What’s the perfect gift to celebrate a lifelong friendship?
If you’re Alan Horwitz, it’s buying your buddy Johnny Bench’s baseball memorabilia at auction and returning the items to him and his family.
The Philadelphia real estate developer behind Campus Apartments and famous Philadelphia 76ers “Sixth Man” fan bid $1 million for various awards, trophies and equipment garnered by the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame catcher over the course of his baseball career.
Horwitz, 76, and Bench, 73, first met on Christmas vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, before Bench started playing for the Reds during the 1967 season. Back then, Horwitz was 23 and just starting out in Philadelphia real estate, and Bench was 19.
“After that, for the next 16 seasons, I met Johnny at every spring training in Tampa and, along with his fans, watched him play at All-Star Games, World Series games and, of course, witnessed his Hall of Fame induction,” Horwitz said in a press release from Hunt Auctions, the Exton auction house that ran the 17th annual Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory live auction on Nov. 14.
They struck up a friendship that lasted for years. Whenever the Reds were playing in Philadelphia, Horwitz would arrange lunch or dinner and Bench would give him tickets to the game.
Horwitz is first and foremost a basketball fan, but this friendship moved him to bid on baseball memorabilia.
“When I learned of the auction of Johnny’s memorabilia I felt compelled to participate, with the goal to return some of the items to the Bench family and Johnny’s fans,” he said in the press release.
He told Action Network he wanted his friend to keep the recognition he deserved.
“There was no way I was going to let Johnny sell these to collectors. Seeing how hard he worked to be recognized that way he was after all these years,” he said.
Bench, speaking on The Dan Patrick Show, said Hunt didn’t use Horwitz’s name when he shared the results of the auction. Instead, he told him the buyer asked to remain anonymous, but requested that Hunt tell Bench the gift was from “a white-haired old Jew.”
Bench only knew one white-haired old Jew — and was immediately overwhelmed.
“David Hunt called me after the auction and asked, ‘Are you sitting down?’” he said in the Hunt Auctions press release. “When I heard this, I was flabbergasted and moved to tears. I am truly stunned by Alan’s generous gesture and am grateful and proud that these trophies and memorabilia pieces will be on display for millions of fans to experience.”
He told Patrick he texted Horwitz once he had composed himself to ask if it was all true.
“Let me know if I’m barking up the wrong Jew,” he joked. Horwitz confirmed he wasn’t.
Bench told The Associated Press in October that he planned to use the proceeds to fund his youngest sons’ college education.
Bench’s collection consisted of materials dating from his minor league career until after his final MLB season in 1983. Horwitz bought 35 items, including Bench’s 1968 Rookie of the Year Award, 1969 All-Star Game bat, 1970 and 1972 National League MVP Awards, 1975 and 1976 World Series rings, and several of Bench’s 10 Gold Glove Awards.
Horwitz’s purchases accounted for approximately half the sale of $2 million, Hunt Auctions reported.
Bench and his family have decided to have the items displayed to the public in institutions like the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, Oklahoma Hall of Fame and the Johnny Bench Museum in the player’s hometown of Binger, Oklahoma.
“There really are no words that can properly describe the generous act of kindness by Alan Horwitz,” said David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, in his statement. “While the items that Alan purchased totaled over $1 million in value, I think what is most poignant is the purpose behind the gesture. Alan not only wished to see these incredible baseball artifacts displayed for Johnny’s family and fans, but he made it a reality. Through his immense personal success in the business world he never lost sight of his friendship with Johnny and, in turn, enacted one of the most generous endeavors that I have witnessed in my professional career.”
Horwitz did have one condition for Bench.
“Alan’s only request was to meet my boys, which will happen as soon as we can resume safe travel,” Bench said.
The Bench items aren’t Horwitz’s only major giving project this month.
On Dec. 13, he launched Sixth Man Shop, a sportswear store whose proceeds go to local Philadelphia nonprofits on a rotating basis. The store stocks custom Sixth Man T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts and other gear. The first organization it will support is Philadelphia Youth Basketball.