Most baseball players look at the media as a necessary evil. Few players want to talk to reporters unless they absolutely have to; even fewer want to face the media just because a teammate who was supposed to answer questions ducked out, like Matt Harvey did on Tuesday night, leaving catcher Kevin Plawecki to explain why the New York Mets pitcher got crushed by the Washington Nationals, the most recent of his failures on the mound.
It's not hard to understand why Harvey, a media lightning rod with a bloated 6.02 ERA, bailed. For the first time in his career, he's struggling badly. If he had answers, I'm sure he'd share them. But he clearly doesn't. Hell, he's probably questioning his entire identity right now. But failing to answer questions just brings more questions, and Harvey would be best served by just showing up to his damn postgame media session so his teammates aren't the ones facing the cameras.
In case you were wondering, getting your ass kicked on a professional baseball field sucks. Not knowing what's wrong or how to fix it sucks even harder. It's a drowning feeling that can turn even the most confident pitcher into little more than a gambler, hoping the next outing will be the big win that turns his luck around before he goes bust again. No pitcher anywhere wants to talk about this stuff to the media.
Unfortunately for Harvey, silence has severe consequences.
I've heard it said that facing a New York media scrum with class and poise after you flop is the mark of a true professional. Consider it a variation on the "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere" line. Thus, by not showing up for a postgame scrum, Harvey has effectively said he can't make it there. At least that's how the media will paint it. Indeed, that's what they're doing right now.
Here is the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro wildly slinging paint over Harvey's struggles following his press dodge:
"But you wonder, now, if Harvey didn't invite much of his present predicament on himself by taunting karma. He missed the Mets' mandatory workout before the start of last year's playoffs because he 'lost track of time.' This at the end of a season when he petulantly chafed at the Mets' attempts to keep his innings at a manageable pace — and then allowed his agent to start a late-season tempest when he accused the team of abusing him.
And look, while we're at it, let's identify one of the 800-pound elephants in the room: Harvey no longer remotely resembles the lithe, elite athlete he was in 2013. The Mets did him no favors re-broadcasting a Mets-Yankees game from '13 on SNY on Monday night's off-night; all you need is a glimpse of what Harvey looked like then, and what he looks like now, to see a stark difference.
"He's 27 years old," one member of the organization mused recently. "He's a professional athlete, who makes his living — and wants to make $200 million — by being an athlete. Does he look like an elite professional athlete to you?"
I'm not sure what being late to last year's postseason practice has to do with Harvey's poor pitching performance this season, but that's what happens when reporters are free to fill in the blanks by drudging up the past. They offer loose comments from mysterious sources and tout karma as if it were an explanation for anything.
I do, for the record, think Harvey still looks like an elite pitcher. He's thicker now than he was in his early twenties, that's undeniable, but he's no Pablo Sandoval. Harvey is still throwing in the mid-90s. He also threw more innings in a season following Tommy John surgery—last season—than any other pitcher before him. He was thick then, too.
Harvey is still elite; he's just not pitching well right now. When he does recover and returns to form, all this talk about Fatt Harvey and karma will go out the window.
But fans and the media are all about the moment. Baseball is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately industry. Lately, Harvey has been horrendous and dodging inquiries about why.
If Harvey were the only one taking the heat, I'd say weather the storm. Screw the media and don't read the papers until you start dominating again. Fans are fickle and they'll love you when you're winning. Keep your head down, work hard, and focus on what matters.
Sounds good in theory, but it's not an option—not if you want the locker room to avoid melting down into a toxic mess.
In a town like New York, if you can't give reporters blood when it's your turn to bleed, they'll cut open someone else, like when reporters found Plawecki on Tuesday, and David Wright on Wednesday.
Here is Wright speaking to the New York Post about Harvey's choice to dodge the media on Tuesday:
"Obviously, Harvey is going through a rough stretch, I think we've all been there. With that being said, I think the consensus is we should all be accountable for what we do on the baseball field.
"All of us like coming in here and talking when we have good games and a few of us, myself included, enjoy coming in here and talking when we don't play well. Accountability is big and I think [Harvey] just had a bit of a lapse in judgment."
It's easy to have a lapse in judgment when your head's not right. It's also easy to say something really stupid. While Harvey's choice to duck the media was an admittedly poor one considering the media's popular tradition of eviscerating press-dodgers, it may have been the lesser of two evils. After all, the New York media isn't known for softball questions. More like cannonballs. Stuff on par with "How can you sleep with yourself at night knowing you're pitching like a fat, dream-crushing paycheck thief?" One wrong answer will get you crucified in every sports section around the country. Not showing up will still get you crucified, of course, but at least you're off the record while it happens.
However, for teammates who have to go on the record in your absence, this logic is of little solace. When the media goes looking for answers from teammates, they won't be asking about something temporal, like that night's results, or how that individual performed. They'll be asking about the big story—why the narcissist ace with the celebrity profile is dodging the media firing squad.
When Harvey ducks, Harvey's teammates will be the ones receiving the volatile questions about his behavior. If they say something wrong, the story becomes about how they are putting a teammate on the cross, bad blood between brothers, player-on-player hate, team cancers linked to losses, et cetera, et cetera.
And you thought getting called fat was bad.
Baseball keeps track of harsh headlines generated by teammates, rolling it into intangible instruments like "clubhouse presence" and "team chemistry." Fuck up in print and it damages a player's reputation, career, and marketability. Basically: "Thanks for not showing up to your media scrum, fat-ass."
What's unfolding now between Harvey, the media, and the Mets is why so many players hate talking to reporters. Some players see the media as parasites shuffling into their sacred locker space, asking derisive questions, looking to stir up drama to create a story. But this is the wrong take. Some members of the media are awful—that's true. But the vast majority of them are simply following the story; whether it's on-field greatness or locker-room drama, they will always follow the story.
The best thing a player can do is control that story before it controls them, the clubhouse, and their future. So step one, Matt Harvey, is show up to the damn media scrum, even if the only thing you've got to say is you're trying your hardest to figure out what's wrong.