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Johnny Bench’s friend buys his auction items, then returns them to the HOFer

Johnny Bench in 2016. Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Johnny Bench in 2016. Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

In an incredible act of kindness, a longtime friend of former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench secretly bid on several items the Baseball Hall of Famer had put up for sale at Hunt Auctions in November and did so with the intention of returning them to him.

“I’ve been close friends with Johnny Bench since 1967,” Alan Horwitz wrote on Twitter. “It was so important for me to keep these special items in his family. It also allows generations of baseball fans to continue to celebrate his accomplishments. They (will) be displayed in several HOFs.”

Horwitz, 23 at the time, met Bench in Puerto Rico where he was honing his skills in the Winter League, and they became lifelong friends, according to Darren Rovell’s report.

Among Horwitz’s $1 million in Bench memorabilia purchases were the 1968 Rookie of the Year Award, a 1969 All-Star Game bat, the 1970 and ’72 NL MVP Awards, the 1975 and ’76 World Series rings and several of Bench’s 10 Gold Glove Awards.

Bench's 1975 World Series ring bought by Horwitz at auction for $115,000. Photo: Hunt Auctions

Bench's 1975 World Series ring bought by Horwitz at auction for $115,000. Photo: Hunt Auctions

“There really are no words that can properly describe the generous act of kindness by Alan Horwitz,” David Hunt, President of Hunt Auctions, said in a statement. “While the items that Alan purchased totaled over $1,000,000 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.”

Bench circa 1973. Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Bench circa 1973. Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Bench was moved to tears when he learned what his friend had done.

“David Hunt called me after the auction and asked, ‘Are you sitting down?’” Bench said, as relayed in a Hunt Auctions press release. “He told me the person who purchased my memorabilia was my long-time friend, Alan Horwitz. 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. Alan’s only request was to meet my boys, which will happen as soon as we can resume safe travel.”

Bench had put his keepsakes up for auction to help pay for college for his two boys and so the family wouldn’t squabble over his assets when he was gone, according to Rovell.

The auction raised about $2 million. Bench’s entire baseball career earnings were $2.2 million.

Bench and his family decided to have the returned items be put on display at several institutions, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Reds Hall of Fame, Oklahoma Hall of Fame and the Binger, Oklahoma Museum.

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