In the Mets' 1973 pennant-winning season, Felix Millan was Harrelson's new double play counterpart and their defense up the middle was spectacular. Bud was limited to 106 games, once again due to an injury.
On June 4th in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Bench's back up catcher; Bill Plummer, crashed into Harrelson at second base, fracturing his hand. He came back after three weeks on the DL only to have & the Pittsburgh Pittsburgh’s; Rennie Stennet crashed into him in rundown play. This injury resulted in a fractured sternum.
Before the injures he was batting .259 & the Mets were struggling to stay out of the cellar in the NL East. Many of the Mets key regular players were hurt that season & all got healthy for the final stretch run which resulted in another Mets Miracle, although one game short of a total championship.
In Harrelsons return, he was another key to the Mets incredible September pennant run at the NL Eastern title.
He entered the month on a ten game hit streak, hitting safely in 19-23. He would actually hit safely in all but five games in the month of September (22 of 27 games), and was on base in every game but two, that entire month.
He scored a dozen runs, drew 12 walks, drove in four runs & hit four doubles in that stretch. The Mets went on a tear going 20-8 to capture the NL Eastern title. When his ten game hit streak ended on September 7th, he contributed by gathering three walks, & scoring a run in the Mets double header sweep in Montreal. He drove in one of the Mets three runs two days later in Montreal as well.
On September 25th, in another game against the Expos, this time at Shea Stadium, Harrelson singled, was sacrificed over & then scored the game's first run on a Felix Millan base hit. Cleon Jones won the Jerry Koosman-Steve Rogers pitching duel with a HR, 2-1.
In the final week Bud hit safely in seven of eight games, as the Mets clinched the NL East on the last day of the regular season at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Harrelson finished the 1973 season, with a career high .258 batting average, 12 doubles, 20 RBIs & a .348 on base percentage. On the field he posted one of his best fielding percentages at .979% (second in the NL) making only ten errors in 478 chances. He also helped turn 49 double plays in 103 games played at the position. It was on to his second post season, where he would become one of the Mets most highly publicized players.
Post Season Legacy: But Harrelson’s post career will be remembered by two classic events that occurred on the field in the 1973 post season.
The Mets opened up the NLCS in Cincinnati, losing a 2-1 heartbreaker to the Reds. Tom Seaver pitched his heart out, but gave up a walk off HR to Johnny Bench. Seaver provided all the Mets offense with a two run double.
In Game #2 the Mets, Jon Matlack pitched a spectacular two hit shutout against the mighty Big Reds Machine. Rusty Staub provided a HR which gave the Mets a 1-0 lead against Don Gullett going into the 9th inning. In the 9th the Mets scored four runs, with Harrelson adding an RBI base hit off Pedro Borbon scoring Jerry Grote.
After the game, Harrelson commented to the press on how the, Reds hitters "looked like him" at the plate. This was more of a compliment to Jon Matlack's pitching performance & a poking of fun on to himself as a hitter.
In New York, two days later during batting practice before Game #3 at Shea Stadium, The Reds Joe Morgan approached Harrelson commenting on the remarks Harrelson made after Game #2.
He grabbed Buddy by the jersey, saying “If you ever say that about me again, I’ll punch you”. The Mets Rusty Staub intervened, he knew Morgan since their days together in Houston with the Astros. Morgan cooled off, apologizing, saying that Pete Rose is still going to use those comments to fire up the Reds team.
By the 4th inning of Game #3, the Mets were crushing the Reds 9-2 & Jerry Koosman was cruising along. From the dugout, Tom Seaver was keeping a close watch on Pete Rose.
Quotes: Seaver recalled. "You knew somehow, somewhere Pete was going to do something. Now Koosman hits Pete with a pitch, and I thought to myself; he's going to go to the mound after Jerry.
He started on the grass, and then he came back to the baseline and went directly to first base."
The next batter was Joe Morgan who hits into a 3-6-3 double play turned by John Milner at first.
But at second base Pete Rose goes in hard, with a pop up, cheap shot slide into Harrelson. The two exchanged words as Harrelson called him a cheap shot @#$% sucker. It was what Rose wanted, he grabbed Harrelson by the top of his jersey, and threw him to the ground, jumping on top of him. In the word of Mets announcer Bob Murphy-"Rose outweighs Harrelson by about thirty five pounds..." The initial reaction to everyone, was that it seemed so bully like, for Rose to pick on the little shortstop.
Wayne Garrett came over from his third base spot, jumping on top of Rose to try to eventually pull him off of Harrelson, as all hell broke loose in Shea Stadium. Remember it was the third out, so players were on their way to the dugout, focused on jogging away from the field. Both benches emptied, as well as the respective bull pen's.
There was a lot of pushing, shoving & milling around in the infield. Reds reliever; Pedro Borbon, landed a sucker punch to pitcher Buzz Capra from behind. Capra then attacked Borbon, as backup catcher Duffy Dyer, got in some retaliatory punches of his own before being pulled out of the melee by Willie Mays. As Borbon left the field, he put a cap on his head that he picked up off the ground, thinking it was his.
To the crowds delight, it was a Mets cap, when Borbon figured it out, he pulled it off his head and took a bite out of it, then threw it down. It was Buzz Capra's Mets cap & he claims to still have it today.
When order was finally restored on the field, Rose returned to his position in left field. But now it was chaos in the stands, overlooking left field. The Shea Faithful let him know how they felt & let Rose have it.
A variety of objects showered down from the upper deck, papers, programs, hot dogs, beer cups, batteries, and finally a whiskey bottle that landed just a few feet away from Rose. Rose tossed some stuff back, once again showing the class he had, since it could have hurt an innocent child. But times were different in 1973 & no action was taken against him.
The Reds Manager Sparky Anderson, went to the umpires to stop the game & pulled his team from the field. Anderson said; “Pete Rose gave too much to baseball to die in left field at Shea Stadium”.
The umpires met with NL President Chub Feeney who was in attendance and came to a decision that the game may have to be forfeited unless order was restored in the stands.
At risk of losing the game in which they had a seven run lead, the Mets sent a peace delegation to left field. Tom Seaver, Rusty Staub, Cleon Jones and Yogi Berra walked out to left field, pleading to calm the rowdy fans down. The New York faithful cheered, as their boys walked out to left field and obeyed the request, as order was restored.
Pete Rose was booed mercifully, upon his return to the field. From that day on it would be that way for him at Shea Stadium & for Met fans like myself we have never forgiven him. The next day the always creative Mets fans had signs reading “This Rose Smells” & “Rose is a Weed” etc.
Bud Harrelson became Americas favorite underdog, the little guy hero. He was presented with a superman T-shirt before the next game, which he proudly wore under his uniform, displaying it to the press during the pre game batting practice.
In Game #4, Harrelson was 0-4. Rusty Staub had save the game with a fantastic catch, running into the right field wall, injuring his shoulder, which had him miss the next game. But Rose got revenge, as he hit a 12th inning HR off reliever Harry Parker, putting the Reds ahead for good & tied up the Series at two games each. In those days the NLCS was a best of five & it all came down to a final one game #5.
In Game #5, the Mets took an early 2-0 lead in the 1st inning, on an Ed Kranepool two run single. Harrelson led off the second inning, to a standing ovation from the Shea fans.
Harrelson got another huge ovation when he singled off Jack Billingham in the 4th inning. The Reds eventually tied up the game getting two runs off Seaver, but the Mets rallied with a four run 5th inning & never looked back.
Harrelson topped off the inning with a single off reliever Clay Carroll scoring Willie Mays.
The Mets clinched the pennant, as Tug McGraw got the last two outs, relieving Seaver in the 9th. The fans at Shea Stadium stormed the field during the last out.
Quotes: Rose said "Right there at the end of the game, that's the most scared I've ever been in my life". He made it safely to the dugout. Legendary Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully was doing the CBS radio broadcast, & kept noting on how he hoped Rose would make it back safely, the clips are available on youtube.
Overall in the Championship Series Harrelson went 3-18 (.211) with a walk, a run scored & two RBIs.
Quotes: Bud Harrelson: "I always say I hit his fist with my eye. I did a card show with him one year and he gave me a picture. He wrote on it, `Thanks for making me famous.”
On a personal note, Bud Harrelson told me a funny story about his first trip to Riverfront Stadium after that fight, to play the Reds in 1974.
“After Pete was booed in New York, the Reds fans took a part in the fun & they had to boo me too. In my second at bat, I hit a HR to left field over Pete Roses head. Between innings Rose waited for me at shortstop and told me “you got to be fu%$ing kidding me” shaking his head.”
note: The HR came on May 27th, 1974 off Fred Norman, a two run shot scoring Don Hahn, with the Mets already down 4-0. It was the fourth HR of Harrelson's career, the third one to go over the fence. The Reds beat Seaver & the Mets that day 4-2.
1973 World Series: The Mets opened up the World Series in Oakland, facing the reigning World Champion Oakland A's. The Mets were once again, the underdogs. Harrelson was 0-2 that day, but did draw a pair of walks in the Mets 2-1 loss.
Game #2 ended up being a classic on many levels, it featured the return of Willie Mays to the Bay area & his last career hit. The game ended up going 12 innings & was the longest series game played up to that point, lasting four hours & thirteen minutes.
In the top of the 6th inning, the Mets were down 3-, Don Hahn tied the game with a single off reliever Horatio Pena. With the bases loaded Harrelson singled to right field putting New York ahead 4-3. The A's tied it in the 9th & it was on to extra innings.
Harrelson was once again involved in controversy, after leading off the 10th inning with a single, off Rollie Fingers.
Harrelson got to third on a Tug McGraw sacrifice & a Sal Bando error at third base. He then tagged up from third base on a short fly ball, off the bat of Felix Millan to left fielder Joe Rudi. Harrelson broke for the plate, after the catch & everyone in America expected him to slide.
Instead he went around the tag, standing up surprising catcher Ray Fosse and the umpire; Augie Donatelli. Donatelli was out of position & actually had fallen down. He made the call lying on the floor because he too was expecting a slide. Donatelli's view was certainly blocked as catcher Ray Fosse attempted a tag behind the runner. Donatelli called Harrelson out, the inning was over but the Mets went berserk.
Willie Mays the on deck hitter, dropped to his knees with his arms spread out in disgust, pleading to Donatelli, in a now famous photo.
Manager, Yogi Berra, usually a quiet one, charged out of the dugout shouting at Donatelli “You missed the damn thing”.
Harrelson jumped in the air & then tumbled around , leaping up in both disgust & shock. He ran back to the busy home plate area shouting at the umpire. A crowd of Mets players lost the plea, amazingly no one was ejected from the game.
In the 12th inning, Harrelson, did not go away, he led off with a double off Fingers. Got to third on McGraw's sacrifice & scored the go ahead run on Willie Mays last career hit, a single up the middle. The Mets scored three & went on to 10-7 victory in 12 innings, tying up the Series heading back to New York.
Quotes: “I was madder the next day, when umpire Donatelli said to me, you see, you guys won anyway.”
When I asked Harrelson about the play, he looked me & said in disgust "He missed me".
In 2013 the A's honored their 1973 team & I happen to be watching a broadcast the night before with the MLB package. Fosse, now an A's longtime announcer, jokingly mentioned the play, saying he caught a uniform thread on the tag.
Harrelson came back with two hits in Game #3 at Shea Stadium, the Mets lost the game in the 11th inning, when a third strike passed ball gave the A's a base runner, who scored on Bert Campaneris' base hit. In Game #4 Harrelson singled in the 4th inning off Darold Knowles & scored on Rusty Staub's bases loaded single, leading to a 6-1 Mets win.
The Mets went back to California leading the Series 3-2 but ended up losing it in seven games Harrelson was hitless in the final three games.
Overall he hit .250 (6-24) with five walks (tying Wayne Garrett for the Mets lead in the series) good enough for a .379 on base % (fourth best on the club). He had a double, two runs scored & an RBI.
It was his last post season appearance, in twenty games he went 14-70 (.200) with two doubles, a triple, six RBIs, six runs scored & ten walks for a .300 on base %.