Kids these days will never believe it, but once upon a time, Matt Harvey looked destined to be the next big thing, the face of his pitching generation. Now, after his latest attempt to get back to the Majors stalled out, the former New York Mets ace has retired from baseball at the age of 34.
Harvey made the announcement in an Instagram post on Friday morning, along with a heartfelt note and a look back at the many ups and downs of his Major League career.
Harvey was last seen on a mound pitching for Team Italy in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. He acquitted himself surprisingly well, with a 1.29 ERA over two starts. But it failed to earn him another shot with a Major League team, and rather than slog through independent ball he decided to call it a career.
And what a career it was. A top-10 pick in the 2010 MLB Draft after a stellar career at the University of North Carolina, Harvey rocketed through the Mets’ Minor League system, becoming one of the game’s brightest prospects by 2012. He broke into the Majors late that year, but he truly broke out in 2013, with 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts over 178.1 innings — good enough for his first All-Star nod and a fourth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting. It seems almost quaint now in this era of high-90s velocity, but at the time it felt singular to see a pitcher that young throw that hard and be that dominant, and at age 24 it felt like Harvey had the world — and the New York media — at his feet.
And then the arm problems began. Harvey’s elbow started barking late that year, and he would eventually undergo Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2014 season. He reemerged to much fanfare in the spring of 2015 and, for the most part, looked like he’d never left, pitching to a 2.71 ERA over 29 starts as the Mets reached their first World Series since 2000. New York would turn to Harvey facing elimination in Game 5 against the Kansas City Royals, and what followed was one of the most simultaneously thrilling and tragic inflection points in baseball history.
Harvey was brilliant all night, sailing through eight shutout innings while pumping high-90s fastballs and roaring to the Citi Field crowd. In an alternate universe not too distant from this one, it goes down as one of the greatest performances in postseason history.
Of course, that’s not how the story ended. Despite already being over 100 pitches, Harvey famously talked Terry Collins into sending him back out for the ninth inning — at which point the wheels promptly came off. Harvey gave up back-to-back doubles, the bullpen blew the rest, and the Royals wound up winning the game and the series in extra innings.
Harvey was never quite the same after that, largely due to injury. After struggling to a 4.86 ERA over the first half of 2016, the righty was eventually forced to undergo surgery to resolve a case of thoracic outlet syndrome. The injury sapped him of his velocity, and without it he struggled to reestablish himself as a Major League starter. The Mets dealt him to the Cincinnati Reds in 2018, and after bouncing around three different teams, Harvey was out of the league by 2021 — our last memory of him a 6.27 ERA over 28 starts with the Baltimore Orioles.
Harvey’s career numbers look pedestrian, a 50-66 record and a 4.42 ERA with less than a strikeout per inning. But that doesn’t capture the electricity you felt when he took the mound in those early years, the way he captivated an entire city, and that, more than anything else, is what will endure.