Longtime Mets media relations ace Jay Horwitz scheduled a one-on-one meet with Post columnist Steve Serby for some Amazin’ Q&A.
Q: What are your thoughts about Keith Hernandez having his No. 17 jersey retired?
A: It’s a long overdue honor. In September of ’86, he and Ray Knight called me into their room, and they said, “We’re gonna tell you something that is gonna make you happy and sad at the same time: The players are gonna vote you a full share if we win the World Series.” The full share was $93,000. And I was given a choice by the front office of either taking a $93,000 share from the players, or a $4,000 gift from the club being the department head. My mom said, “I didn’t raise a schmuck, take the $93,000.” So I did. I said, “Keith, I don’t want to upset the apple cart here.” They said, “This is our money, we do what we want.” At that time it was unusual for somebody in my position to get voted a share. And Keith and those guys, they had my back.
Q: Describe Keith as a ballplayer.
A: Never took an at-bat off, no matter what the score. Always aware of everything around him in the field. Always in the right place. Never out of position.
Q: What would Tom Seaver have said about his statue?
A: He would have said: “I made a difference. The fans, 20, 30 years from now, will still remember me. I love the fans, I love the city. … It’s good to be remembered.”
Q: What was the very first Subway Series game like in 1997?
A: Dave Mlicki goes out and pitches the best game of his life [complete-game shutout], and we missed the team bus going back to Shea Stadium because we had a lot of interviews, so Dave and I took a cab going back to the stadium together.
Q: What do you remember about the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium?
A: A lot of Yankee fans at the beginning, a lot of Met fans at the end. It was David against Goliath then. Every year, he still gets postcards and letters around the first game.
Q: How excited was he?
A: He said: “Who could believe what happened? I never did this many interviews in my entire life!”
Q: Who gets more deferred payments, you or Bobby Bonilla?
A: They don’t have a Happy Jay Horwitz Day (smile).
Q: Bobby Bo had a couple of clubhouse confrontations?
A: I shoulda gotten combat pay for those days! One time against the Cubs, they put up a big E9 on the scoreboard. He calls me in the press box: “Jay, tell ’em to take it down.” Mike Lupica’s over my right shoulder: “Was that Bobby Bo complaining about the error?” I said, “No, he knew I had the flu. He was calling up to see how I felt.” And that didn’t work out too well (laugh).
Q: Describe the day Doc Gooden came back from drug rehab.
A: I was praying he would do well.
Q: Doc and Darryl Strawberry?
A: Both have big hearts, they both do good work with kids right now. One of the questions I always get is, “Should they both be in the Hall of Fame?” Probably could have been. But I think the work they’re doing now for kids, and Darryl’s a pastor now and his wife is a pastor; Doc speaks to high schools.
Q: The Photo Day fight between Hernandez and Strawberry?
A: That was Gary Cohen’s first day on the job at SNY. I was to the side and said, “What the hell’s happening here?” The next day, I got congratulatory messages from every PR guy in baseball. ’Cause I got national publicity for the Photo Day which is a bulls–t thing. Gary Cohen probably said, “What the hell did I get myself into?”
Q: Describe the Vince Coleman postgame firecracker incident in the parking lot in Los Angeles.
A: I was having dinner with my late uncle Murray. I think I got a call from somebody from the police department from L.A.: “Two of your guys were throwing firecrackers at the fans.” … I asked Uncle Murray to drive me back to the hotel. Bobby Bo did a bowling tournament shortly after that, and I said: “Bowling questions only.”
Q: Your Harlem Shake in the clubhouse?
A: In 2011, I broke my ankle, I stayed at the Holiday Inn after a road trip, and then I was running to my car and I tripped on a pothole. Probably the next spring, I sued the hotel. And we had this idea to do the Harlem Shuffle [Shake]. So Jeff [Wilpon] had asked me to get up in front of the team and dance. So I remember dancing with LaTroy Hawkins and David Wright, we were all in costumes. And we got a lot of hits on social media, and I got a call from my lawyer the next day, he said: “Love your dancing, but you just screwed up your lawsuit.”
Q: What did Joe Torre, your first manager, say to you when you first met him?
A: I was scared stiff, it was the first time I ever was in a major league locker room. He just said, “Follow my lead, kid, I’ll tell you the right things to do.” He introduced me to all of his friends — Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, George Brett.
Q: He was your first manager fired?
A: I took it personally. I remember I cried when Art Howe got fired, when Willie Randolph got fired. I remember sitting in the locker room as guys packed their bags. I never got married, right, so the Mets were my family. One winter, [manager] George Bamberger, he was in my office, he said, “Jay, I think I’m having a heart attack. Could you take me to the hospital?” So there was a little snow on the ground. So I lean out the window, and my glasses fell off, and I ran over my glasses taking George to the doctor. He didn’t have a heart attack, he had something else wrong with him. He got back in the car, he said, “I’ll never ever drive with you again.”
Q: The Willie Randolph firing was in the middle of the night in L.A.
A: One of my worst moments ever. I wasn’t told because I used to ride to the park every day with Willie, so they kept it from me. We flew all night to L.A. I was awakened around 12:30 — “We have a release going out, we’re gonna fire Willie Randolph now.” And the next day he left to go to New York … was so embarrassed to be part of that.
Q: What was the most ticked off one of your bosses was at you?
A: My first or second year we were in Chicago, and that afternoon Tim Leary, who was one of our top prospects, hurt his arm. And there was a birthday party for [GM] Frank Cashen at Eli’s Restaurant. And I got all of the waiters to go over to Frank’s table to sing “Happy Birthday Dear Customer.” He wasn’t really happy with me. I used to do these promotions like with Darryl’s first game in Kingsport, I worked with the minor league people there, we had every fan who brought a strawberry got into the game for nothing.
Q: What did Cashen say to you?
A “Leave the guys alone. Let him grow up, he’s a young guy.”
Q: What did he say to you after “Happy Birthday Dear Customer”?
A: “Not the right time, not the right place.”
Q: Describe the first time you met Davey Johnson.
A: This was the strike year in ’81, I wanted to get to know the minor league guys. Went down to Jackson, [Miss.], took the staff out to a dinner — eight or 10 guys, everybody had a steak. “Davey I got a problem. I don’t have my wallet.” I lost my wallet. He says, “All you New York guys are alike.” He never let me forget that. He paid the bill.
Q: Pedro Martinez?
A: He would run naked back and forth in the locker room with a cowboy hat on before he did his interview.
A: Just to be Pedro.
Q: What was it like watching Lenny Dykstra play?
A: Always dirt on his uniform. I remember when he hit the home run in the ninth on a Saturday to win the game against Houston in the playoffs [NLCS Game 3 in 1986], the next day we got him on “NFL Live.” Our first road trip, Keith bought him a suit, because he had nothing to wear. And I just feel badly the way he is now.
Q: Mookie Wilson, aside from the roller through Bill Buckner’s legs?
A: The one time I ever saw Mookie mad, we were in St. Petersburg, he stood signing autographs for about 3 ¹/₂ hours, he had to go to the airport to pick up his wife, and he left a couple of people there, he couldn’t wait any longer, and the next day he got ripped in the St. Pete Times for not autographing every autograph. I remember calling the editor.
Q: What is your favorite young David Wright memory?
A: I actually snuck him into an All-Star Game in Houston about a couple of weeks before he was called up [in 2004]. He wanted to speak to Scott Rolen, about what it’s like in the big leagues, so I got him a fake press pass, snuck him into the locker room, and he sat with Scott Rolen for an hour just learning about what it takes to be a major league player.
Q: Your favorite young Jose Reyes memory?
A: Him teaching himself English, not using an interpreter. Now he’s become a singer.
Q: Describe Bartolo Colon’s lone career home run in 2016.
A: One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. I’m sitting in the press box and I said, “I can’t believe it’s going out.” I was Bartolo’s interpreter for the year he was here. He didn’t like to speak English, and at that time we didn’t have an interpreter, it wasn’t mandatory then. So I used to go into the training room and write down notes for Bartolo to go out and pretend I was Bartolo.
Q: Of all the controversies you had, which one was the most challenging?
A: Probably the day we announced that Dwight was going to Smithers. You get to be attached to these players.
Q: David Cone?
A: I tried to convince the world he was Jewish. I had to tell people he just spells his name differently, he’s really Jewish. I had a couple of Jewish magazines write about him. I used to book David in Bar Mitzvahs.
Q: Frank Viola?
A: Johnny Franco used to torment him. Frank used to wear these ugly short white T-shirts, and Johnny used to call him the worst-dressed major league player ever.
Q: Franco pulled so many practical jokes on you — a wooden horse’s head in your bed, among others.
A: He just taught me about the locker room, that if guys don’t like you, they won’t screw with you.
Q: Did he play practical jokes on teammates?
A: No, just on me. I got him back once. On his birthday, I hired a 250-pound exotic dancer, and brought her to the locker room. It was he and Bobby Wine’s birthday, and she danced for the guys.
Q: Where did you find this exotic dancer?
A: Yellow Pages. When I got on, I said I needed a very rotund exotic dancer.
Q: What did they say when you asked?
A: Why? … “I’m trying to play a practical joke on a friend of mine.” And they got a very large lady for me.
Q: Why didn’t 1990s prospect Bill Pulsipher make it?
A: The hype. I had to learn from experiences that you can’t say yes to everything with a younger guy. Pulsipher and those guys [Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen], they were supposed to be saviors. Sometimes less is better.
Q: The Dark Knight, Matt Harvey: What happened to him?
A: I always think what would have happened, fifth game of the 2015 World Series, eighth inning, 2-0 lead … what happens if we win that game? Again, it was too much, too soon. I don’t want to seem like I’m second-guessing people, but sometimes what I try to tell a guy: You don’t have to do everything in one year, you can spread it out a little bit. Maybe I wasn’t firm enough, I didn’t get the message through. You don’t have to do every publicity avail in one year. I really hope he comes back.
Q: How did you feel when Gregg Jefferies had his struggles?
A: It was a lot of outside interference. I felt bad for Gregg. He came on an all-veteran team [in 1987], and he took Wally’s [Backman], spot, one of the most popular guys on the team. … He had people calling FAN defending him, and I tried to talk him out of that.
Q: One out left in Johan Santana’s no-hitter, what are you thinking?
A: I think it’s not gonna happen. Because with all the guys we had before — the Goodens, the Seavers — I said, “Something’s gonna happen.” And thankfully it didn’t.
Q: The 1986 World Series parade … what float were you on?
A: I don’t remember. I was so preoccupied with finding Doc [who was AWOL] that morning, I didn’t really enjoy it that much. I felt bad for him.
Q: What is the saddest funeral you had to attend?
A: Aside from my parents, right? … Gary Carter’s. Because 57, too young to die. And he was a PR guy’s dream.
Q: Who had more marriage requests, you or Lee Mazzilli?
A: Maz, just a smidgen (holds fingers a tiny bit apart) more than I did. I got all the Jewish people, he got all the Italians (laugh).
Q: Did you ever sleep over at Shea Stadium or Citi Field?
A: Plenty of times.
Q: Where would you sleep?
A: In my chair, or on the floor in the closet at Shea Stadium.
Q: Why would you pick that place in a closet?
A: I didn’t want the cleaners to see me, so I shut the closet door and went in the closet and fell asleep on the floor.
Q: Estimate how many times you slept at the office.
A: Thirty times, 40 times. I used to sleep in the clubhouse a lot. One time I think I almost gave Steven Matz a heart attack. I would sleep on one of the couches, he didn’t see me there. My hair was disheveled, my shirt was out, I think I had boogers coming down my nose (laugh). I sprang up and said, “Do I look presentable, Steve?” And he started to laugh.
Q: Willie Mays was your favorite player?
A: I grew up watching the catch against Vic Wertz in my little apartment in Clifton [N.J.]. Rusty Staub introduced me to Willie on one of our trips to San Francisco, and my hand was shaking.
Q: Did you ever make a basket catch in Little League?
A: I played second base. I only have one eye, right? So I couldn’t see the ball in the outfield so I played at second base. And I didn’t really catch a lot of the balls — every other ball I caught. I knocked ’em down … bruises on my chest. … I wasn’t a really good athlete.
Q: Why did they leave you in the game then?
A: My father knew the coach. It was Epstein’s Department Store in Clifton, Main Avenue. … I used to bunt all the time. One time my father said to me, “If you don’t swing away, I’m not gonna let you hit anymore.” Next game I closed my eyes and swung away. Line drive up the middle. Tripped out of the batter’s box and the center fielder threw me out at first.
Q: What was your reaction when the Giants left for San Francisco?
A: I was crestfallen, I cried. I felt betrayed. I didn’t understand the money part of it.
Q: Did you adopt the ’62 Mets?
A: I was a Giant fan until April 1, 1980 (smile).
Q: What did your father, Milton, do?
A: He ran a girl’s coat factory. My father loved the football Giants and the baseball Giants. I inherited his teams. He would do anything for his wife and his kid. Spoiled me to death.
Q: Describe your mother.
A: My mother Gertrude pampered me. I was an older child. I was ridiculed a lot in school, she sheltered me a lot. When I used to come home crying, a kid used to make fun of me, she said, “Keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll do well in life. Don’t let it bother you, children can be cruel.”
Q: You had your artificial eye put in when you were 13?
A: I was like Max Scherzer — different color eyes. That’s why he’s one of my favorite pitchers now.
Q: Describe your beloved assistant Shannon Forde, who lost her battle with cancer in 2016.
A: Most courageous person I’ve ever met. … She balanced her life with the kids, the job, the Mets. And she did so much for women’s PR. She wasn’t afraid of the players.
Q: Prior to Lawrence Taylor, who were your favorite football Giants?
A: Y.A. Tittle, Del Shofner, Frank Gifford. I was at the game when [Chuck] Bednarik almost killed Gifford. I was at the game when [Colts] Alan Ameche ran towards me to win the [1958 championship] game. The [Joe] Pisarcik play with Herm Edwards — I broke my hand, broke my binoculars and broke my radio.
Q: Describe the upcoming Old Timers’ Day on Aug. 27.
A: It’s gonna be a nice thing, we haven’t done it for 22 years.
Q: Describe your Amazin’ Mets Alumni Podcast.
A: I like it ’cause I speak to people I have a rapport with, I don’t use any notes.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: John Kennedy, Bill Parcells, Willis Reed — when he coached at St. John’s, I got to know him.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “American Graffiti.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Chadwick Boseman.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Ali MacGraw.
Q: Favorite singer or entertainer?
A: Dion and the Belmonts.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Mussels, veal parmigiana and spaghetti, and apple pie for dessert.
Q: How would you describe the Mets fan?
A: The guy who went to work 9-to-5. … Has a lot of patience. … Never gives up. … And always looks for a silver lining.
Q: What would it mean to you if this current team won a championship?
A: Hopefully, you get rid of the “Same Old Mets” thing.
Q: What is the bond you have with Jacob deGrom that led him to write the foreword to your book “Mr. Met: How a Sports-Mad Kid from Jersey Became Like Family to Generations of Big Leaguers”?
A: Jacob used to talk to David Wright every day, and I think he saw David trusted me. I am over 40 years older than Jake. We had a basketball net in the locker room, and Jake would say he would do an interview if I made two baskets. Never made the baskets, but he always did interviews. I think he appreciated that I could laugh at myself.
Q: What enabled you to be as trusted as you were by the players?
A: 1 never wanted to be a suit. Tried to treat the 25th guy like No. 1. Always willing to laugh at myself. When I went to a player’s locker, I tried not to always ask for something.
Q: Are you recognized out public?
A: About a month ago somebody thought I was Henry Kissinger … somebody said I looked like Woody Allen … Fay Vincent with the head.
Q: When you bused back from Pittsburgh after 9/11, did anything stand out to you?
A: When we crossed over the George Washington Bridge, I remember Todd Zeile said, “Turn to your right, guys,” and where the towers were there was smoke.
Q: And then Shea Stadium was transformed into a recovery area.
A: As soon as we got off the bus, they had organized trucks and Bobby [Valentine] got the players organized. We would work out in the morning, load trucks in the afternoon.
Q: And your visit to Ground Zero with Valentine, Jeff Wilpon and several players?
A: It looked like war torn Germany. The firemen had smoke on their faces. At that time we felt we were being intrusive because these guys are trying to survive, we were down there giving out Met hats. But we grew to learn that they liked bullsh–ting with us, and they liked getting the hats, and that’s really how the hat tradition started. We wore hats … everybody who lost a person on 9/11 — EMTs, and the K-9 units, court officers, firemen, policemen, that’s how it all started.
Q: What do you remember thinking to yourself as Mike Piazza is rounding the bases after hitting the post-9/11 home run?
A: I started crying. … I looked in the stands, the firemen were crying … the people, they were laughing and crying … even more than the ’86 World Series was that moment for me.
Q: What was your immediate reaction when Roger Clemens threw the jagged bat towards Piazza in the 2000 World Series?
A: I wanted to pick a fight with somebody in the press box. There’s no excuse for that. Mike has gotten criticized for not going to fight, but what happens if he charged the mound? He gets ejected from the game.
Q: What would you have done in your Little League days if somebody has thrown a bat at you?
A: I would have fought him. But different circumstances. Epstein’s playing against Jacques Wolf — the Yankees and Mets, it’s a little bit different.
Q: Your legacy?
A: What the 2001 team did. We made a difference.
Q: Do you see yourself as a champion of the underdog?
A: I do in a way because of my personal situation. Anytime I see somebody in a wheelchair, somebody on a walker, somebody with a crutch, I kind of empathize with ’em because of what my situation is. I know how it is to have a handicap, and I always try and encourage them, or go out of my way to be nice, say hello and stuff like that.
Q: How would you sum up what it’s been like being Jay Horwitz?
A: I never thought, on April 1, 1980, when I missed my turnoff at Shea Stadium and wound up in Brooklyn, that 42-plus years [later] I still would be here. I remember stopping in a cemetery to get the number for Shea Stadium to call to tell Frank, “I’m gonna be a little bit late, I’m in a cemetery in Brooklyn. I’ll be there shortly.”
Q: What did he say?
A: I don’t think he said anything, to be honest with you (laugh).