Saturday, June 3, 2023

Mets Induct Leiter, HoJo, Howie, & Gary Into Team’s Hall of Fame; Horwitz Honored

Al Leiter stepped out from behind his baseball card before heading to the seating area with the dignitaries during Saturday’s ceremony. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Mets inducted four new members - two former players and two long-time announcers - into the team's Hall of Fame on Saturday before their game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The pair of players is pitcher Al Leiter, who led the Mets to the National League pennant in 2000, and Howard Johnson, an infielder who was a tremendous hitter, who was a member of the 1986 World Championship team.

The duo of announcers is Gary Cohen, who has called Mets games for 34 years and has been in the SNY booth since 2006 with Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, and Howie Rose, who has been a play-by-play voice for the Mets since 1996, first on television before he moved to radio in 2004.

Longtime public relations director Jay Horwitz was honored with the Mets Hall of Fame Achievement Award for his contributions to the organization. Horwitz currently works as the team's alumni director, and was instrumental in reviving Old Timers' Day during the 2022 season.

The four new inductees will bring the total membership of the Mets Hall of Fame to 34. They will join the following in this exclusive club: Joan Payson (1981), Casey Stengel (1981), Gil Hodges (1982), George M. Weiss (1982), Johnny Murphy (1983), William A. Shea (1983), Ralph Kiner (1984), Bob Murphy (1984), Lindsey Nelson (1984), Bud Harrelson (1986), Rusty Staub (1986), Tom Seaver (1988), Jerry Koosman (1989), Ed Kranepool (1990), Cleon Jones (1991), Jerry Grote (1992), Tug McGraw (1993), Mookie Wilson (1996), Keith Hernandez (1997), Gary Carter (2001), Tommie Agee (2002), Frank Cashen (2010), Dwight Gooden (2010), Davey Johnson (2010), Darryl Strawberry (2010), John Franco (2012), Mike Piazza (2013), Jon Matlack (2020), Ron Darling (2020), and Edgardo Alfonzo (2020).

Al Leiter won double-digit games seven straight seasons with the Mets, from his first year with the team in 1998 until 2004. He ranks in the top 10 in franchise history in wins (95), innings (1360.0), strikeouts (1,106), and quality starts. The left-hander led the Mets to the playoffs in 1999 when he threw a two-hit shutout in the one-game Wild Card playoff game in Cincinnati. In 2002, Leiter, a two-time All-Star, became the first pitcher to beat all 30 Major League Baseball teams in his career. He was honored with the Roberto Clemente Award and the Branch Rickey Award for his charity work.

Howard Johnson had three seasons in which he hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases, in 1987, '89, and '91, the most in team history. He was the first switch-hitter to join the 30-30 club in Major League history. He was acquired by the Mets on December 7, 1984, from the Detroit Tigers for right-handed pitcher Walt Terrell. He was a two-time All-Star (1989 and '91) and a two-time Silver Slugger, also in '89 and '91. Johnson ranks in the top five in Mets history in home runs (192), doubles (214), RBI (629), and stolen bases (202). He finished in the top 10 in Most Valuable Player voting three times, including in 1991, when he led the National League in home runs (38) and RBI (117).

Gary Cohen began calling Mets games on the radio in 1989, where he remained until he moved to their new television station, SNY, in 2006. That was one of the best decisions they ever made, as he, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling - mostly known as Gary, Keith, and Ron - have become beloved by Mets games for their insightful, entertaining broadcasts. The trio was immortalized last summer with their own bobblehead set. Cohen, who grew up going to Shea Stadium, is the second-longest tenured Mets play-by-play announcer in team history, and is recognized by his signature "Outta Here" calls on home runs.  He was inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.

Howie Rose, known for his "Put it in the books" call when the Mets win, started with the Amazin's in 1987 when he hosted pre- and post-game shows on radio. He began as the play-by-play voice for the Mets on television in 1996 before he shifted to the radio side in 2004. Rose graduated from Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, and a was a fixture at Shea Stadium as a kid. He was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 2012, and was also welcomed into the New York State Hall of Fame in 2019.

Al Leiter, Howard Johnson, Howie Rose, Gary Cohen, and Jay Horwitz after the press conference before the induction ceremony. Photo by Jason Schott.

There was a press conference on Saturday afternoon ahead of the proceedings, and Al Leiter, Howard Johnson, Howie Rose, and Gary Cohen said the following:

Al: “First of all, this is a tremendous honor to say the least…As a Mets fan growing up in New Jersey to eventually get to Queens when I’m 32 years old and get a chance to play seven years for the team that I rooted for as a kid was a dream come true, and to pick out certain moments, I think there were so many, but obviously getting an opportunity to play in postseason and the 2000 World Series. Other than falling short of not winning, that whole experience certainly was one of the biggest highlights.”

HoJo: “I am extremely excited to be here today. It’s going to be a special day, a lot of familiar faces out there, it’s good to see you guys (referring to the press). The fact that all my family’s going to be up to witness this is going to be something I’m going to remember the rest of my life. I think just being out there with the fans and to be able to interact with them in some way, you know, it’s always good - that’s what sets New York apart. I’m excited, very thankful for the opportunity to have this, you know, to go into the Hall of Fame. My first time walking out at Shea Stadium, you know, gives you goosebumps when you walk out there because it was such a big ballpark, but having 55 thousand people out there cheering was pretty crazy and just something that you look forward to every day. After you experience it once, you want to keep doing it, and you know, the teams I was on, fortunately, were really, really good, and the first few years, we were outstanding. We won a championship, didn’t get there again, but the guys along the way, wouldn’t have traded them in for anybody, so it’s an honor to be here with these guys and going in with them, so thank you.

Howie: “Well, the whole thing is more than just a little bit surreal; in fact, if you all listen very carefully, you can probably hear raucous laughter emanating from my old hometown nearby here in Bayside, Queens, because the thought of someone with, as we’ve seen recently (referencing his first pitch on Wednesday night), limited athletic ability getting into the New York Mets Hall of Fame, I’m telling you, at P.S. 205c they are howling in the schoolyard.  They couldn’t think of anything more unreasonable, but then again, on a lot of levels, neither could I because, as a 15-year-old in the upper deck in 1969, and I’m telling you that year changed my life because I was such a passionate Mets fan who never dreamt for one moment, certainly going into that season, that the Mets could do what they went on to do and win the World Series. It just shaped me in so many ways because it was a life lesson. It really taught me that, if you really bust your butt and believe in yourself, you can accomplish virtually anything, so I might not have been born with a great deal of athletic ability, but to have found a way to get into the games for free and enjoy being around the Mets organization was enough to be a 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, but what really is the icing on the cake is that everybody up here with me is a friend. I mean, they’re not just guys I know; they’re friends, and for Gary and I, who I keep using the same term kindred spirits, to go in together - I hope you can articulate it because I can’t, so you’re up.”

Gary: “I’m fully overwhelmed by the whole thing. You know, Ethan (Wilson of Mets PR) said, ‘tell us about your time playing in Queens,’ um, our time playing in Queens was stickball in the schoolyard. You know, I always wanted to be one of the guys, I wanted to a shortstop for the Mets, but having no taking and, you know, there are other ways of absorbing this game and what I do know is that the same people that Howie and I sat with in the upper deck at Shea, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them who could have done this job, who love the Mets just as much, who love baseball and knew baseball, and breathe baseball the same way that we did, and we are just two of the lucky ones. Even being here for 35 years is, frankly, mind-boggling to me, but to be in the pantheon of just a few dozen people honored with the Mets Hall of Fame is, frankly, beyond anything that I would have ever anticipated, so I’m very happy that my family will be here today, I’m so happy that Al and HoJo are getting in - they were two of my favorite players to watch and to get to know, and to have Howie alongside me is just the icing on the cake. We came from different places, but the same place and we wound up somehow conjoined in this incredible honor, and let me not leave Jay out of that equation because he has been the backbone of this franchise for nearly half a century.”

Jay: "I just wanted to say a special thanks to (former Mets owner) Fred Wilpon, sitting over there, who hired me 44 years ago, took a chance on a young kid out of Fairleigh Dickinson College, and thank you, Fred, for hiring me. During my time here, I had the pleasure of having a lot of great and loyal assistants, Ethan Wilson over there, Shannon Forde, there's a plaque outside, and Dennis D'Agostino, three great people who helped me get through the years. I think something in my legacy would be my association in 2001, you know, Al and Todd's (Zeile) in the room, we made a difference that year after 9/11, visiting Ground Zero, firehouses, police stations, and I think we really helped the city heal, so one thing I'm proud of is my association with the 2001 team."

To read more of what Al, HoJo, Howie, Gary, and Jay had to say at their press conference, please click here:

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