Those unfamiliar with Jay Horwitz, the legendary Mets’ media relations director, probably can’t fathom how he was able to fill a room with some of the franchise’s biggest stars, all there to honor him Wednesday at Citi Field.
But to people who know him, who have witnessed firsthand his 40-year loyalty to the Mets, to see him live and die on every pitch, the scene made perfect sense. Of course they did. Doc and Darryl. Keith. Mookie. Bobby V. David Wright. And the ringleader himself, the comic foil to Jay just being Jay, was John Franco.
Franco talked about planting ice cream sandwiches in Horwitz’s pockets, cutting his neckties when he had fallen asleep in his chair, even strapping him to a trainer’s table and covering him in birdseed before sticking him in the middle of the field in Port St. Lucie.
Horwitz, 73, laughed all over again Wednesday during the re-telling of these stories, because in the Mets’ fraternity, he’s a made man, as close to being a player as any non-uniformed civilian could possibly get. Which meant Horwitz, through that trust, got treated the same as everyone else in that clubhouse. Because nobody in the Mets’ organization cared more about the people in it, or the fortune of the franchise as a whole.
“Players didn’t look at Jay as management,” Mookie Wilson said. “We looked at him as one of us. He was one of the boys.”
That was the dream for a kid who grew up in Clifton, New Jersey, learned the PR ropes at Fairleigh-Dickinson, then famously spilled his full glass of orange juice on then-GM Frank Cashen during his interview with the Mets in 1980. Horwitz remembered calling his mom that day to tell her “there’s no way I’m getting this freaking job.”
And yet, Horwitz was indeed hired, with the appropriate start date of April 1. All these years later, Horwitz sat at a podium, flanked by COO Jeff Wilpon, who described him as the ideal candidate for the newly-created Vice President position for Alumni Public Relations and Team Historian.
“This is his family,” Wilpon said. “I can’t think of a better thing for him to be doing. He’s not going anywhere.”
It was an emotional afternoon for Horwitz, but his speech was a hilarious “greatest hits” reel, from an exotic dancer the players hired for him in Chicago to playing matchmaker for the lifelong bachelor in Montreal. There also was the time Franco, a big “Godfather” fan, pulled a horse’s head off the wall of a hotel lobby and stuck it in Horwitz’s bed.
“If they didn’t like you, they wouldn’t screw around with you,” Horwitz said, smiling.
Wright, the event’s first speaker, revealed himself to be the culprit of putting eyeblack on Horwitz’s binoculars. But more importantly, credited Horwitz for “teaching a kid from Virginia how to be a professional.” The Captain also remembered getting the phone call from the Mets on draft day, but his dad being puzzled by the voice on the other end. It was Jay’s unmistakable tone, which would become the soundtrack for Wright’s Flushing career.
“I’m not sure what he’s saying,” Wright recalled his dad telling him back then, “But I think you should take it.”
Horwitz mentioned some “apprehension” going into his new role, and his first order of duty will be a major task, spearheading the 50th anniversary efforts for the ’69 championship team. Regardless of the title, however, Horwitz will always be at home among the franchise greats, who view him as an unflinching ally.
“He’s up there on the Mount Rushmore of the Mets,” Wright said.
And no, the captain wasn’t joking.