You never know when or where you will meet someone who will change your life forever. It’s often a chance encounter that rewrites the course of history—a reminder to us that any new friendship is worth nurturing.
For Johnny Bench, it was a man named Alan Horwitz who he had met at a hypnotist show in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1967 while he was a young catcher for the Reds playing winter ball. Horwitz was a young entrepreneur cutting his teeth in the real estate business who was just another sports fan looking for a ballgame. Bench was a rising young star for Cincinnati, and gave him tickets to their next game, sparking a friendship that would prove to be life-changing for Bench years later.
While Bench went on to be one of the best catchers in the history of the game, Horwitz thrived in the real estate industry and built a fortune along the way. Unfortunately for Bench, his prime years came at a time when baseball players made an honest living, but nothing remotely comparable to stars of his stature today.
Bench estimated he accumulated $2.2 million during his 17-year career. His rookie year in 1968, Bench made just $11,000.
What he did have left was one-of-a-kind possessions. Gold Glove Awards, MVPs, World Series rings and other awards, game-used equipment and bats from memorable home runs were just a few items that Bench had accrued during his illustrious career.
So when discussions about the future of his three children arose, Bench decided it was best to auction off some of his personal memorabilia to fund their college tuition and to avoid any inheritance issues down the road that could divide family. He consigned more than 100 items to Hunt Auctions for the annual event in conjunction with the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum, held last month.
As altruistic as the gesture was, it caught the attention of many—including Horwitz. As the items started to go live, the auctions quickly accelerated to record levels for Bench memorabilia and any pre-bid expectations. Horwitz wasn’t just interested in bidding on the items, he was committed to buying every single one, no matter the price. His plan? Donate everything back to his old friend.
In all, the Bench items sold for nearly $2 million.
The buyer and his motive weren’t revealed until late last week.
“On Monday, David Hunt from Hunt Auctions called me and said, ‘are you sitting down?’” Bench told Dan Patrick on the longtime broadcaster’s daily radio show. “There is a guy who wants to remain anonymous, but he bought 35 of your items and he wants to give them back to you.”
Even the steadfast Bench was taken aback. “I lost it. Absolutely lost it,” Bench said. “Tears were rolling down.”
“When I was growing up, I thought that Johnny Bench and Pete Rose, and Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez—they must be as rich as anybody in the country—because they played for the Big Red Machine,” Patrick said.
“And then you realize what they got paid, when they were playing, and it is a whole lot different than what these athletes get paid now. I was a little bit sad that Johnny had to auction off his items.”
A chance introduction more than 50 years ago that had blossomed into a friendship, was now a life-long bond that these two men and their families would share for the rest of their lives. “I met this guy when I was 19, he was 23,” Bench said. “Every time we went to Philadelphia, we would hang out…we were just great friends.”
Horwitz is a die-hard Philadelphia 76ers fan, famously known by locals as the “Sixth Man,” but is a converted Reds fan thanks to Bench. Horwitz founded the Campus Apartments student housing company, which in turn helped him return this favor to his friend years later.
“Alan Horwitz is the angel,” Bench said. “I believe there are angels amongst us.”
So what did Horwitz ask Bench for in return? “The only thing he wants is to meet the kids,” Bench said.
That’s something Bench said will happen as soon as possible.
It was vice-like hands of Bench that could famously hold as many as seven baseballs each that helped him become a legend at the plate and behind it. But the simple act of him extending those hands to give Horwitz a ticket to a winter ball game would change his life forever.
It reminds us all, a small act of kindness to a new friend can go a long way. Sometimes more than 50 years down the road.