Farewell to Bud Harrelson, A Classy Leader on NY Mets

Harrelson played 13 of his 15 seasons for the NY Mets. He will always be remembered for his role in the most famous brawl in MLB history in the third game of the National League Championship Series in October 1973 against the Big Red Machine.

| 15 Jan 2024 | 12:52

Mets shortstop Buddy Harrelson, who just passed away at the age of 79, was my idol. As a 10-year-old in the New York area in 1969, how could he not be?

Little League baseball was gushing through my veins, my position was shortstop and my die-hard Mets LL team was lighting up the league. As every Mets fan knows, the Miracle Mets won the World Series in 1969, defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles four games to one in a best of seven series. Hallelujah!

Jumping ahead to 1973, the Mets won the National League East title. Their record was 82-79, the lowest winning percentage of a pennant-winner in major league history. By then I was a teenager following the Mets with a passion personified by Tug McGraw’s new catchphrase “Ya Gotta Believe!”

Harrelson was one of the few Mets left from the ‘69 World Series Champion team. He was still slender’ (5’10” and listed at 165 lbs but usually was down to 145 lbs. by the second half of the season.) with minimal prowess at the plate, but he was still one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball. Like Harrelson my physical stats at fourteen years old were also ‘underwhelming’ but I always had Buddy as a role model to get me through.

To reach the World Series again in 1973, the Mets had go through the Cincinnati Reds, then known as the Big Red Machine, with three future Hall of Famers,Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan and that year’s MVP Pete Rose. The Reds won the first game at home 2-0 highlighted by late home runs by Rose and Bench. The Mets won Game two 5-0 with Jon Matlack throwing eight innings of shutout ball. Harrelson was quoted after the game saying: “Jon made the Big Red Machine look like me hitting today.” Just another humble attribute I admired of Buddy, although the Reds apparently didn’t see it that way.

For game three, my friend’s father had two tickets he could not use, so we had left field tickets dropped in our laps. The Mets scored early and often with six runs on the scoreboard after two innings. At the end of the 4th inning the score was now Mets 7, Reds 2. In the next inning, Mets ace Jerry Koosman threw high and inside to Rose, a classic brush back pitch and clearly a warning shot after the Reds had plunked Rusty Staub–who already had two homers in this game plus a third in game 2– the previous inning.

Rose, dusted himself off and singled off Koosman. Rumor had it Rose was put off by Buddy’s comparison of his team’s offence to Harrelson’s puny hitting ability. Morgan, the Reds next batter hit a ground ball to the first baseman who threw to Harrelson to start a routine double play bid. Harrelson stepped on the bag and made the throw to first but Rose barreled into Harrelson knocking him down. Harrelson, though giving away 40 pounds to Rose, quickly sprang to his feet to defend himself and threw a punch at Rose. Unfortunately for Harrelson, Rose followed with multiple punches that landed before throwing the lighter Harrelson to the ground. The Mets bench quickly stormed out of the dugout to defend their star shortstop and of course the Reds dugout quickly followed. Soon Mets bullpen in right field emptied and they joined the fray and soon after so did the Reds bullpen. The ensuing melee has called the most infamous brawl in baseball history.

Mets fans were screaming bloody murder at Rose. When things finally calmed down, Rose grabbed his glove to take his position in left field. As Rose crossed the 3rd base line someone in the crowd threw a full beet at Rose. He continued to run out to his position but then more cups, food, coins, cigarette lighters, and batteries started to rain from the left field seats at Shea.. Recalling the brawl in an interview with the Washington Post last year on the 50th anniversary of the near riot, Rose said: “One guy actually threw a Jack Daniel’s bottle from the third deck that landed about five feet from me.”

My friend and I had the perfect left field seats to watch the fight and now a cascade of garbage flying over our heads onto the field toward Rose. When Reds manager Sparky Anderson spotted the whiskey bottle narrowly missing Rose, he pulled his team off the field. Ultimately, the Met players (including Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Rusty Staub and manager Yogi Berra) headed out to the left field stands and pleaded with the fans to stop the madness or the Mets would forfeit the game.

To this day I haven’t witnessed a New York sporting event quite like the 1973 brawl game. The Mets went on to defeat the Reds in the series three games to two to reach the World Series. The Mets unfortunately were no match for Reggie Jackson and the Oakland series, although it did go to seven games.

Harrelson showed his grittiness on the field when he stood his ground against Rose that fall day. He might not have gotten the best of Rose in their tussle but the Met fans surely let Buddy know they had his back that day! He was a scrappy competitor and one of the classiest guys in baseball.