In high school the skinny Harrelson played baseball, basketball & even football at the safety position. Growing up in Northern California, Harrelson wanted to play for the local San Francisco Giants, but they said he was too small. The 160 lb. five foot eleven switch hitter, attended San Francisco State University, getting signed by the Mets in 1963.
He was a scrappy hitter, with excellent speed but absolutely no power. He was a good base runner, with speed, but it was all about his glove. Harrelson was an outstanding short stop in a period when most shorts tops did not hit well. He would stop balls on either side of him, turn double plays & cut off anything in the hole.
In the winter of 1964 he began a five year stint with reserve duty for the National Guard. He went from A ball at Salinas in 1964 , to the AAA Buffalo Bison's in 1965.
He made his MLB debut on September 2, 1965 at Shea Stadium as a pinch runner in a 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros. He was inserted into two more games, then got his first start four days later in Milwaukee, but was pulled for a pinch hitter after one at bat.
On September 19th he got his first career hit, it came at Wrigley Field in an 8-6 win over the Cubs. Harrelson went 4-37 batting only .108 as a September call up. In the off season he worked heavily on becoming a switch hitter to improve his offense. His defense was never an issue; not matter what his average was, his outstanding defense was good enough to keep him in the lineup.
Early in his Mets career he was tutored at the position, by the fine Mets shortstop he would succeed, veteran Roy McMillan. McMillan later became a Mets coach.
He spent most of 1966 at AAA Jacksonville getting called up again in late August. On September 16th, 1966 he played a key role in a Mets 5-4 win against his childhood team, the San Francisco Giants. With the score tied, in the 9th inning, Harrelson tripled in the vast Candlestick Park scoring Johnny Lewis. Harrelson then stole home off reliever Lindy McDaniel for the insurance run. The loss cost the Giants a key game in a pennant race they would lose to the Dodgers by one and a half games.
In 33 games played that year, Harrelson scored 20 runs & stole seven bases, even though he batted just .222.
By 1967 he became the Mets everyday short stop, when McMillan went down with a career ending shoulder injury. Harrelson would remain the Mets short stop, for the next decade. In his first full season, he played a career high (also matched in 1970) 151 games, 144 starting at short, leading the league in that category. He also was second in put outs & third in assists. It was rough at first as he made 21 errors into May. Things got better as he only committed 11 more the rest of the year, his 32 errors were second in the NL.
Yogi Berra coached him in hitting & he batted .254 impressing manager Wes Westrum. On August 17th, in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field, Harrelson hit his first MLB HR, it was an inside the parker off pitcher Juan Pizzaro, breaking a 4-4 ninth inning tie. The Mets went on to a 6-5 win. On the year the Mets went 61-101, Harrelson led the club in walks (48) was tied with Cleon Jones in steals (12) & was second in triples (4).
Quotes: The fans in New York loved him & thought of him as their buddy. Harrelson said ``I think a lot of it has to do with New York falling in love with the little guy. Early in the history of the New York Mets, here comes this little guy, diving, dancing, and running, stealing and trying hard. I was their little guy.''
In 1968 Gil Hodges came aboard, and everything began to change for the better. Hodges watched Harrelson work, he said to the skinny little guy “You are by far the strongest player I've ever seen at 147 pounds.”
That season Harrelson would suffer from knee issues & military obligations. He still go to play in 111 games, but only hit .219 with seven doubles, three triples & 14 RBIs . At short stop he posted a .972 fielding % (third best in the league) making less than half the errors he had the previous year (15).
1969 Championship Season: During the 1969 season, Manager Gil Hodges had platoons at many positions, but certainly not at short stop. Harrelson was the anchor of a very good middle infield, along with his most frequent double play partner Ken Boswell, as well as Rod Gaspar. He helped turn 70 double plays, making 243 put outs (third in the NL) posting a .970 fielding %.
Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, would always say he was comfortable knowing Harrelson was behind him in the infield, stopping many would be hits & turning tough double plays. One of his biggest compliments toward Harrelson was " We don't win two pennants without him".
On April 15th, he hit a pair of singles leading the Mets to a win with his three RBIs. On May 21st, he tripled off the Braves Phil Niekro with the bases loaded, leading Tom Seaver to a 5-0 win. Harrelson had a strong month of May in 1969, raising his average seventy points that month, & on June 1st found himself batting .291.
On May 28th 1969, in a tight pitcher’s duel at Shea Stadium, Jerry Koosman was throwing ten innings of shutout ball, against San Diego’s Clay Kirby. In the bottom of the 10th inning Harrelson singled home Cleon Jones with the winning walk off run. It was the start of an eleven game win streak that showed the National League the Mets were for real.
In early July, Harrelson was doing his military obligation in the army reserves in upstate New York. On July 9th, he went to a bar in the nearby city of Watertown and, saw his roommate Tom Seaver almost throw a perfect game. Bud said he had an unprofessional reaction to what was happening.
"It was like I was being pulled into the set," he says. "I had so much pride in the team and in Tom that I guess I kind of lost my head a little. When he went out to pitch the ninth inning I did something only a kid is supposed to do. I turned around to a guy standing next to me and said, 'Hey, I know him. I know Tom Seaver. Tom Seaver is a friend of mine.”
Harrelson returned on July 13th, getting inserted as a pinch runner in the bottom of the 8th inning, first game of a double header. He ended up scoring the winning run on an Ed Kranepool double, to beat the Expos 4-3. After a few games as a pinch runner, he was ready to get back in the lineup and hit safely in six of eight games.
In August in a pre view of that seasons first ever NLCS, the Mets staged a dramatic comeback win against the Atlanta Braves, scoring five runs to tie the game in the 6th inning. It was Harrelson’s sac fly that tied the score, leading up to Jerry Grote's, 9th inning walk off HR.
On September 28th, he had an 11th inning single off the Cardinals Bob Gibson, scoring Ron Swoboda with the games winning run. Not known for his hitting, Bud finished off September hitting safely in 16 of 22 games, scoring 12 runs, while drawing 15 walks.
As usual he played a superior shortstop, in 119 games he posted a .969 fielding %, making 19 errors & 243 put outs (third in the NL). He hit .248 on the year posting a .341 on base % with eleven doubles, six triples, 42 runs scored & 24 RBIs.
NLCS: In Game #1 of the NLCS, he was at bat in the second inning, causing Phil Niekro to throw a passed ball to catcher Bob Dider. That allowed Ken Boswell to score the Mets second run.
Later in the 4th inning he tripled, off Niekro, driving in Ed Kranepool & Jerry Grote, while helping the Mets to a 9-5 win.
In Game #2 he doubled off Paul Doyle in the 3rd inning, bringing home another run as the Mets went up 5-0.
He made an error on the field but also helped turn two double plays. He went hitless in Game # but scooped up the second out of the 9th inning, as the Mets were about to win the NL Pennant. Overall in the NLCS he hit .182 (2-11) both extra base hits, with two runs scored & three RBIs.
1969 World Series: In the 1969 World Series he put on a clinic on how to play short stop in front of the whole country, as his defense was nothing short of being outstanding. At the plate he was 3-17 with three walks and a run scored in Game #3. "When you win, you know it's good.
It's just that you're thinking you're going to have more years. Maybe something better is going to happen,'' Harrelson said. "But in retrospect, how could anything be better than that?''.
After the Miracle: In 1970 he enjoyed one of his finest seasons, starting the year right away hitting safely in 30 of his first 35 games. Harrelson was a World Champion & was batting .300 with a .417 on base % in mid May.
Also back on April 17th, he hit his first HR that actually went over the fence. It came in the 1st inning at Shea Stadium, off the Phillies Grant Jackson. As he rounded the bases he saw some stunned looks on Phillies faces, but he dare not crack a smile himself, to show he was surprised.
On April 23rd he tripled off the San Diego Padres, Mike Corkins in the 3rd inning, driving home Tommie Agee in what turned out to be the game winning run for another Tom Seaver win.
During his May hot streak he had two different three hit games & scored 17 runs, getting his on base percentage to .400%. In June he drove in runs in six of ten games during the first two weeks of the month. e had an eleven game hit streak & eight multi hit games.
All Star: That year he made his first All Star team, playing short stop behind the Cubs Don Kessinger, at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. He entered the game in the 7th inning & singled off the Cleveland Indians Jim Perry, Gaylord's brother.
In his next at bat he singled off the Oakland A's, Catfish Hunter, as the little guy once again proved his worth. The N.L. went on to win the game in 12 innings on former Met, now Chicago Cub, Jim Hickman’s walk off base hit. This was the also the famous game where Pete Rose ran over catcher Ray Fosse on the final play, allowing the run to score.
MLB Defensive Record: It was during this period where his defense was at its peak, from June until mid August, Harrelson tied the MLB record (since broken) for consecutive errorless games at shortstop with 54.
At short on the year, he lead the league in put outs (305) while posting a .971 fielding percentage (5th in the NL).
He turned 84 double plays (third best) Amazingly enough he was such a good shortstop and so valuable to his team that he came in 22nd in the MVP voting that season.
In September as the Mets were in the heat of the pennant race, Harrelson was on base in all but five games that month. He led the team in walks with 95 (6th best in the NL) triples (8) sac flies (8- which were third most in the NL) & games played with 157, which was also among the top ten in the league.
He also posted career highs in runs scored (72) doubles (18) & RBIs (42). He stole 23 bases that year, second on the club to Tommie Agee (31) and his 12 sacrifice hits were a Mets best (2nd in the NL).
In 1971 he had another great start, in late April he had a ten game streak getting his average up to just near .300. In early May he drove in runs in three straight games in which the Mets won by one run. On May 4th, his 7th inning single at Shea, off the Cubs Earl Stephenson ended up being the game winner for Nolan Ryan.
He had another 12 game hit streak in early May, and overall hit safely in 27 out of 30 games. On May 15th he enjoyed a four hit, three RBI day in a 9-5 win over the Pirates. On May 22nd he singled home Ed Kranepool, in the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs, to tie the game. The Mets went on to beat the Braves 8-7 on a Donn Clendenon walk off hit.
Harrelson kept his average up around .300 until mid June; another highlight at the plate was another three RBI day, leading the Mets to a 4-3 victory in Montreal over the Expos.
1971 All Star Game: He got to start at short stop in the now classic 1971 All Star Game at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, alongside Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Willie McCovey & Willie Stargell. He batted in the 8th spot and went 0-2. That year he also got his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
I was lucky enough to meet Harrelson & spend time talking with him a few years back. I asked how he felt around all those baseball greats that day; he said he had already won a World Series & been in an All Star game, so he felt like he certainly belonged there.
During the introductions he said Cito Gaston of the San Diego Padres joked to him, saying you really going to go there next to those guys? In that game he was 0-2 at the plate.
In the second half, his hitting fell off but he remained in the .275 range until mid August. On September 4th he had a big day in Philadelphia, first breaking a 3-3 tie in the 6th inning, with a bases loaded double scoring two runs. Later after the Phillies tied it, but Harrelson's 10th inning single off Dick Selma won it, as Don Hahn scored.
In the Mets third place season, finishing an identical 83-79 like the year before, Harrelson hit .252 with a team best 13 sacrifice hits (fifth most in the NL), six triples, & 28 stolen bases (tied with Agee for 4th in the NL). He had 138 hits (second on the team) with 16 doubles & 32 RBIs. At short stop he won his only Gold Glove Award, posting a .978 fielding percentage, making only 16 errors in 714 chances, while turning a career high 86 double plays.
At the end of Spring Training 1972, the Mets lost their manager Gil Hodges who passed away from a fatal heart attack. Harrelson & the team were devastated at the loss of their leader & mentor.
He attended the funeral with some of the other Mets players in Brooklyn, and was in the line up on Opening Day as Gil's #14 was retired in a quiet ceremony. Harrelson got a hit in the Tom Sever shut out of the Pittsburgh Pirates,.
Yogi Berra was the team's new manager, & Harrelson's childhood hero; Willie Mays was to join the team from San Francisco the following month as well. The presence of the two Hall of Famers was a nice influence.
On May 1st, Harrelson hit a HR over the fence, near his hometown, at San Francisco off John Cumberland, helping Tom Seaver to a 7-4 win over the Giants.
In 1972 Harrelson was limited to 115 games due to injuries, this on a club where many injuries occurred. He struggled to keep his average over .200 all year, finishing up at .215.
But he still lead the team, in singles (75) on base percentage (.315%) stolen bases (12) & runs scored (54). On the field he turned 51 double plays, posted a .970 fielding % (fifth in the NL) making just 16 errors in 541 chances.