Gary Cohen got an AM radio as a present for his ninth birthday and he found heroes when he spun the dial to where Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner were talking about the Mets. Later, Cohen spent summer nights in the upper deck at Shea Stadium feeling “like you were a king sitting on an enormous throne.”
It was all part of the beginning of his trip to the Mets Hall of Fame, where Cohen found himself Saturday afternoon. Cohen, the play-by-play voice of the Mets on SNY, was inducted alongside former Mets stars Howard Johnson and Al Leiter and fellow broadcaster Howie Rose. Cohen, 65, got some of the loudest cheers of the day.
As a kid growing up in Queens, Cohen hoped to become another Bud Harrelson. But he knew he didn’t have the kind of baseball talent it would take to be the Mets shortstop. “Our time playing in Queens was stickball in the schoolyard,” Cohen quipped.
“But I could love the game,” Cohen said. “I could study the game. I could breathe the game and, with that breath, give voice to the millions who love baseball and love the Mets.”
So that’s what he did.
Cohen, who first worked a Mets game on radio with Murphy as a fill-in in 1988, eventually spent 17 years as part of the Mets radio team, 15 of them with Murphy. In 2006, Cohen started on SNY.
“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 loved the Mets just as much and knew baseball and breathed baseball the same way that we did,” said Cohen in a press conference before the ceremony, while sporting a dark suit, a white shirt and a tie that had stripes of (naturally) Mets blue and orange.
“We’re just the two lucky ones. Even being here for 35 years is 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 could have ever anticipated.”
Saturday’s inductions brought the total of Mets Hall of Famers to 34. Jay Horwitz, the longtime media relations director of the Mets who is now the team’s historian, was honored with the Hall’s Achievement Award. All four inductees emerged from giant baseball cards of themselves sitting in the outfield.
Afterwards, the five honorees threw out ceremonial first pitches. All received plaques – Cohen’s was delivered to him by his broadcast partners Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez – and blue blazers with Mets Hall insignia.
Plenty of other former Mets were there, too, including David Wright, Mookie Wilson, Terry Collins, Bobby Valentine, Ed Kranepool and Edgardo Alfonso, as well as owners Steve and Alex Cohen. SNY’s Todd Zeile acted as master of ceremonies. Why? As Zeile noted, the signature voices of the team were being honored.
Cohen’s family – his wife Lynn and their five children – were in attendance as well. Cohen told this tidbit about Lynn, garnering laughs: She was not a baseball fan when they met at 17, but he took her to a game and pointed out Lee Mazzilli, the 1970s Met heartthrob, in the on-deck circle. “She was hooked,” Cohen joked.
Going into the Hall with Rose, a former radio partner, is “just icing on the cake,” Cohen said. “We came from different places – but the same place – and we’ve wound up somehow conjoined in this incredible honor.” The Mets recognized both in a video titled “The Soundtrack of Our Lives,” narrated by another of Cohen’s heroes – Marv Albert.
Leiter and Johnson were two of the players that Cohen most enjoyed covering and getting to know, he said. Leiter grew up a Mets fan in New Jersey listening to Murphy, Nelson and Kiner, just like Cohen. Those three are all in the Mets Hall of Fame. “Here HoJo and I are going in with the next set of voices,” Leiter said.
At one point during the presser, Cohen was asked to talk about some of his best moments.
“I’m not really good with moments,” he said. “My feeling has always been that the most important part of any broadcaster’s job is not what they do in the 15 seconds where a big play happens but more of how they settle in with fans over the 500 hours that you’re on the air during the season.
“But I will say this: the 1999 season was the most memorable to me. I arrived in 1989 after the greatest five-year stretch in the history of the franchise and things suddenly plummeted when I arrived. No coincidence, I’m sure. But after 10 years of the Mets not making the postseason, 1999 for me was just a magical year.”
Among the highlights he mentioned: Leiter’s two-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds in a playoff game for what was then the lone Wild Card spot in the NL, Todd Pratt‘s homer against Arizona and Robin Ventura‘s famous grand-slam single.
Really, though, it’s all been memorable for Cohen, who’s probably exactly where he should be, doing the job he was meant to do.
“I am just a kid from Queens,” Cohen told the Citi Field crowd in closing his speech. “I got lucky.
“I am one of you. And I share this honor with all of you.”