The unique path of each 2023 Mets Hall of Fame inductee

June 3rd, 2023

NEW YORK -- It was a big day on Saturday afternoon before the Mets played the Blue Jays at Citi Field, as former big leaguers Howard Johnson and Al Leiter, as well as broadcasters Gary Cohen and Howard Rose, were inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame. Public relations guru Jay Horwitz was also honored with the Mets Hall of Fame achievement award.

Leiter, Rose and Cohen were Mets fans growing up in the Tri-State area, while Johnson came to New York in a trade from the Tigers after the 1984 season. Horwitz has worked for the club for 44 seasons in the public relations department, starting in 1980.

All five said working for the Mets was a dream come true. Maybe Rose said it best: You will be rewarded as long as you work hard.

“If you really bust your butt and you believe in yourself, you can accomplish virtually anything,” Rose said. “So, I might not have been born with athletic ability, but to have found a way to get into the game for free and enjoy being around the Mets' organization was enough. To be part of it and to be honored like this today, I’m still not sure this is going to be real when I wake up tomorrow morning.”

Each of the honorees had a unique path to the organization.

Leiter, who came to New York in a trade with the Marlins in 1998, was given the option of playing in Flushing or joining the Cardinals, as the Marlins retooled after winning the World Series the year before. It was a no-brainer. Leiter went home and flourished.

The lefty posted double-digit wins in seven straight years with the Mets (1998-2004). Leiter ranks in the top 10 in wins, innings, strikeouts and quality starts in franchise history. He famously hurled a two-hit shutout in the one-game playoff at Cincinnati in '99. In '02, Leiter became the first pitcher to get a win against all 30 Major League teams. He was also a two-time All-Star, once for the Mets.

“Getting an opportunity to play in the postseason and then the 2000 World Series, other than falling short of not winning [against the Yankees], that whole experience was certainly one if the biggest highlights,” Leiter said.

Fourteen years before Leiter arrived, New York welcomed another star in the making.

Johnson came from one of the greatest teams ever to play the game of baseball -- the 1984 Tigers -- but he didn’t play in the postseason for them, and he was dealt to the Mets for right-hander Walt Terrell in the following offseason. Johnson said being in a playoff atmosphere with the Tigers helped his career in New York. He would go on to help the Mets win two division titles and the '86 World Series championship.

“Even though I wasn’t a big part of the World Series [in 1984], I played a lot during that season, and that experience still carries over. It’s Major League Baseball,” Johnson said. “When you go from one place to the next, if you are looking for similarities, the Mets were the equal of Detroit when it comes to the players and the ability and the potential to win a championship. So for me, it was fun.”

It’s safe to say the National League style of play fit Johnson to a tee. While Terrell won 79 games with a 4.26 ERA for Detroit, Johnson compiled three seasons of 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases (1987, '89 and '91), the most in team history. He became the first switch-hitter to join the 30-30 club, and he ranks in the top five in Mets history in home runs, doubles, RBIs and stolen bases.

Those accomplishments were brought to life by the voices of a couple of announcing legends.

Cohen began calling Mets games on the radio in 1989, where he remained until moving to the SNY booth in 2006. He is the second-longest tenured play-by-play announcer in team history, and his distinct, “Outta here” signals a Mets home run.

The announcer said the 1999 season was his most memorable. The Mets went to the postseason that year -- their first since 1988 -- and they went as far the NL Championship Series before losing to the Braves in six games.

“All of those things, one after the other, that season,” Cohen said, “that to me is the most memorable time I ever spent behind the microphone.”

Rose has been the play-by-play voice of the Mets since 1996, moving from television to the radio booth in 2004. He started in '87, hosting pre- and post-game shows for Mets radio. Rose’s signature, “Put it in the books,” emphasizes the team’s wins. Rose graduated from Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, and he was a fixture at Shea Stadium, later graduating from Queens College.

He had a lot of great moments, but there were three that stood out. First, there was Johan Santana’s no-hitter against the Cardinals in 2012.

“I never thought [a Mets no-hitter] would ever happen,” Rose recalled. “When that ball nestled in to [catcher] Josh Thole’s glove, I said, ‘Really?’ And then went on with the rest of the call.”

Three years later, David Wright’s return from a lumbar spinal stenosis on Aug 24. 2015, against the Phillies brought chills to Rose. It was Wright’s first game back since April 14 and he went 2-for-5 with a home run in a 16-7 victory. Wright went on to help the Mets win the pennant against the Cubs that October, another Rose highlight.

“Wright hits that home run into the upper deck at Citizens Bank Park,” Rose said. “Just knowing how beloved David is by everybody in the organization, while I was describing that ball in flight, I literally felt goosebumps coming over me, because of who David is.”

Winning the pennant in 2015 rounds out his highlight list.

“To have the words ‘The Mets win the pennant’ in 2015, that’s pretty good,” said Rose. “I was almost choked up when I made it because of what that meant.”

The Mets rounded out the honors on Saturday by acknowledging a staple of the organization.

Horwitz joined the Mets in 1980 as the director of public relations. He was later promoted to vice president, media relations, in 2001 before moving into his current role as vice president, alumni relations, and team historian on Oct. 1, 2018.

“I was born blind in my right eye. I was cut from my Little League team. I couldn’t do anything athletically,” Horwitz said. “For me to have anything associated with the Mets Hall of Fame, it’s unimaginable. … To be with the Mets for 44 years, to be in one place, is crazy.”

Sometimes he still can’t believe that he was hired by the Mets. Horwitz arrived late for his first job interview with then-general manager Frank Cashen. It didn’t help that Horwitz went to the wrong hotel.

The interview lasted five minutes, but it was enough time for a nervous Horwitz to knock over a container of orange juice on Cashen’s lap.

“He asked me one question and I said, ‘Anything else, Mr. Cashen?’ He said, ‘No, that’s all I need to know.’”

Horwitz called his mother, saying, “There is no way I got this job. There is no way possible.”

But Cashen hired Horwitz, believing the newcomer would think outside box. The Mets were one of the worst teams in baseball at the time, and Cashen wanted Horwitz to go beyond stats.

“God was looking after me,” said Horwitz. “Forty-four years later, I’m still here.”