NY Mets: Looking back on the career of Bud Harrelson
In 1969, the New York Mets shocked the world and went from being the laughing stock of baseball to winning the World Series. In their first seven years of existence, the Mets finished in 10th place, five times, and in 9th place, twice.
The team’s future was starting to look much more promising with a group of young and talented players that were beginning to make the transition to the major leagues. Guys like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Gary Gentry just to name a few, were starting to make their presence known.
Despite the influx of young talent, you would have been hard-pressed to find many people who would have predicted the quick transition from “laughable losers” to that of a championship-caliber team.
Many players did their part to contribute to the success of the “Miracle Mets” but one such player who stands out not only for his performance in 1969 but for his longevity with the organization is none other than Derrell McKinley Harrelson, known to most people as Bud Harrelson.
Bud Harrelson played for the Mets from 1965 to 1977. He did not become the team’s every day, starting shortstop until 1967. Known mainly for his defensive ability rather than his bat, things did not exactly start out smoothly for Harrelson.
In his first full year as a starter, Harrelson committed 21 errors during the first month of the season but would eventually settle down and committed only 11 more the rest of the way. Harrelson would go on to produce a lifetime fielding percentage of .969 and won the National League Gold Glove award in 1971 at shortstop.
In addition to appearing in two All-Star Games, Harrelson set a since-broken major-league record of 54 consecutive error-less games at shortstop, in 1970. Nicknamed both the Mini-Hawk and Mighty Mouse, what Harrelson lacked in size he made up for with his toughness and grit.
In 1969, National Guard duties would keep Harrelson out of the lineup for a significant period of time but he would still go on to post a .969 fielding percentage in 119 games. He also provided several key hits in both NLCS and the World Series.
Despite his numerous accomplishments on the baseball diamond, Harrelson may be best remembered for his fight with Pete Rose which took place during Game Three of the 1973 NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds.
Harrelson angered many of the Reds’ players including Rose after making the comment “He made the Big Red Machine look like me hitting today.” The remark was made in reference to the Reds being shutout 5-0 in Game Two by Mets’ pitcher, Jon Matlack.
In the 5th inning of Game Three, Rose slid hard into second base in an effort to break up a double play and a fight between Harrelson and Rose ensued. Rose clearly got the better of Harrelson during the fight but the Mets would go on to get the last laugh as they would defeat the Reds in five games and advance to the World Series against the Oakland A’s.
Bud Harrelson holds the distinction of being the only person to be a part of both of the Mets’ World Series-winning teams. In 1969 as a player and in 1986 as a coach.
Harrelson is also the only person to have been a part of the first four Mets teams to reach the playoffs. He did it as a player in 1969 and 1973 and appeared as a coach in both 1986 and 1988. Harrelson was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1978 and spent two seasons there before finishing up his playing career in 1980 with the Texas Rangers.
In an ironic twist of fate, Harrelson and Rose would become teammates on the Phillies in 1979. Not only would they put their past differences behind them but Harrelson would end up receiving a signed picture from Rose that read, “Thank you, Buddy, you made me famous.”
In addition to being a coach for the Mets, Harrelson would replace Davey Johnson as the manager 42 games into the 1990 season. He helped lead the team to their seventh consecutive winning season with a record of 91-71.
Harrelson was fired after the 1991 season and finished his Mets’ managerial tenure with a record of 145-129. He would later go on to say “I didn’t ask to manage, I always wanted to just be a coach. It was tough for me, I did what I could do.”
Bud Harrelson was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame in 1986. In 2000, he became co-owner, Senior Vice President for Baseball Operations, and the first base coach for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. These days, Harrelson is more of a goodwill ambassador for the team but has stated that his involvement with the Ducks “was the best thing that he ever did in baseball.”
Sadly, in 2016, Harrelson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has been battling the disease for the last several years. Bud Harrelson continues to display the same grit and perseverance now as he did during his playing days.
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Early on in his diagnosis, Harrelson stated in an interview with the NY Post, “I’m not afraid, I see a lot of good people who have this disease just like me. It’s okay, we’re not alone.” Bud Harrelson’s playing and coaching days may be a thing of the past but his legacy both as a player and as a person will live on forever.