The New York Mets have had a few pretty good shortstops in their history. But when you talk about New York Mets shortstops, Mets fans will quite often first think of the name Buddy Harrelson.
Buddy was not the power hitter that Francisco Lindor is. Buddy was not the flashy fielder that Rey Ordonez was. Buddy was not the dynamic everything that Jose Reyes was. Buddy was just…well…Buddy. Derrel McKinley Harrelson. He was good. He was smart. He was reliable. He was a great teammate, a great roommate (Tom Seaver was always raving about his roomie), and he was a fan favorite.
Harrelson’s career began before the Mets were good…or even close to being good. He came up for a cup of coffee in 1965 at the age of 21. He played sporadically again the following season, before coming up for good as the everyday shortstop in 1967.
He played in an age of guys like Mark Belanger, Eddie Brinkman, Dal Maxvill, Gene Alley, Don Kessinger…guys labeled “all field…no hit.” And while Harrelson never actually hit higher than .258 for the Mets…he was more than that negative label…he was the glue that held that infield together and all of the Mets pitchers wanted him playing behind them.
Harrelson was special. He was not a superstar, but he was a spark. He was the starting shortstop on the Mets 1969 World Series Championship team. And he was the only member of that team to be on the field again for the only other World Series Championship in 1986 as the third base coach under Davey Johnson.
Oh yeah…and it was that other year that so many fans remember for many reason…but it’s the one that made Derrel McKinley Harrelson EVERY Mets fan’s buddy.
During the 1973 National League Championship Series, the Mets pitching staff pretty much shut down the Big Red Machins. And after Jon Matlack had pitched a gem to win Game 2, Harrelson, referring to Matlack, was quoted as saying, “he made the Big Red Machine look like me hitting today.”
Pete Rose didn’t take the comment lightly. And he took it upon himself to send a message. He was on first base when Joe Morgan hit a ground ball to John Milner at first who started a very routine 3-6-3 double play. But after the relay throw back to Milner, Rose slid in hard…VERY HARD…and barreled into him.
Within seconds, all hell broke loose. I was there. I saw it happen…sheer bedlam…on the field, in the stands, everywhere.
Bob Murphy would often introduce him as “Little Buddy Harrelson.” Well…that day in 1973…he proved how big his heart was and he solidified the love affair that Mets fans have always had with him….a long-time player, coach, and one-time manager of the New York Mets.