Former New York Mets Al Leiter acknowledges fans during his...

Former New York Mets Al Leiter acknowledges fans during his Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Citi Field on Saturday, June 3, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The moment was not lost on Al Leiter.

How could it be?

A kid who grew up in New Jersey rooting for the Mets now was being honored with franchise immortality for years of meritorious service to the organization.

“This is a tremendous honor, to say the least,” Leiter said during a news conference before he was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon at Citi Field.

Joining Leiter in the class were Howard Johnson and the voices of the Mets, Gary Cohen and Howie Rose. Longtime PR head Jay Horwitz was presented the franchise’s Hall of Fame Achievement Award.

The five were feted in a 50-minute on-field ceremony before the game against the Blue Jays, with Leiter, Johnson, Cohen and Rose receiving plaques and a team Hall of Fame jacket. Horwitz was given a glass plaque.

“Cool moment,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Glad that [the] organization and ownership take the time and spend the money to honor them.”

During the question-and-answer session before the ceremony, the quintet took turns speaking about what being a part of the franchise meant to them.

“Growing up as a little boy in New Jersey to eventually get to Queens when I’m 32 years old and get a chance to play seven years for the team that I rooted for as a kid was dream- come-true stuff,” said Leiter, who compiled a 95-67 record with a 3.42 ERA in 213 games with the Mets between 1998-2004.

“As a baseball player, you [have] a circuitous route,” Leiter said. “I [was] drafted by the Yankees. I go to Toronto, [and later] to Florida. So when I finally got here, everything about the uniform [and] the stadium, I was so happy and I tried to be more than just a pitcher.”

During his tenure with the Mets, Leiter served multiple roles. Off the field, he served as a de facto spokesman, along with Mike Piazza and John Franco, who presented him his Hall of Fame plaque. On the field, he was the franchise’s ace. Never more so than on Oct. 4, 1999, in Cincinnati.

Starting a win-or-go-home 163rd game of the season against the Reds, Leiter threw a two-hit shutout in the Mets’ 5-0 triumph. The Mets then beat Arizona in the National League Division Series before losing to Atlanta in the NLCS.

“You know you fly [into] Cincinnati [and know if] you pitch poorly, [there’s] a good chance you’re flying back to LaGuardia,” Leiter said. “But I was at a place where I was excited about it. And I was excited about our team because we were starting to feel the mojo and it was building, so it was all positive.”

Former New York Mets Howard Johnson acknowledges fans during his...

Former New York Mets Howard Johnson acknowledges fans during his Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Citi Field on Saturday, June 3, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Another positive moment unfolded at Saturday’s event. Leiter said his son Jack, a Double-A pitcher in the Texas Rangers’ organization, couldn’t be at the ceremony . . . until he showed up and surprised him by catching the first pitch.

A similar strand ran through Johnson’s time with the Mets. Acquired in a trade with Detroit on Dec. 7, 1984, for Walt Terrell, Johnson spent nine of his 14 big-league seasons with the Mets. He recorded three of the franchise’s five 30-30 (home run-stolen base) seasons (36-32 in 1987, 36-41 in 1989, 38-30 in 1991) and was the first to do it as a Met.

“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “Very thankful for the opportunity to go into the Hall of Fame. My first time walking out [onto the field at] Shea Stadium gives you goosebumps .  .  . because it was such a big, big ballpark. Having that 50, 55,000 people out there cheering, it was pretty crazy. And something that you look forward to every day. After you experience it once, you want to keep doing it.

“And the teams I was on fortunately were really, really good. And the first few years were outstanding. We won a championship [in 1986]. Didn’t get there again, but the guys along the way, wouldn’t have traded them in for anybody.”

Rose, Cohen and Horwitz were touched by Saturday's ceremony, too. 

"The whole thing is more than just a little bit surreal. In fact, if you all listen very carefully, you could probably hear raucous laughter emanating from my old hometown nearby here, in Bayside, Queens," Rose said. "Because the thought of someone with, as we've seen recently, limited athletic ability [be inducted into] the New York Mets' Hall of Fame, I'm telling you at P.S. 205, they are howling in the schoolyard."

Cohen shared a similar sentiment. 

"I always wanted to be one of those guys. I wanted to be a shortstop for the Mets," Cohen said. " . . . But there are other ways of absorbing this game, and what I do know is that the same people that Howie and I sat with in the upper deck of Shea, there are hundreds if not thousands of them who could have done this job, who would love the Mets just as much, who love baseball and knew baseball and breathe baseball the same way that we did. And we are just two of the lucky ones." 

New York Mets Hall of Fame inductees Al Leiter, Howard...

New York Mets Hall of Fame inductees Al Leiter, Howard Johnson, Howie Rose, Gary Cohen and Jay Horwitz pose for a photo at a press conference at Citi Field on Saturday, June 3, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke


Al Leiter as Met: 

Years: 7

Starts: 213

Record: 95-67

ERA: 3.42

Complete Games: 10

Shutouts: 7

Signature moment: Leiter pitched a two-hit shoutout in the 1999 National League Wild Card tiebreaker game, a 5-0 win for the Mets at Cincinnati. He struck out seven and threw 135 pitches. 

Howard Johnson as Met: 

Years: 9

Games: 1,154

Batting Avg.: .251

OPS: .801

Hits: 997

HR: 192

RBI: 629

Signature moment: A member of 1986 World Series champion team, Johnson is the first Met to have a 30-30 (HR-SB) season and has the most by any Met with three. 

Gary Cohen

Mets radio play-by-play from 1989-2005

Mets TV play-by-play from 2006-present

Signature call: “It’s outta here!”

History: Called games for two iconic minor league teams – Durham Bulls and Pawtucket Red Sox

Other sports: Seton Hall basketball radio since 2003

Howie Rose

Mets radio play-by-play since 2004

Signature call: “Put it in the books!”

History: Worked at WFAN from its debut in 1987

Other sports: Islanders TV announcer from 1995-2016

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