NEW YORK — Bud Harrelson, the nervous, sure-footed shortstop who battled Pete Rose on the field during a playoff game and helped the New York Mets win a stunning championship, died early Thursday morning. He was 79 years old.
The Mets said Thursday morning that Harrelson died at a nursing home in East Northport, New York, after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was diagnosed in 2016, and publicly shared his ordeal two years later, hoping that he and his family could help others afflicted.
Throughout his health ordeal, Harrelson has remained engaged in his professional pride and joy. He was part owner of the Long Island Ducks, an independent minor league team located minutes from his home. He described his decades of work with the club – which he was instrumental in founding and managing – as his greatest accomplishment in baseball.
Harrelson's family was planning to celebrate his life at a later date, the team said.
During his major league career, which lasted from 1965 to 1980, the soft-hitting Harrelson was selected to two All-Star games and won a Gold Glove. Known to his family and teammates as Buddy, he spent his first 13 seasons with New York and was the only man to wear a Mets uniform for both World Series titles.
The first came as anchor for the Miracle Mets in 1969, and the other as the club's third base coach in 1986.
In one of the most famous scenes in baseball history, it was a jubilant Harrelson who waved Ray Knight to victory after Bill Buckner's error in Game 6 of the 86th World Series against Boston.
Harrelson also managed the Mets for nearly two seasons, leading them to a second-place finish in the NL East in 1990 after taking over in late May. He was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 1986, joining Rusty Staub as the first two players to be honored.
“It was easy to see why the guys of 1969 loved him,” Mets broadcaster Ron Darling, who played for the club from 1983 to 1991, told the New York Post in 2018. “He was great on defense and he was tough.”
In Game 3 of the 1973 NL Championship Series between the Mets and the Cincinnati Reds, Rose slid hard into Harrelson at second base on a double play. The two ended up toe-to-toe and then wrestled on the field at Shea Stadium, leading to a wild brawl between the bench that spilled onto the field.
The lean and spunky Harrelson outweighed by more than 30 pounds, and got the worst of it.
But he didn't back down.
“I don't regret doing it to Rose,” Harrelson wrote in his 2012 memoir. “I did what I had to do to protect myself, and Pete did what I thought he had to do to try to motivate his team.” II: My Journey to the Top of the World and Back with the New York Mets” was co-authored by Phil Bibby. “We fought and that was the end of it.”
The game was stopped when angry fans threw objects at Rose, and manager Sparky Anderson pulled the Reds from the field until order was restored. Mets captain Yogi Berra and players including Willie Mays and Tom Seaver came out to left field to calm the crowd.
Cincinnati players were apparently upset by Harrelson's suspension after Game 2. Highlighting his shortcomings, Harrelson said Mets outfielder John Matlack “made the big red machine look like a no-hitter” after the left-hander threw a double.
“I didn't think it was that bad. I was putting myself down a little bit, but I was also putting them down,” Harrelson said. “Then I heard they were going to come after me and all that, so I thought this was the place. And when Pete hit me after I actually threw the ball, I was going crazy. We had a little game. He kind of picked me up, put me to sleep, and it was all over.”
Harrelson later wrote that Charlie Hustle caught him with a “cheap bullet.” But the former player also joked about the fight, often saying: “I hit him with my best punch. I hit him in the fist with my eye.”
The two became teammates in Philadelphia years later, and when their playing days were long over, Harrelson said Rose, baseball's all-time career hitting leader, signed a fight photo of him and wrote: “Thanks for making me famous.”
Harrelson later managed Rose's son with the Ducks, and the elder Rose even attended a couple of games, Harrelson said.
Harrelson was traded to the Phillies in 1978 and spent two years with them before playing his final season with the Texas Rangers. He finished his career as a switch-hitter, finishing with a .236 batting average and a .616 OPS. He hit seven home runs — never more than one in a season — and stole 127 bases, including a career-high 28 for the Mets in 1971.
Despite his lack of power, Harrelson can be annoying at the plate. He drew 95 walks in 1970 and was always a good fielder. He batted .333 lifetime (20-for-60) against Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, with 14 walks and just three strikeouts for a .459 on-base percentage.
“I've always said I'm going to take God to third-and-2 and take my chances. I'll probably foul out twice before he gives me the fourth ball,” Harrelson wrote.
Harrelson came off the bench in the 1970 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, had two hits and scored two runs. He was the starting shortstop in the National League the following season at Tiger Stadium and won his only Gold Glove that year.
Harrelson went 3-for-17 (.176) with three walks as the Mets beat heavily favored Baltimore in the 1969 World Series. He had a .379 on-base percentage during a seven-game loss to Oakland in the '73 Series, after New York beat Cincinnati in the playoffs.
As manager of the Mets from 1990 to 1991, Harrelson compiled a 145-129 record.
Derrell McKinley “Bud” Harrelson was born in Niles, California, on D-Day: June 6, 1944. He went to college at San Francisco State and signed with the Mets in June 1963 for $13,500 although the New York Yankees offered an additional $3,000. .
Harrelson said he was a little intimidated by the Yankees' rich history and was worried he might get stuck with them in the minors. He thought the Mets, an expansion franchise in 1962, might offer a quicker path to the majors.
Early in his professional career with the struggling club, he tried to push Casey Stengel's suggestion and stuck with it.
In 1972, Harrelson wrote an instructional book called “How to Play Baseball Better.”
After his diagnosis, Harrelson joined the board of directors of the Long Island Alzheimer's Association and worked with his family to raise awareness. He arrived at Ducks games, eagerly greeting fans as a goodwill ambassador even if he couldn't take batting practice or coach first base anymore.
“I feel like I'm at home when I'm there. I'm with the people I love,” Harrelson told the newspaper.
“I want people to know that you can live with you [Alzheimer’s] “And a lot of people are infected with it,” he said. “It could be worse.”
Despite his condition, Harrelson was at Citi Field in 2019 to celebrate the Mets' 50th anniversary of their 1969 championship. Tom Seaver, his good friend and former roommate, did not attend after the Hall of Fame pitcher was diagnosed with dementia.
“Alcohol enthusiast. Twitter ninja. Tv lover. Falls down a lot. Hipster-friendly coffee geek.”