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MMO Exclusive: Jay Horwitz Discusses His Four Decades With the Mets

 

When Jay Horwitz interviewed for a public relations position with the New York Mets back in 1980, he was convinced that the prospects of getting hired were slim to none.

After all, Horwitz showed up to his interview a half-hour late after he went to the wrong hotel, and then proceeded to spill a container of orange juice on general manager Frank Cashen’s lap after nervously reaching out to shake his hand.

The interview lasted just five minutes and a dejected Horwitz called his mother to let her know that the interview went a bit awry. To his surprise, Horwitz received a phone call from the Mets two weeks later, congratulating him on getting the job.

Four decades later, Horwitz remains with the organization, after working 39 years as the head of media relations before shifting to his new role as vice president of alumni public relations and team historian in 2018.

Horwitz, 75, details his lengthy and memorable career in his memoir aptly titled, “Mr. Met: How a Sports-Mad Kid from Jersey Became Like Family to Generations of Big Leaguers,” which was released this past May.

The affable Horwitz offers a glimpse behind the scenes of navigating through the intense nature that is the New York sports media, sharing anecdotes and memories from the lean years in the early 1980s, to the 1986 championship season, to the relationships and bonds created with the generations of players he aided along the way.

Beyond the countless stories and hijinks Horwitz encountered over his four decades with the Mets, the long-time PR boss utilized the pages in his book to remind readers of two important subjects in his life: to not give up on a dream even with a disability, and to keep the late Shannon Forde’s memory alive.

Horwitz details how his mother came down with a case of the German measles while she was carrying him, and soon after he was born he was diagnosed with glaucoma in his right eye. Horwitz reveals in the book that he was blind in that eye, and when he was in the sixth grade the doctors recommended that it be removed.

Growing up with a disability was tough for Horwitz, who was bullied and teased for being different. However, working to overcome his disability gave Horwitz a different perspective on life, and hopes that his story will resonate with others who may be dealing with a condition of their own.

Horwitz’s final chapter is dedicated to Shannon Forde, who Horwitz hired as an intern out of St. John’s University in 1994. Horwitz notes how Forde was part of a small group of trailblazers, as there were only a handful of women working in baseball PR at the time.

Forde quickly became indispensable to Horwitz, calling her his “right hand person” and the “daughter I never had.” Forde passed away in 2016 at the age of 44, after a long battle with breast cancer. The connection Forde and Horwitz formed over two decades is evident in the way he describes his long-time friend and co-worker, noting that even when she was nearing the end of her battle with cancer, all she wanted to do was help others.

As Horwitz succinctly puts it: “She was one of a kind.”

I had the privilege of speaking with Horwitz, where we discussed his reasons for writing the book, the day-to-day operations of being a PR director and how he advised players to handle the New York media.

MMO: What prompted you to write the book, and what was the overall process like for you?

Horwitz: A couple of reasons. I switched jobs a couple of years ago; I became the alumni director and I was the regular PR guy for the Mets for 39 years. I have always been able to laugh at myself and was the butt of a lot of jokes through the years. People kept telling me that I had a good sense of humor and a lot of funny stories, so that was one part.

The other part that people don’t know was when my mother was carrying me in 1944-45, she came down with German measles, and I was born with glaucoma in my right eye. I was basically born blind in my right eye. When I was about in the sixth grade – I was ten or eleven – the doctor said to me that unless I take my right eye out I have the chance of being blind altogether.

I had my right eye removed and since then I’ve had an artificial right eye. I was always too embarrassed to tell people, I would always say that I can see a little bit, not a whole lot, just a little bit. Part of the reason for writing the book was so I could be an example to some kids who were born with some kind of disability or deformity. You can still make something of yourself and still go forward.

The other part of it was Shannon Forde, I wanted to have a tribute to her. When people die – and she’s been dead for over four years – people forget. One of the things I wanted to do was make people not forget.

The last part of the story is my mother died in 1990, and I’ve been kind of adopted by a family, Linda and Mark Emr from Little Ferry. They’ve always been asking me to write a book and Mark passed away a year ago from cancer. I wanted to write the book as a tribute to my mom and dad, and to Linda and Mark and our family.

MMO: You mentioned the late Shannon Forde, who was so beloved and cherished by the organization. Can you talk about her impact on the club, and what made her such a special person?

Horwitz: She was one of the most courageous people I’ve ever met. I hired her as an intern from St. John’s in 1994, and I knew right off she was a keeper. She kept score, she knew the names of the players, she was a dedicated Mets fan and she progressed through the years.

She became one of the one most respected PR persons, not woman, but respected PR people in all of baseball and all of sports. Major League Baseball asked her to work the All-Star Game and World Series and she put out one of the top press guides in all of baseball. We had the World Series in 2000 and in 2015, and she helped run the credentials for that.

The other part was when she got cancer in 2011, she never stopped working and she was raising two young kids. She just came to work when she could, and on the days she came to work she’d just shut the door because she didn’t want to keep answering questions of how are you feeling.

Shannon never really asked for something from anybody. In the last year, she willed herself to go to the World Series in Kansas City. The cancer had spread all over her body, but she wanted to go, and she helped work the Series.

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When she passed away in 2016, nine Major League teams held a moment of silence for her. That’s pretty remarkable! A PR person really has three separate audiences: the ownership who hired you, the media and players. And Shannon, through her personality, had all three facets love her. I never had one person say anything bad about her to me.

Major League Baseball helped build a field in her honor in her hometown of Little Ferry [New Jersey]. I just admired her courage, how she got along with people and I just didn’t want people to forget her.

MMO: You write in the book that you were a sportswriter early on, something you didn’t discuss much with many of the writers you came into contact with later on in your career with the Mets. Can you talk a bit about your early career as a sportswriter and how that job aided you when you worked for the Mets as their PR director?

Horwitz: Out of high school I was hired by the Passaic Herald-News. I covered high school sports and one year they let me cover the Jets. I actually traveled with the Jets for a year after their Super Bowl. I really enjoyed covering them and I got to cover a lot of my high school games and it really was a great experience.

When I got the job with the Mets, I tried to treat everybody the same. I came from a small paper and I knew the people from small papers worked just as hard as the people at the big papers, so I just tried to treat everybody the same.

MMO: Can you talk about getting hired by the Mets in 1980?

Horwitz: In February of 1980, I had already accepted a job to be the stat guy for Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola for the NBC Game of the Week.

One day I got a random phone call in my office from a guy named Jim Nagourney, who said he was from the New York Mets. At that time, the Mets were a really bad team in the late 70s, and they were looking for a PR guy who had a sense of humor and had some offbeat stories.

When I got the call I hung up on him; I thought it was a friend playing a joke. The next day I find out that the guy was legit, and I called him back and to make a long story short I took a plane down to St. Petersburg to interview with Frank Cashen, who was the GM of the team. I went to the wrong hotel, I finally showed up at the Edgewater Beach Hotel and Frank was sitting there in his little white tennis shorts and I was so nervous as he proceeded to shake my hand, I spilt a gigantic container of orange juice all over his lap.

He asked me one question, I answered it correctly and he said, “Well, that’s all that I need to know.”

The interview lasted about five minutes and then I went back to the airport and I spoke with my late mom and said, ‘Mom, there’s no way I got this job.’

Forty plus years later, I’m still here.

MMO: When you were hired, you were coming on during a losing period for the organization, as the Mets hadn’t finished above .500 since 1976. What were some of the challenges of doing the job the way you wanted to with the unfortunate losing culture of the time?

Horwitz: When I was at Fairleigh Dickinson for eight years [served as FDU Sports Information Director], I promoted a lot of offbeat stories. We had a priest who played hockey, a 43-year-old freshman football player, an Israeli and Arab goalie on the same soccer team, a one-armed fencer and a baseball player who got hit by a pitch 128 times in four years. Since the team wasn’t very good, I tried to look for different stories.

Lee Mazzilli was one of our stars, and he was also a world champion speed skater. Doug Flynn was our second baseman at the time, and was a country western singer. He sang with the Loretta Lynn Band and the Oak Ridge Boys, so I did a story on him. Joel Youngblood used to hunt with a bow and arrow.

I tried to look for the offbeat stories that would transcend winning or losing. And things didn’t really change until May 6, 1983, when we brought Darryl Strawberry up. A month later we got Keith Hernandez in a trade.

Then a key moment and probably the best run we ever had with the Mets was in 1983 when we hired Davey Johnson as the manager. At Davey’s press conference his first words were, “Why did it take you so long to hire me?”

Davey was a forerunner of the analytics movement; he was a Texas A&M graduate, an accomplished pilot, he sold real estate. He didn’t need the job. But Davey brought a sense of cockiness, a sense of confidence in the team where for the next six years we averaged over 90 wins a year and of course win the World Series in 1986.

For the first couple of years it was trying to promote the team with some human-interest stories like in 1983, until a lot of the better players started to emerge.

MMO: How did you go about navigating through all the various personalities and egos of all the players you came into contact with?

Horwitz: What I had to do, Mat, is try to treat the 25th guy on the team like the number one guy. I didn’t try to give any favoritism; if the 25th guy needed a favor I’d try and help him. I was conscience of certain players who after a game could do a lot of interviews, and certain players needed a group interview.

It was knowing the personalities of the players and knowing who you can lean on and who needed a little love and care. Know their personalities and really just treat everybody the same and not cater to just the star players in Strawberry, [Dwight] Gooden, [Gary] Carter, but being concerned with the guys like Joe McEwing, Vance Wilson, etc.

MMO: How long would it take you to get to know a player?

Horwitz: When we made a trade and after the GM and manager spoke to him, I would call and say, ‘Hey, this is Jay over in PR.’

At that time, I helped players get houses and pick out schools for their kids, maybe get them tickets to a Knicks or Rangers game. I always found spring training to be a great time to get to know new players or the young kids because you have a lot of free time on you hand and sit around in the clubhouse and in the dugout.

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What a lot of people don’t do, but I tried to, was don’t always ask something when you approach a player. Let them know you’re there for them and not always can you do this or that for me. Once you then let them know it builds up a level of trust with the guys, which is important.

The player has to know that they can confide in you and they can trust you, and that’s what I really tried to do through the years.

MMO: For a 7:10 night game at home, what would a prototypical day look like for you?

Horwitz: I live in New Jersey, so I have to go over two bridges. I would get over the bridges, read the papers in my office, make sure I was up to date on the latest things, then I’d answer some emails.

When I first started, I used to do all the game notes myself, about ten or eleven pages. Then slowly I would hand off parts of it to Shannon and parts of it to Ethan Wilson. I would do the notes, make some phone calls, take some interview requests and then I’d go down and sit with the manager around one o’clock and try to bring him up to date. Whether it was Bobby Valentine, Willie Randolph or Terry Collins, I’d try to give them a heads up of questions they might get and kind of brief them [on it].

It was a league rule that you had to open up the locker room three and a half hours before the game. We’d have the press in the locker room and I’d be a presence to answer the reporters’ questions or help do some interviews. The team would then go on the field for an hour and a half for BP. You come back and go up to the press box about six o’clock and get something to eat.

During the game I’d answer questions like if Darryl Strawberry were to hit two home runs, how many times did he do that? Be available, have injury reports ready, and then after the game you have to open up the locker room ten minutes after. I’d have to be down there to monitor interviews and answer any requests.

One thing I liked about the job, Mat, was no day was ever really the same. I never felt I was working, I was doing something I loved as a kid. I loved sports as a kid and the one regret I have is my dad passed away in 1970, and he was never able to see me get the major leagues. My dad was a diehard football and baseball Giants fan. Thank god my mom got to go to the ’86 World Series which is great.

That’s was why I loved it and not to skip ahead but in the summer of 2018, when Jeff Wilpon had asked me to change jobs to become the alumni director, I really wasn’t thrilled about it because I liked the camaraderie in the locker room and I liked the travel. But after being on the job for two years, I think we’re doing some good with reaching out to people and letting them know we care.

I’ll give you an example: Hobie Landrith was the first player the Mets picked in the 1961 expansion draft. I called him about a year ago and during the conversation Hobie said to me, “You know, Jay, you’re the only person from the Mets organization who has called me in fifty years.”

Basically, what we try to do is let these guys know that we gave a shit, let them know we care and just try to bring them back into the Mets family. We worked with the ’69 Mets last year and we had a great time working with Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool, Jerry Koosman, etc. I worked with most of these guys during my career, so once I got used to the transition I really love what we’re doing now.

MMO: You mentioned your new role with the Mets as vice president of alumni public relations and team historian. What other responsibilities do you have with this new position?

Horwitz: Last year we did the biggest thing: Every home weekend we brought in two guys and they signed autographs in the Hall of Fame Club, did social media, went down to the dugout and met the current players and did TV and radio interviews. Last year Pete Alonso and Todd Frazier were really great because every time we had alumni in the dugout they would always come over and introduce themselves and ask what they did and what position they played. It’s good to see the current guys know what the other guys did.

We do a newsletter four times a year and we support the player charity events like Cleon Jones had a golf tournament in Mobile. Cleon has done great work helping to reconstruct his neighborhood.

We were fortunate to work with Ed Kranepool and got him all the publicity to get the kidney transplant last year. We were going to retire Jerry Koosman’s number this year. We increased the membership of our Hall of Fame, we were going to do Ron Darling, Jon Matlack and Edgardo Alfonzo. With Jeff’s leadership, we’re just trying to reach out more and more to the past.

MMO: Do you have a favorite moment or two from your four decades with the club?

Horwitz: Listen, ’86 was a great season, but for me, what I’ll remember most and what I’m most proud of is what the team did after 9/11. From ownership down to Bobby Valentine and the players like Al Leiter, Johnny Franco, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile, Vance Wilson, Joe McEwing.

We made a difference in the community; we went to Ground Zero on more than one occasion with no media. We handed out Mets stuff to the fire and policemen. Shea Stadium became a parking lot, and we sent stuff down to the recovery areas.

And of course, Mike’s [Piazza] home run was great, it was more than a home run, we had guys that really cared about the community and wanted to give back. We donated a day salary to Rusty Staub’s police fund; we just made a difference. Looking back beyond the hits, runs and errors, we made a difference in the community.

Of course, ’86 was a different kind of thrill and I remember sitting in Davey Johnson’s office during Game Six of the World Series, we’re losing by two runs, two outs, two strikes, and I’m saying to myself, ‘How in the name of God are we going to alibi to the media that we were supposed to win the World Series after winning 114 games and we fell short?’

But lo and behold, the Mookie [Wilson] miracle happened. We came back and won and had a parade and I’ll have a ring to always look back and a lot of great memories from that great team.

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MMO: When you look back on your tenure, was there anything you would’ve done or handled differently with a particular player or situation?

Horwitz: What comes to mind is when Darryl and Dwight came up, Darryl first in ’83 and then Dwight in ’84, I said yes to too many things. We put a lot of pressure on them in the beginning and we should’ve said no and should’ve monitored it a little better and done more group interviews.

Especially when Darryl came up in ’83, a number one draft pick, he was the black Ted Williams, Sports Illustrated cover boy. There was no Keith, no Gary yet, he was really by himself. He managed to hit 26 home runs and won the Rookie of the Year Award.

Next year Dwight was 19, he struck out 300 batters the year before in Lynchburg. I fostered him a little better but not great. Looking back if I had just been a little bit more protective of those two young guys, I would’ve felt better about myself in those decisions.

MMO: When I asked you about your daily routine, you mentioned writing up the game notes. That’s something I utilize for each Mets game. Can you talk about where you’d get the statistics and information from, and how you’d turn that into the daily game notes?

Horwitz: The Elias Sports Bureau sent us stats, we got league stats. And the stats have gotten so much more complicated now with the launch angle and what a player is hitting when it’s 3-2 and nobody out in the bottom of the eighth inning.

When I was out there doing the stats, the Elias Sports Bureau would give us daily stats, team leaders, league leaders, and you would call the stuff from there. I kept my own record book that would keep streaks of nine-straight games, four-homers in his last three games, and I would keep score.

I had a scorebook from 1980 until I retried in 2018. I don’t know where they are now, and the problem was my handwriting was so bad that nobody could probably read them! I’m not great on the computer and as the things got more complicated, I said I can’t do this myself, so probably at the end I would maybe do a page.

Now everything is on the laptop and with the different programs, it’s beyond me now to be honest with you.

MMO: What advice would you give players on handling the media in New York?

Horwitz: Be upfront. I’ll give you what I told Jacob deGrom and David Wright when they came up. Good or bad be in front of your locker. The media respects you and if you made an error stand in front of your locker and say you made an error. It’s easy to stand in front of your locker after you hit three home runs, but you get your respect from the media, the guys in print, TV, radio, you’ve got to be there either good, bad or indifferent.

That’s my advice to them: Don’t keep complaining, don’t go to the food room or the exercise room. As soon as the game is over and when you physically can be there, answer the questions. If you had a part in the game, tell them what your part was, that’s what I tried to let the guys know.

MMO: Who were some of your favorite players or guys that you had the best rapport with?

Horwitz: That’s really hard, it really is hard. I can honesty tell you that I can’t remember a guy that I had a bad rapport with. On the top of my head John Franco, Al Leiter, David Wright, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden.

I owe a lot of gratitude to my first manager in Joe Torre. I was a young kid coming out of college in 1980, and Joe took the time and had the patience to tell me what it’s like to be in the major leagues, introduced me to all his friends like Pete Rose, George Brett, Reggie Jackson and the opposing managers.

My first road trip to Montreal he took me to a tie store and bought me 70 plus ties. I was fortunate to work with great managers through the years like Bobby Valentine, Willie Randolph – who I can’t understand why he hasn’t gotten another job managing – Terry Collins, who I consider one of my closest friends.

I was fortunate to be with a lot of great people, even Dave Kingman, who a lot of people didn’t like, stayed at my house for two weeks when he came back in 1981 because he didn’t have a place to stay. We used to commute back and forth to Shea Stadium and he even paid the tolls!

I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of good guys and I can’t tell you one person that I really didn’t get along with. It’s just hard to pick out one or two guys who were my closer friends.

MMO: I thought I read that you would attend World Series games for opposing teams. Is that right?

Horwitz: I did and I liked to do that for a couple of reasons. I tried to keep in touch with the latest trends with what other teams were doing, and I liked to keep in touch with the national media so that if I had a story I wanted to get out it would.

I stopped going to the World Series after the ’08 World Series. I remember doing interviews with Jamie Moyer and Jimmy Rollins and I said, what the heck am I doing?

I went to the All-Star Games to the end because it was less travel and I used to like going to the All-Star Game because you have the media across the country know who you were and if you had a really good story and need something to play in Los Angeles, you let the guy from the L.A. Times know who you were. I enjoyed doing that and I really did that right up until the end.

MMO: What advice would you give those who are looking to get into the sports public relations industry?

Horwitz: Don’t be a clock-watcher. You’ve got to sacrifice a lot. If you’re talking about baseball – which is all I really know – there are no summers at the beaches, no Friday night movies. You’ve got to make sacrifices.

The hours are long, but the rewards are great, it’s a great business and I really wouldn’t change anything in my forty plus years working for the Mets.

MMO: Thanks very much for some time today, Jay. It was great speaking with you. And congratulations on the book.

Horwitz: My pleasure, thanks so much.

Follow Jay Horwitz on Twitter, @Jay_HorwitzPR

Purchase Jay’s book here.