New York Magazine has a feature on Mets pitcher Matt Harvey. It starts with him in a salon, “his hair still glistening from a vigorous shampooing,” after his stylist mentioned that Ian Schrager, the founder of Studio 54, had asked him to inquire about Harvey’s workout habits.
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The story, based on interviews done before spring training started, sets up the interesting and precarious position in which Matt Harvey finds himself as a personality, separate and apart from his identity as a ballplayer. He’s outgoing and doesn’t appear to have a shred of anxiety about being in the spotlight. He loves New York — lives and breathes the city — and wants to experience everything it offers. He’s basically a budding Joe Namath figure.
However, baseball — and especially the New York baseball media — has had 20 years of the quiet, businesslike Derek Jeter as its celebrity “face,” if you will. It and the baseball public expect bland quotes, no controversies and little if any information about how the ballplayer spends his downtime. It also has, in ways it never did before Derek Jeter came around, decided that one is almost not allowed to be recognized as a superstar until one has won a championship ring or five. Throw Harvey into that mix, and you’re bound to get criticism, thinkpieces, counter-thinkpieces and all manner of noise.
The interesting part of this: Jeter himself has told Harvey to be himself. Has even given him a platform at his Players’ Tribune to do just that. Is that enough to mollify the fans, the reporters and the sports radio goons who get on Harvey’s case for, by all appearances, simply being himself? Or are we simply in an age when no one is allowed to be Joe Namath anymore and everyone has to be Derek Jeter?