Just finished Jay Horwitz’s memoir, the aptly titled “Mr. Met,” and having known the longtime PR guru-turned-alumni relations guru for more than two decades, I found that one particular anecdote among the hundreds contained in the book leaped out.
Respected by players and front office members alike for his unflagging loyalty despite working for perhaps the most turbulent franchise in baseball, Horwitz had a decision to make after the magical 1986 march to the title.
In a show of remarkable clubhouse generosity — and a reflection of Horwitz’s impact — the players voted the PR guy a full playoff share, a whopping sum of $93,000.
“That’s how the team felt about Jay,” Keith Hernandez says in the book. “There was no hesitation from anybody, all the hands went up. It was unprecedented.”
Said Darryl Strawberry: “That was real easy for us … He was part of our family.”
But like everything else that has swirled around Horwitz during his 40 seasons in Flushing, it wasn’t that simple. To him, anyway. As a department head, he also was set to receive a $4,000 bonus that year.
The catch? He couldn’t take both. “I was torn,” Horwitz actually writes.
And it is in the resolution of this uniquely Mets-ian conundrum that speaks to the heart of Horwitz’s memoir, which travels from his childhood growing up in Clifton, New Jersey, to closing with a heart-wrenching tribute to his beloved PR assistant, the late Shannon Forde.
Horwitz called his mom, Gertrude, for guidance.
“I didn’t raise a schmuck,” she told him. “Take the 93.”
So Horwitz did.
You’ll get to know more about Gertrude, as well as his dad, Milton, because his immediate family grows into a larger one in Flushing, with the Mets portrayed more like relatives than colleagues. This reads like a family drama, wrapped head-to-toe in orange-and-blue. Horwitz is a living encyclopedia of this franchise’s history, and as we already know, it’s been a roller-coaster ride, containing way more chaos than championships.
For someone like me, who was the Newsday beat writer from 2002-10 and baseball columnist thereafter, you could see that Horwitz wore that look every day — a face shaped by the Mets’ stormy climate, yet kept rosy by the hope of how amazing it can get if it ever gets there.
Anyone who is a fan of the Mets will identify with Horwitz because they’ve lived the highs and lows, too. He just takes them a few levels deeper in the book, often exposing that raw emotion.
Horwitz recalls how he felt before Game 1 of the 1986 NLCS at the Astrodome, with the Mets coming off a 108-win season. “There was the fan part of me — a big part, I hope everyone understands by now — that just wanted to sit in the front row and repeat, ‘Please, please, please, please, please … ’ for nine innings. We knew that if we didn’t finish the deal and win the World Series, our year would have been viewed as failure.”
Such is the tortured existence of a Mets fan, a viewpoint that Horwitz captures well, from spilling orange juice on general manager Frank Cashen’s white tennis shorts during his job interview to whiffing on the pickup of the newly acquired Hernandez at the Montreal airport.
Horwitz’s affection for Davey Johnson radiates from the pages — as it would from any of the Shea/Citi faithful — with his tenure gloriously wrapped in the team’s 1986 campaign.
Horwitz recounts Johnson’s job interview with Cashen, with the former manager telling Horwitz that the Mets’ initial salary offer was $50,000 — a big raise over Johnson’s previous $15,000 in the minors. The cocky, confident Johnson wasn’t going the just-grateful-to-be-here route, though.
“No, I need a hundred,” Johnson told Cashen. “You can’t live in New York on less than a hundred.”
Horwitz always has been the right-hand man to Mets managers (this team has had plenty), so these relationships structure the narrative of the book, with Johnson, Joe Torre, Bobby Valentine, Willie Randolph and Terry Collins at the core of individual chapters.
Valentine loops into three chapters, going from one titled “Bobby V” to others involving the Subway Series and 9/11. Horwitz recounts that horrible September morning when the Mets were in Pittsburgh, their somber bus trip back to New York and the first view of the smoke rising from the southern tip of Manhattan. The Mets’ humanitarian efforts in the days that followed have been well-documented, but Horwitz adds some insider perspective.
“I was so proud of our team that week,” Horwitz said. “I have been fortunate enough over the years to have many amazing experiences with the Mets … but the way our organization conducted itself after 9/11 stands out for me above all else.”
Don’t worry. Horwitz delivers high doses of levity, too, as the butt of countless pranks, many engineered by the Mets’ chief prankster, John Franco. Getting covered in bird seed while tethered to a spring training field, ice cream sandwiches stuffed into his suitcoat pockets and a few others that probably merit a PG-13 rating.
Horwitz gives a rare glimpse into life around the Mets because it’s relatable, from his childhood struggles with a life-altering eye dysfunction to working his way through the SID ranks to landing the dream job.
After finishing the final chapter, his touching tribute to Shannon, you can’t help but think the Mets often feel like a family because Horwitz helped make them that way.