. There’s Berkow joining Ron Darling on a “dark and leaky afternoon” for the Sunday drive from Manhattan to Flushing for what was supposed to be Game Seven of the 1986 World Series, a little number Darling was poised to start a few hours hence until the leak became too much for the Series to bear. Nevertheless, Ira Berkow got himself in the car with that night’s starter on the biggest day of his life.

Casey Stengel shows up in Summers At Shea, in the book’s introduction. It’s a story about how the then 83-year-old Stengel rejected Berkow’s overture to work with him on a baseball instructional primer of sorts. “Cannot disclose my Future affairs,” the Mets’ first manager advised, but he does wind up a part of Berkow’s tapestry nonetheless. So does Sherman “Roadblock” Jones. So do Tommie Agee and Dave Kingman and Rafael Santana and Kevin McReynolds and, eventually, various millennial Mikes (Piazza, Hampton, Pelfrey). Berkow wrote sports for decades. He came in and out of the Mets’ life intermittently if not exclusively. No wonder he has a couple of similar collections out that focus on the Yankees and the Knicks. That writing a Metsian book — one padded with a frankly unnecessary “formidable rivals” section that includes an ode to Paul O’Neill, for crissake — appears more a box to be checked than a mission to be accomplished shouldn’t be held against him.

Nor should some really egregious editing errors. A pennant race column that quite obviously appeared in September of 1969 is labeled as having been originally published in September or 1968. Another, on the World Series just won, is listed as having been first printed in September of 1969, or a month before the World Series was played. A third, regarding Tom Seaver’s milestone performance of September 1, 1975, is identified with a publication date of September 26, when clearly it saw light on September 2. Berkow’s writing set a high enough standard so that the bar shouldn’t be lowered for historical accuracy.

More appropriate to the tone of Summers At Shea was the column Berkow wrote after covering Seaver’s retirement press conference in 1987. “I guess it’s time now to sit back and reflect on what I’ve done,” he quotes Tom. “It’s been a lovely 20 years. I couldn’t have asked for more.” Double that span for Berkow’s columnist career and the sentiment applies to having read this sampler of what he wrote.

Jay Goldberg welcomed Ira Berkow to the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in 2013. Listen to a podcast of the visit here.

13 comments to Deconstructing Harvey

  • To answer one question, the Mets are in the real estate business. Baseball games are just a sideline with really good land-access perks.

  • Knew that one was coming, though I was guessing 5w30 would deliver it.

  • Dave

    Frank Zappa used to say that music journalists were “people who can’t write, writing for people who can’t read.” I fear that nowadays newspapers see sportswriters the same way…they can get away with throwaway stuff because they assume most sports fans are just Neanderthals who are just going to look at the pictures, maybe read some stats.

    • Andee

      I think the Zappa quote was actually “people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read,” which is even better, and even more analogous to sportswriting.

  • open the gates

    I like your reference to early Cashen. No one thought he was a genius in 1983. He had a perennially injured “ace” in Craig Swan. First he traded for two former stars one of whom was afraid to bat (Ellis Valentine) and the other afraid to pitch (Randy Jones). Kingman II and his yearly flirtation with the Mendoza Line. The disappointment that was George Foster. Keeping Neil Allen as his closer while trading away Jeff Reardon for bupkiss. The abortive managerial career of George Bamberger. Trading star Lee Mazzilli for a couple of unknown minor leaguers. And finally, after bringing Tom Seaver back home, losing him on a waiver selection. All while losing 90+ games every year. Folks wanted to run him out of town on a rail. Little did they know that the major-league stuff was really a sideshow, and the real story was happening in the minors. Maybe that’s what’s going on with Sandy Alderson. Of course, as you point out, there’s no Darryl Strawberry down there that we know of. But we can at least hope that Alderson’s rebuilding project isn’t smoke and mirrors.

  • 5w30

    Thanks for the shout out. And again, Martino is a SNY Wilpon NYDN (Mets marketing partner) stooge whose main source is Fredo himself. Like all NYDN reporters, won’t mention the name of the root cause of most of the Mets problems – Wilpon. And as for old school writers, don’t forget Dick Young (with that certain, grating 1977 exception) was totally fixated on the Highlanders in his last years with the NYDN.

    • Joe D.

      Hi 5w30,

      Don’t know if one could say that Martino is a stooge for Wilpon. It was Martino who let us know how Jay Horwitz came over and tried to stop Matt Harvey from continuing talking to Martino and the conversation that ensued, making it a total embarrassment to the Met organization and raising so many questions as to why an organization which has no problem badmouthing its players via leaks from unidentified officials would want to have strict control over its players in it’s ability to talk with the press and the message they want them to say. We all know that certain things should remain confidential and that our bosses speak with us in private to let us know what they do not want us repeating publicly, however, that is not the same as we see here.

      Wonder what they are afraid of? Perhaps that more players will voice their discontent with the way the front office displays it’s dirty linins in public like Justin Turner and Carlos Beltran recently did? Or that they want no more “kicked in the teeth” or “the front office has no faith in us” comments coming out of the clubhouse?

  • 5w30

    The Mets want to control the message, Joe D. Something they’ve failed miserably at for years, and will continue to do so until Jay Horwitz hangs up his smartphone. Martino as Wilpon stooge harkens back to his NYDN beat reporter days, and his poor performance on SNY’s mongo yelling shows and as a Burkhardt fill-in.

  • Andee

    It seems painfully obvious what’s going on here: they have a young superstar player with a demonstrated appetite for the fast lane, who will have many more opportunities in New York than in PSL to nurse a budding set of bad habits when he doesn’t have to suit up the next day. It’s happened before, after all, even to players we were sure would never do such things. Sure, the cocaine fairy could visit him in Florida, too, and yes, he could drink himself silly just about anywhere, but it would be much easier to keep an eye on him in Port St. Boring than in Manhattan.

    I can’t think of any team that wouldn’t be freaked out about the prospect of their young superstar player who loves to party being turned loose in the big city all year without having to set an alarm clock. You think the Yankees wouldn’t? They haven’t drafted and developed a starting pitcher of Harvey’s caliber since…since…hmmm, let me get back to you on that. They’d be micromanaging his facial hair, on top of everything else.

    Also, Andy Martino is a Phillies fan who would love nothing more than for someone like you to never see a Mets parade in the Canyon of Heroes again ever. Truefax.

    • Joe D.

      Hi Andee,

      Yes, Matt is very sure of himself and he has not shown the signs of maturity knowing not to show up those in authority when he disagrees with them by airing his views in pubic.

      But is that enough to conclude he has a budding set of bad habits and to infer that by “bad” we are talking about more than just perhaps being too smug of himself? He has been a team player, has not been a problem with his manager or teammates, has not slacked off at his work responsibilities, accepted his status as a rookie in 2012 and took all the ridicule a first year player has to go through in stride despite his being the star player for the future.

      Remember how many of us were like that when we were his age? Many of us were cocky to the point of being obnoxious without realizing it but that didn’t mean we were heading down a bad path as we were simply branching out into adulthood.

      What does Matt want to do that is so wrong? Stay with his team so he can feel a part of them? Get to study the batters during the season even though he’s not facing them? Go to hockey games with Daniel Murphy? Get an apartment in mid town? He posed nude I heard for a body building magazine? So did Jose Reyes many years back for a similar type publication as well.

      Yes, agree it would probably be for his own good to rehab in Florida as I believe most if not all other players have. But wanting to do things his own way – is it more voicing his own opinion and nothing more? He is not coming across like a Joba Chamberlain whom the Yankees helped make a kid believe he was bigger than life.

      So if there is a possible ego problem in the making, the Mets should try to guide him on how to conduct himself professionally and try to get his teammates to help him with that – and for all we know, they might very well be doing that too.

      But they are not helping themselves by trying to stop him from talking if he wants to when on his own time. And neither are we as fans by rushing to judgement about him without really knowing much about him as a person. Again, many of us were like that at his age but weren’t in the spotlight so nobody outside our family really cared.

      • Andee

        Every time I see Harvey pitch, the thought that enters my mind is, Please, God, keep this guy away from cocaine. Harvey has already demonstrated that he likes the fast lane and the party lifestyle that will be ubiquitous in New York in a way it would not be in PSL. Teams (and not just this one) get nervous about the thought of someone as prodigiously gifted as Harvey potentially dissipating his talent away, and this team in particular has seen several monster talents drink and/or drug themselves out of the game.

        Do they have real reason to believe he could be next? I have no idea. But I do tend to think that front offices in general know things about their players that we don’t. And do you think other teams would just shrug and say, “Whatever he wants”? I don’t think so. Any team would want to keep an eye on a 25-year-old superstar with party-boy tendencies, unless they’re planning on dumping him the minute he gets expensive — and that’s never been how this team operates.

        • Joe D.

          Hi Andee,

          That is why I mentioned that one does speak privately and lets one know what they wish be kept privately and not said to the press. We all have that in our line of work – told to be discrete in our comments.

          But that is different than muzzling us. One cannot do that and besides, what will Harvey say that can be so damaging to the organization? Would love to know what they are so afraid of.

          Did you catch Justin Turner’s comments about the organization speaking so negatively about it’s own players in the press? He was talking about the way they badmouthed Tejada and let it know they were looking to replace him. Same type of comment made by Carlos Beltran. And earlier this winter Ron Davis said that if they wanted to trade his son they should be doing it privately and not humiliating a player with daily press coverage.

          I think if the Mets are concerned about somebody saying something inappropriate they should start with them own selves.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Andee,

    Also understand your concern about Matt getting too much involved in the fast lane and that is not just a worry that the Mets have but one that every parent has with their offspring as they enter early adulthood.

    And that Matt has found fame and fortune so quickly puts him in that unique position of easily getting into that fast life and being able to get more whenever he wants to once he gets tired or bored with what he has. Having the means to do what one wantsis indeed a problem facing many a young celebrity. Look at Justin Beiber. Not exactly the clean cut role model one saw him as a few years before.

    However, we must also remember that just a few weeks back, there was no “deconstructing” of Matt Harvey even though he had been in the majors for a year and a half. What has changed in the past few weeks? Could this be just another example of the character assassination we’ve become accustomed to from this organization over the years (why I do not know except this pattern often occurs when business and results are the only things that matter and interpersonal relationships in the work place are deemed unimportant)?

    But getting back to Matt, at this point is the concern about him falling into the pitfalls of that fast lane real or just one of speculation not based on anything one knows of Matt Harvey, the individual but of generalities? Have you been able to come up with anything to show he has had such problems beforehand to give us any insight?

    Though I won’t deny you have given me food for thought, at the moment based on what I know of Matt, the Mets, human nature and young athletes with his type of background at that age, I think our young Mr.Harvey is simply outspoken and has had his words about what he wants in life overblown by appearing in the media – don’t forget words being blasted over the airwaves, in print and on the internet makes comments like those take on a new life of their own with a way bigger meaning than what was meant.