In 30th year as P.R. man for Mets, Jay Horwitz shares Amazin' memories
Monday, June 1st 2009, 4:00 AM
Pokress for News
Jay Horwitz joined Mets in April of 1980 and has been a part of many memorable moments, both good and bad.
He also has been in middle of all kinds of team hijinks, from receiving kisses from two models ... Torrie/News
He also has been in middle of all kinds of team hijinks, from receiving kisses from two models ...
...to flexing his muscles in pool with Al Leiter. Torrie/News
...to flexing his muscles in pool with Al Leiter.
* Maine, Mets survive stomach bug to top Marlins
* Bondy: Horwitz is Mets' man in middle
* Madden: Mets' healthy outlook
Funny thing is, Jay Horwitz never thought he'd be doing anything like this. Didn't think he'd be escorting wayward Mets into Smithers rehab center during the turbulent '80s, or dismissing a hooker at his hotel door to shortcircuit a practical joke, or weighing his ample head on a scale every two years for the amusement of others.
Horwitz figured he'd get married out of NYU, have a family. He wanted to be Pierre Salinger, the press secretary for John F. Kennedy. That was his dream. He was a liberal activist. He once campaigned for George McGovern, who lost worse than the '62 Mets. Horwitz was going to change the world, not type out notes about hamstring pulls.
But stuff happens, and there goes a lifetime. He majored in journalism, got a job covering the Jets for the Herald News in Passaic before turning to public relations. Joey Goldstein, the late PR guru, recommended Horwitz - at the time, the SID at Fairleigh Dickenson - for the Mets job because he was a kindred oddball who thought outside the batter's box. At FDU, Horwitz pitched stories to papers about a one-armed fencer, a second baseman who got hit by 128 pitches and a priest who played hockey.
Then it didn't even matter when Horwitz spilled a pitcher of orange juice onto Frank Cashen's white tennis shorts at the very start - during the handshake - of his job interview in Florida. He was hired on April 1, 1980, reporting directly from FDU to the major leagues. Thirty seasons later, he is still in charge of public relations for the Mets. He hasn't missed a single game since his mother died in August of 1990, when he took two days off. Before that, he skipped only a few games when he was quarantined in his Chicago hotel room with chicken pox.
"The Cubs doctor said I looked like Elephant Man," Horwitz says.
He sits in the press box for every game, watching mostly through binoculars because his eyesight is awful. He keeps score on his pad, until the very last out. He checks the Blackberry that he drops and breaks about three or four times a year. "I have thick thumbs," he says.
He still roots quietly, dying inside with every bad bullpen outing.
"I try to be professional upstairs, but this is your whole life," Horwitz says. "I'm with these guys from February, hopefully through October. I can't not be involved. It's a family. I go out to eat with them. I ride the plane with them."
He is 63, a lovable, frazzled soul among young millionaires from very different cultures. He could be the father to these players, and talks like their proud, protective grandpa. He tells you that Jose Reyes is remarkable for learning English on his own, and that Carlos Beltran deserves credit for stepping up and becoming a spokesman the last couple of years. Everybody is a saint, or at least a mensch.
He's always "Jay" to the players, to team officials. Never, ever Mr. Horwitz. "I try not to be a stuffed shirt," he says. He is not that, or he would never have survived 30 seasons of nuttiness that is professional baseball in New York.
The stories he can tell . . . and the ones he must censor just a bit, because after all that is his business.
There was the time Horwitz talked Cashen into wearing a cowboy hat, when the Mets re-signed Doug Flynn to a contract at the Lone Star Café. The hat came down over Cashen's head just in time for the photos. "He looked like Elmer Fudd," Horwitz says.
There were all those times he would bring Dwight Gooden or another troubled player to Smithers, now the Addiction Institute of New York. He was such a regular, the staff there thought Horwitz was in treatment.
"I had a Met jacket on, the lady said to me, ‘What's your problem?'" Horwitz says. "I said, ‘I don't really have a problem. I'm here with this player.' She said, ‘Sir, to overcome this thing, you've got to admit it. Is it drugs? Is it cocaine? You're not going to get any better.' I remember finally saying, ‘I OD-ed on Twinkies and Yoo-hoo.'"
It was the same story after the Cooter's incident in Houston, when a handful of Mets were arrested. Horwitz went to court so many times with those players that friends and family would see him on television and ask if he was facing trial.
There were all those big egos to handle in the '80s, along with the joyous 1986 championship. "That team was like ‘Animal House,' and everything was out in the open," he says. When it came to practical jokes, nobody was a better target than the good-natured Horwitz, born with a bull's-eye on his bottom.
The players cut his ties, or painted whiteout on his glasses when he fell asleep on flights. John Franco put a rat in his bag. Dallas Green put eyeblack on his binoculars so he looked like a raccoon without knowing it. Bobby Wine, the former coach, engineered the scariest prank of all: He removed the head of a wooden horse in the lobby of a Los Angeles hotel, placed it on Horwitz' pillow and poured on ketchup to look like blood.
"Godfather" all over again. And yes, Horwitz screamed all the way into the hallway.
He has laid on the floor of the trainer's room, his head on a scale. It weighed 15.8 pounds, the last time they checked. Then there was that time when a few of the pitchers thought Horwitz lived too boring a life on the road, so they ordered a hooker for his room.
"We have a present for you," they said, the woman by their side, waiting.
"I can't. My knee hurts," Horwitz said. The hooker never made it into his room, but now Horwitz occasionally is asked, knowingly, "How's your knee?"
He gets along with everyone associated with the Mets, forgives them all. Nobody is too surly, too eccentric. Dave Kingman, a nightmare for most, spent a whole summer at Horwitz's home. "A good guy," Horwitz insists. Anna Benson gave Horwitz a terrier before one game. Like the pitchers in the hooker incident, she thought he was lonely.
"I live by myself, Anna, how am I going to take care of him?" Horwitz asked.
"Keep him, you need him," Benson said. He kept the dog. Benson sends Christmas treats for Tiki every year.
And that time Anna dressed up in a low-cut Santa Claus suit, handing out goodies to kids at a club function?
"Say what you want, but the next day we were on the back page of the Daily News, Newsday and the Post," Horwitz says.
There were delicate moments that still make Horwitz wince. Pedro Martinez often called Horwitz, "The best-looking Jew in New York." The line was not mean-spirited, just a bit awkward. Worse was when pitcher Jason Isringhausen, the former Mets pitcher, got on a conference call with reporters and asked about Horwitz, "How's my favorite Jew boy?"
Horwitz received many unsolicited threats and advice on that one. He was told to demand an apology. His rabbi called to find out what he would do.
But again, Horwitz firmly believed Isringhausen was no anti-Semite, that the pitcher was merely teasing the man with the bull's-eye. Horwitz can remember only once feeling insulted by such words. He had become a vigilant media bouncer for Gooden in his rookie season, after learning how to say ‘no' from his experiences with Strawberry.
"The columnist Jay Mariotti called me a ‘Nazi general,' which I took offense to," Horwitz says.
Somebody got to him, once. And now, after all these years, he isn't Salinger. He has no family. Just this team, this job - plus Tiki and a pair of stray cats back in Clifton. There have been eight Yankee public relations directors in the past 30 seasons. One guy for the Mets.
"If I have any regrets . . . Once or twice during the 30 years, it was like, the job or her, and I always chose the job," Horwitz says. "When my mother was alive, she never pressured me into getting married, just as long as I was happy. I still enjoy coming to work. After 30 years at the same place, I still love the people I work for.
"When we were bad, if they see bad headlines in the paper, Jeff and Fred Wilpon don't say, ‘If you don't get this straightened out you're a dead man.' They understand what New York is all about, that everything isn't going to be positive.
"How much longer can I do it? I don't know. Maybe when they want to kick me out of here."
Just about then, Omar Minaya is walking past Horwitz's office at Citi Field and hears there will be a story about his public relations man in the paper.
"Must be a slow news day, nothing happening," Minaya says.
Horwitz should be so lucky, just once in his life.