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Marty Noble

Bobblehead a fitting tribute for Mets' Horwitz

Bobblehead a fitting tribute for Mets' Horwitz

Bobblehead a fitting tribute for Mets' Horwitz

NEW YORK -- Bruce Bochy arrived in the Mets' Spring Training headquarters in mid-February 1981, carrying his gear in an Astros bag that concealed the biggest story of camp -- his helmet. If the Astrodome was the eighth wonder of the world as it was identified by the marketing guys in Houston, then Bochy's helmet was the ninth. It was proof positive that one size cannot fit all. The size of his helmet was 8 1/8. If there had been a chart, his helmet would have been off it.

Bochy brought his helmet with him -- players changing teams rarely do -- because it was one of a kind. It had been made especially for him, and the Astros had no use for it. "Who else could have a use for it?" new teammate Mike Jorgensen said. "Unless they're bailing water from a boat." Others privately referred to the new catcher, the current manager of the Giants, as "Helium Head."

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But the Mets' new catcher was not the least bit self conscious about the helmet or his skull size. Had he been, all feelings of awkwardness would fade quickly after he met his match, the Mets' public relations director, Jay Horwitz.

Hired one year earlier, Horwitz led the league in cranial circumference. Mets pitcher Pat Zachry referred to him as "Bison Brain" and wondered whether the doorway to Horwitz's office had been customized to allow painless access. "What do you do," Zachy said, "take off your ears?"

And, of course, players routinely assumed the club had Horwitz cloned to create the massive melon for the second generation Mr. Met. "They're identical twins," Keith Hernandez once said.

The day of reckoning, a day of match-meeting was proposed shortly after Bochy's arrival in St. Petersburg. Horwitz had no means of comparison among his chapeaus. He seldom, if ever, covered his noggin. Indeed, he spent many springs not wearing hats or caps in the Florida sun before he was convinced protection was wise. Jeff Wilpon essentially ordered him to "cover up" or else -- what else? -- "I'll have your head."

So, on this day of head-to-head competition some 32 years ago, it was left to Bochy to provide the article that would end the debate. He confidentally brought ol' 8 1/8 with him. It was placed on Horwitz's head and fit like, well ... like Dustin Pedroia's shirt on Big Papi's torso. Horwitz gives his head size as "a little bigger than 8 1/2."

Bochy's helmet sat on his head like an inverted tea cup.

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All these years later, size matters once again. A miniature model of Horwitz's head atop narrower shoulders was fashioned for a bobblehead promotion. Folks purchasing tickets for the Mets game against the Tigers Friday evening received a Horwitz model. Some of the proceeds go to the "Hope Shines for Shannon" fund that supports longtime Mets employee Shannon Forde, who is fighting cancer.

The promotion has prompted smiles all over the country from folks familiar with Horwitz, his head and the sometimes bizarre thoughts it produces. See his tweets.

Former Mets reliever Turk Wendell recently posted his reaction from Arizona: "I've seen some bad bobbleheads, but then I see this. Wow!"

"They used a whole lot of plastic to make that one," John Franco said Friday night.

Years ago, when Horwitz's scalp began to show through, Wally Backman suggested the balding wasn't the effect of lost hair but rather "that all that hair could over all that acreage for just so long."

Head size has been an issue for the Mets over the years. Rey Ordonez always referred to Carlos Baerga as "El Cabeza," but Baerga was merely a size 8.

The Mets announced the signing of Doug Flynn in the winter of 1979-80, shortly after Frank Cashen had been named general manager. A singer in the Greg Austin Band, a country group, Flynn appeared at the Lone Star in lower Manhattan the night of the signing. Horwitz arranged for a western hat for Cashen to wear at the announcement. The GM was described the following day in a newspaper report as "a pint-sized man in a 10-gallon hat." He wasn't pleased by the characterization.

"Jay gave me one he'd outgrown," Cashen said. "And it was gigantic."

Jeff Innis had a noticeably narrow head. He denied being narrow-minded.

Kevin Elster had a normal-sized head but appreciated being called broad-minded.

Some folks accused George Foster of having a big head, referring to something other than physical size.

And who can forget Ellis Valentine's assessment of woman in Spring Training, 1982? "Great body, bad helmet."

The Mets have had their share of episodes of pig-headedness, empty-headedness (trading Tom Seaver) and pin-headedness. But when the topic is heads, Horwitz's "a little more than 8 1/2" routinely takes center stage -- if it fits.

* * * *

Steve Perry, the visiting clubhouse manager at Minute Maid Park, was in a comparable position in 1981 when Bochy was traded. "We had to get special helmet when [Bochy] came up," Perry said Friday night. "We had to paint it. And we painted it again when he was traded to the Mets. We've never had another that size."

Perry has an enormous collection of bobbleheads in his office -- 860, not including 250 duplicates. He gets his bobbleheads from all clubs and displays them on shelves or any flat surface. So vast and comprehensive is his collection that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has rented it and had it shipped to Miami to display it. In fact, Loria may buy the collection, sans duplicates, and provide Perry funds to defray the cost of his daughter's college education. Suffice it to say, the collection has value.

Of course, Perry's asking price is likely to increase if the collection includes a Horwitz head. No PR men bobbleheads are among the current 860. So there may be a price on Horwitz's head after all this. Size may be an issue, though. Will a Horwitz head fit? No problem, Perry said. "There's always room on my collection for Jay Horwitz."

Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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