Everybody knows Jay Horwitz.
At least everyone in baseball does, and then some. Every player, on every team, and everyone in every front office and related to the game, and certainly every Mets fan for the past 40 years has known of and appreciates what Jay Horwitz has been able to do for nearly four decades as the most dedicated, and most highly revered PR Director of the New York Mets.
They used to say the late, great James Brown earned the nickname as “The
Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” but Horwitz certainly qualified as “The Hardest Working Man in Baseball” for his many years of tirelessly serving the team and the sport he richly worshipped.
He’d be there early in the morning, and late at night after each game, making sure his players and the media were well served. And back there again the next day to do it all over again.
And now that he has transitioned to the team’s Vice President of Alumni Relations and Mets Club Historian for the past two years, Horwitz has found the time to write a fully entertaining autobiography that chronicles his days in baseball and upbringing that is so appropriately titled, “Mr. Met” (Triumph Books, 258 pp., hardcover, $28.00, with photos).
PR Directors don’t normally write books about themselves, but Jay’s story is the Mets story for the past 40 years, and as he has spent more than half his life promoting and protecting his “constituents,” if you will, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the remembrances as he peels back a few layers and some of the behind-the-scenes moments that resulted in laughs, tears, wins, and losses.
Back-to-back Cy Young Winner Jacob deGrom composed the forward, and it would not be a reach to state that easily over 100 ballplayers would have graciously contributed some kind words to kick off the recollections.
“It didn’t take me long (as a rookie in 2014) to realize how valuable an asset Jay was to me, and to every Mets player,” deGrom writes. “His advice was simple and good. If you’re honest with the media, and you give them the time, they’ll respect you. Just take accountability. That advice has helped me throughout my career.”
David Wright, John Franco, Jeff Wilpon, Bruce Beck, and Joe Torre also contribute paragraphs of praise, that back the book jacket.
“I’ve never met an individual more passionate about the New York Mets and more caring toward its players,” states Wright.
“We considered him one of us. He is one of my closest friends and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him, and I know he would do the same for me,” said Franco.
“As a young manager, I was fortunate to witness all the benefits that stemmed from Jay’s unique ability to build the trust necessary in a clubhouse,” recalled Torre.
Franco, along with many players Jay encountered along the way, recognized that you could kid with and prank their PR Director without malice, and their bond would only grow stronger.
Always self-deprecating, Horwitz has no problem reveling in the humorous incidents from his career at his expense.
“I was always the butt of jokes. The players loved that I could laugh at myself. It helped bring us together, but I also had a job to do.”
When he met future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in 1983, Tom Terrific called him closer to the whirlpool bath where he was regenerating, and promptly stuck the water hose down the PR Director’s pants. Rather than recoiling, Horwitz stood his ground and conversed with Seaver as his pants became thoroughly soaked.
Haven’t we seen that scene in some Marx Bros. movie or Three Stooges short somewhere along the way?
Franco delighted in sneaking ice cream sandwiches into the pockets of Jay’s suits, or cut off his ties as he slept on plane trips (another Harpo Marx signature activity), or the time Franco and his teammates tape-tied Horwitz to a training table, rolled it out to the field and covered him with birdseed. Yes, the pigeons and whoever else flew by had a wonderful meal.
But before he got to being a bird feeder, Jay Horwitz was a young sports fan growing up in Clifton, New Jersey, the son of Gertrude and Milton Horwitz, “who spoiled me rotten.”
He was even a ballplayer in his youth, a second baseman for a Little League team sponsored by “Epstein’s Dept. Store.” There’s a cute image of the young Horwitz in his uniform in the eight-page photo insert.
A childhood bout with glaucoma began a lifelong problem with his eyesight and perhaps curtailed his athletic prowess, but his career in sports has certainly been enduring and endearing.
Horwitz, 74 (he’ll turn 75 in August, born on VJ Day in 1945), originally aspired to be a Presidential press secretary, ala Pierre Salinger, and attended NYU to study journalism. There, he applied for, and got the gig, as manager of the basketball team, which was his introduction to promoting and caretaking for athletes.
For several years, he also worked as a sportswriter for the Passaic Herald News, which, ironically, led to some Mets and Jets moments at Shea Stadium. He covered a boxing match at Shea in 1967. He covered a Mets-Cubs game in the historic season of 1969 that featured Gary Gentry on the mound. And he was even assigned the NY Jets beat after they won Super Bowl III in Jan. of 1969.
He left NYU after they dropped their basketball program and joined Fairleigh Dickinson University as their Sports Information Director in 1972.
This led to a funny moment that also had Mets connections.
At a game between Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Johns University in 1979, with John Franco on its pitching staff, the manager and pitching coach were thrown out of the game, leaving Horwitz, in street clothes, to make the pitching changes.
“All of a sudden they had no one to run the team,” recalled Franco. “And we saw this guy coming out of the dugout to the mound, his shirt out, wearing baggy pants, with a big head and a hat that didn’t even fit on his head. His glasses were kind of crooked, and he had a book full of papers hanging out everywhere. We thought he was some sort of out-patient from somewhere, but he was the FDU sports information director.”
In February, 1980, Horwitz took a stats job with NBC for their Game of the Week program, but something else happened around that time that would affect his future. Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday bought the Mets.
Horwitz soon got a call from the team’s then-VP Jim Nagourney. Jay thought it was a prank call initiated by one of his friends and hung up on him. Oops! Good thing he called back.
Nagourney said they were interested in having Jay interview for the PR gig, and in what is now a legendary tale, Horwitz flew to the team’s spring training headquarters in St. Petersburg, was a half-hour late for his meeting with team GM Frank Cashen (he went to the wrong hotel), and promptly spilled a glass of orange juice all over Cashen’s white tennis shorts as he reached out to shake his hand. Double Oops!
He knew he blew the interview, and left depressed, but two weeks later, the phone rang, and he got the job.
It became a job he did quite well.
Willie Randolph was a rookie manager in 2005, already with a couple of decades in the game, and was confident Jay always had his back.
“I’d been around a lot of press people, PR people, but Jay took it to another level,” Randolph recalls. “You always felt like Jay was taking care of you, looking out for you, making sure he would prop you up in a good spot. Being a lifer, someone who loves the game, Jay knew a lot more than people thought. They thought, ‘this guy doesn’t know baseball,’ but Jay knows baseball. That’s why he was so good at what he did. He had such an innate feel for what was going on in the day and the climate of what the media would be talking about and how to get through the controversies.”
Keen observers may have noticed that Horwitz was not only the Mets PR Director, but was so highly-regarded that he was often the go-to guy as a PR Director for other baseball events. You’d see him at All-Star Games, often at World Series events – even when the Mets were not involved.
In 1996, when a team of Major League All-Stars were dispatched to play a series of exhibitions in Japan, Horwitz was their PR Director.
The book is not all the fun of games. Horwitz admits that sometimes ugly moments occur, and you have to deal with them as well. The book is not devoid of controversies, but this is not a sordid tell-all of those moments and never dwells on them.
He does, however, recall that eventful spring training morning when Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry got into a physical altercation in front of the media during team-photo day in 1989.
“Sure we had some off-the-field problems,” notes Horwitz. “Some of our guys had flaws just like the average New Yorker or New Jersey guy. Any PR guy is only as good as his relationship with his players. You have to do your job, but on the other hand the players also have to know that you are with them and will stand by them in good times and bad times.
“That’s what I tried to do. I never lied, and always tried to convince the players that if you never hid from the truth, if you are honest and forthright, your story will be told accurately in the media. I think the way our players conducted themselves through all their problems was the main reason we were able to win back the town. I am glad to have played a small part in that story.”
Jay, alongside skipper Bobby Valentine, also was a guiding light in the days and weeks following the 9/11 tragedies in 2001. You’ll laugh, cry, and cheer in the chapter as he recounts those bittersweet moments that culminated with the now legendary Mike Piazza home run against the Braves ten days after the Towers fell.
An absolutely outrageous chapter recalls the events surrounding baseball’s all-time best April Fool’s prank. The Sidd Finch story!
It actually began when the managing editor of Sports Illustrated at the time, Mark Mulvoy, saw that a future issue would be dated April 1st. He told one of his premier writers, the esteemed George Plimpton, to write about baseball’s April Fool’s pranks, but they quickly decided to create one of their own.
He concocted a story that a mysterious pitcher named Sidd Finch could throw a ball 168 mph, and was also part yoga master and part recluse, could play the French horn, and threw the ball with a boot on one foot, the other was barefoot. Bizarre, indeed.
With Jay’s help and the sworn-to-secrecy cooperation of only a handful of Mets players and coaches, they “sold” this bill of goods, and the media bought it hook, line and sinker. As Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating.”
There are many, many other memorable tales in “Mr. Met.” There’s the time Jay and Hernandez were hunkered down in the manager’s office toward the end of Game 6 on the 1986 World Series, comiserating that the Boston Red Sox were about to snatch the victory away, only to witness the comeback on TV.
And when the Mets decided to vote Horwitz a full $93,000 share of the ’86 bonus money, Jay hesitated accepting it.
“Jay was one of us,” states Mookie Wilson. “We knew management didn’t really like it, but they didn’t come to us and say a thing about it. That was the kind of guy Jay was, he took care of us and we wanted to show our appreciation.”
Only thing was that Horwitz had to decide between a $4,000 bonus offered as a Department head, or the winner’s share.
His mother was the deciding vote.
“I didn’t raise a schmuck. Take the 93.”
And a Horwitz biography would not be complete without loving tributes to his longtime assistant, Shannon Forde, who passed away from breast cancer in 2016, and to longtime Mets staffer Jim Plummer, whp passed away in 2008 from kidney failure.
“To me, Shannon was like the daughter I never had,” writes Horwitz. “I loved every minute with her, and I couldn’t have been more prouder of her for all she accomplished.”
In an era where women were rarely members of a PR Dept., Forde was hired as an intern in 1994 and ascended to the position of Senior Director of Media Relations.
“She produced probably the best media guide in all of baseball. She helped run the 2000 World Series vs. the Yankees, and the 2013 All-Star game at Citi Field. Major League baseball recognized her talents and brought her in to work numerous postseason and All-Star Games.”
In other words, she was as dedicated and worked as hard as Jay!
Toward the end of the book, Horwitz admits he never married. “Came close once but got cold feet.”
Instead he was married, married to baseball, married to the New York Mets.