“We were saddened to learn of Mets Hall of Famer Buddy Harrelson’s passing. He was a skilled defender and spark plug on the 1969 Miracle Mets,” owners Steve and Alex Cohen said in a statement. “The Gold Glove shortstop played 13 years in Queens, appearing in more games at short than anyone else in team history. Buddy was the third base coach on the 1986 World Champs, becoming the only person to be in uniform on both World Series winning teams. We extend our deepest condolences to his entire family.”
Harrelson was a Bay Area native who played in college at San Francisco State. He signed with the Mets as a 19-year-old. The switch-hitting infielder got to the majors two years later, debuting with 19 games in 1965. Harrelson spent most of the 1966 campaign in Triple-A before emerging as a regular on the ’67 club.
He was an excellent defensive presence at shortstop for the next decade. Harrelson was the starter for the ’69 team that surprisingly secured the first World Series in franchise history. He made a pair of All-Star Games in 1970 and ’71, securing down-ballot MVP support in both years. Harrelson won the National League’s Gold Glove at shortstop in 1971. He finished among the top five NL shortstops in fielding percentage each year from 1969-72 and twice ranked among the top five at the position in assists.
Harrelson helped the Mets back to the Fall Classic in 1973, an eventual defeat at the hands of the A’s. While he had a solid showing in the World Series, he’s perhaps better known for his role in a bench-clearing brawl with the Reds in that’s year NLCS. After the Mets shut out Cincinnati in Game 2, Harrelson quipped that New York starter Jon Matlack had made Cincinnati’s vaunted offense “look like me hitting.” The following game, Harrelson took exception to a hard slide from Pete Rose on a double play turn, leading to the fracas.
As he self-deprecatingly noted, Harrelson wasn’t much of an offensive threat. He never hit more than one home run in a season — he had seven over his 16-year MLB career — and didn’t top a .659 OPS in any season in which he reached 250 plate appearances. That the Mets nevertheless stuck with him as their primary shortstop for over a decade speaks to how highly the team valued him as a defender. Harrelson remained in Queens through the 1977 campaign.
New York dealt him to the Phillies on the eve of the ’78 season. He played two years in Philadelphia and logged 87 contests with the 1980 Rangers to conclude his playing career. Harrelson appeared in more than 1500 games. He was a .236/.327/.288 hitter in over 5500 trips to the plate. He appeared on MVP ballots in three seasons and helped the Mets to two pennants.
He returned to the Mets in his post-playing days, managing in the farm system before taking on a role on the coaching staff. He was inducted into the team Hall of Fame in 1986 and, as the Cohens mentioned, was on staff for the franchise’s second championship. Harrelson got a brief look as manager, replacing Davey Johnson midseason in 1990. He led the team to a 70-49 record down the stretch but was fired the following season after a second half collapse put the club at 74-80.
MLBTR sends our condolences to Harrelson’s family, friends, loved ones and former teammates.