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Sports in the Big Apple

Latest opinion and news on New York Sports By Joel Langstein

When Matt Harvey came up at the end of the 2012 season for the Mets they were in a fragile state. They hadn't won in years, and they were desperate for answers. Met fans were restless, and there were more questions than answers. Matt Harvey changed the culture. He came up with a look in his eyes signaling he would not be denied. He quickly rose to the top of the league in performance and stature. He was the guy to bring the Mets back to the promise land, he became known as "the dark knight." Met fans fell in love with his refusal to lose, something that had been lacking since the Mets made the playoffs back in 2006. 

Harvey was the starter of the all star game the next season in the 2013 mid summer classic at Citi Field. He was the talk of the town, and arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Then came his Tommy John injury. His elbow required surgery that took him off the field until the beginning of the 2015 season. When he came back, people wondered if he could replicate the performance he had put forth before his injury occurred. Harvey silenced many critics with a 13-8 record and a 2.71 e.r.a. Harvey also had a great postseason leading up until the World Series. It had appeared that the Dark Knight had risen again.

However, in game five of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, Matt's big ego got the best of him. He forced Terry Collins to let him pitch the ninth inning where the Mets eventually blew the game, overshadowing the brilliant eight innings he threw prior to that point. 

Ever since, Harvey has been anything but himself. Since that ninth inning, the wheels have come off the bus. Starting this Spring Training, Harvey has been very shaky. He lost a lot of his velocity, and his breaking pitches are flat as could be. He has struggled to this point in the regular season, sporting a 3-6 record with a brutal 5.77 e.r.a. Tonight, Harvey clashes against the first place Nationals, whom the Mets trail just by a half a game. Matt has been the recipient of much criticism to date, so any slip up tonight for him could spell major chaos in the Mets organization. There is no doubt that Harvey's ego has been humbled, but the Mets need him. It can only get better from here, so lets see what Harvey is made of tonight. It will be fascinating to watch. Can the guy who brought a winning mentality to the Mets save his season?

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    Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

In sports, we often rank the elite by the number of championships they have won, and, as such, NBA star Carmelo Anthony is the subject of these debates. Is Carmelo a top-5 active player? Is he the best pure scorer we have ever seen? These questions asked by many are valid and deserve answers. But the most important question is does Melo’ need to win a title to validate his legacy as one of the NBA’s elites? Many say yes, but I would say that he does not. While it would enhance his legacy, he is still a great individual talent. You may omit him from your top 10 NBA players like Lebron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and others. But Melo’ is an all time elite talent nonetheless.

This begs an even larger question that we debate in sports today: is it fair to only judge athletes by how many titles they have won? NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, who never won a super bowl, is still widely considered to be a top 5 all time quarterback. Why? Because he performed at an elite level year after year, and although he didn't have a title to show for it, there is something to be said for weekly, regular season dominance over your opponents. Why should players who’ve never won anything be penalized for playing on a lesser team than other greats? While it seems unjust to harp on the negatives of a great player who never won, that is what we sports aficionados often do. We are all guilty of trying to place players in a category based on titles achieved. We do this because society at large is results driven. We don’t care how someone does it, we just want results. There is even debate today as to whether Eli or Peyton Manning has had the better career, noting that Eli has two rings while Peyton has one. The problem with these arguments is that they are absolute, neglecting the whole picture. If we review both Eli and Peyton’s entire body of work, as great as Eli has performed, the better resume belongs to Peyton.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Now, back to Carmelo Anthony, who happens to play in Gotham City. New Yorkers want to win, and anything short of a title is unacceptable. Carmelo is judged solely off of his wins and losses, rather than his whole body of work. He has scored over 20,000 points in his career, and has averaged nearly 25 points per game over his career spanning 13 seasons. Title or no title, these numbers put up by Melo’ place him in a rarified class. Carmelo Anthony is an example of someone who we need to start judging by what he has contributed to the game of basketball, and not just by how many rings he has on his finger. We need to understand that winning is very hard, and very few have won actual championships. Winning is a large part of the equation, but it is not everything. Carmelo Anthony is a once in a generation scorer, and to question his entire legacy because, to date, he has not won the brass ring, would not do justice to a remarkable basketball player.

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

We often hear about the "Giant Way". What is the Giant way? Is it winning? Is it discipline? Often times the Giants make moves that are uncontested by the public, just because they are the Giants. The perception is as if everything the Giants touch turns to gold. Well, I have news for you, it doesn't. Yes, they have won super bowls, I am not disputing the greatness that came along with those four titles. But it is time for a reality check; The Giants are headed for a 4th consecutive season on the outside of the playoffs looking in. They have drafted poorly, they have coached poorly, and more importantly, they have played poorly. This failure does not fall solely on Head Coach Tom Coughlin or General Manager Jerry Reese or on all of the players, it falls on the organization as a whole. For several years since their last title, the Giants have been playing in a putrid NFC East division. Yet, they have missed the playoffs for three straight seasons and are staring down another disappointing year. What could be the reason for this? What happened to the "Giant Way"? What happened is that the Giants made mistakes, just like every other organization. They are no different than anybody else. We are not talking about the New England Patriots here. The free pass that the Giants get every year should be revoked. 

Each of the last three years, Giants fans have hoped for the same roster to magically turn it around and bounce back from an underwhelming campaign a year prior. No changes were made before each season, but everyone thought, it'll all work out because it is the Giants. Well, that ideology is finally catching up to the Giants and their fans. This year's group of players has been putrid to no end. The offensive line is awful, the defensive line is pathetic, the running game is abysmal; They are a one trick pony on offense in large part to phenom wideout Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants are a mediocre to below average team when all of the dust settles, forgetting about the tradition and the class, they are a 5-7 group that has no promise. People expected for the defense to be great just because they acquired their former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo from the 2007 super bowl team. You need personnel to be an effective coach, and personnel is something the Giants lack. People expected Tom Coughlin to be the championship coach he is, but he has been quite the opposite. He has been terrible in managing late game situations and looks like a shell of himself. People expect every draft pick that Jerry Reese makes to be great, when in actuality he has drafted some real head scratchers lately like underperforming offensive lineman Justin Pugh and cornerback Prince Amukamara. Many people refer to the fact that if a handful of the Giants games were a minute or two shorter, this team would be 10-2. Well, thats a nice thought, but NFL games are 60 minutes, and if you can't play a full 60 minutes you don't deserve to win. This is an example of the denial and free pass that goes along with the Giants. Instead of realizing where they are, they point to what ifs. They are 5-7, own it, accept it. I am not a Giant hater, but 5-7 is 5-7, not 10-2. Former Giants legend head coach Bill Parcels even stated, "you are what your record says you are." There isn't a playoff tournament for teams with the most almost wins. So to constantly point to almost winning is meaningless, because you didn't.

Instead of lamenting on their close calls, the Giants should make changes. What is wrong with firing Tom Coughlin? Many often say it wouldn't be the "Giant Way" to treat one of their own like that. Well to that I say, who cares! Tom Coughlin is a grown man and can handle it. He has millions of dollars, and if the Giants told him that they needed to move in a different direction for the team's benefit, I think he would end up ok. But instead, the Giants hang onto their assets that are making them worse by the day, and when they lose, blame is deflected to a scapegoat coordinator or that luck just wasn't on their side. 

So as the Giants roll into Miami to face a pathetic Dolphins team tonight on Monday Night Football, keep in mind that while they may win, it does not mean anything. Even if they win the division with eight wins, that is nothing to be proud of. The dye has been cast, and this team, this era of Giant football is over. The longer that they put off their rebuilding, the longer it will take them to get back to respectability in the NFL. They have made their bed, and now they must lay in it. The Giants must make a decision on what they want to be, mediocre and not swallow their pride, or a good team again with new blood. Only time will tell what path the Giants take. But one thing is for certain, the status quo must change.

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