In baseball terms, the 1969 Mets were defined by a corps of elite young pitchers. But more broadly, there might have been no more apt symbol of those underdogs for the ages than their slightly built shortstop.

His name was Derrel McKinley Harrelson, but he went by “Bud,” which reflected how most fans thought of him — an amiable scrapper on a team full of them.

That never was truer than in the 1973 NLCS, when he and the pugnacious Reds star Pete Rose famously fought at second base during Game 3 at Shea Stadium.

But Harrelson, who died early Thursday at age 79 at a hospice home in East Northport after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, will be remembered by many Long Islanders for his life after baseball.

And not just for his stint as a coach on the Mets’ 1986 championship team and as their manager in 1990 and ’91.

Bud Harrelson catches the ceremonial first pitch before a Long Island Ducks game on June 5, 2016. Credit: Daniel De Mato

That is because Harrelson, a longtime Hauppauge and East Northport resident, was a co-owner and coach for the Long Island Ducks, an Atlantic League franchise that brought minor-league baseball to Suffolk County, far from the bustle of Queens.

Speaking at Hofstra in 2012, Harrelson said, “I’m often asked about my best accomplishment in baseball, and I answer, ‘The Long Island Ducks.’ I say it is the best thing I’ve ever done because the fans know me and I know them.”

Harrelson’s death further diminishes the dwindling ranks of living ’69 Mets, but that team remains a part of franchise lore.

“He was the glue in the infield,” Art Shamsky, who played with Harrelson from 1968 to ’71, told Newsday. “He was a scrappy player and really a consummate teammate, a good guy, on and off the field.

“When you look back on the ‘69 Mets, inevitably people talk about Tom Seaver and [Jerry] Koosman and Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee, but really, that team had so many guys who were integral parts of the team, and Buddy certainly was right at the top of the list.” 

D-Day baby

Harrelson was born on June 6, 1944 — the day of the Allied Forces’ D-Day invasion of France — in Niles, California, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area.

He played football and baseball in high school despite his thin frame, but baseball was his best sport, and it landed him a contract with the upstart Mets in 1963.

By 1966, he was playing with the Jacksonville Suns, the Mets’ top minor-league affiliate at the time, with another up-and-comer from California, Seaver, who became Harrelson’s longtime friend and roommate in the majors.

“Buddy was more than a teammate and Dad’s roommate,” Seaver’s daughter, Sarah, said in comments released by the Mets. “Dad lovingly called him ‘Roomie’ for the rest of their lives.

“And to me, he was Uncle Bud, always quick with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. Dad and Buddy loved to talk baseball together — but more than anything there was laughter, huge smiles and a lot of love between them.”

After spending parts of 1965 and ’66 with the big-league club, Harrelson became the Mets’ starting shortstop in 1967, and after a rocky start in the field, he emerged as a prototypical slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop of that era.

He earned a Gold Glove Award in 1971 and was named an All-Star in 1970 and ’71 despite batting .243 and .250 in those seasons. He was 5-for-28 in the 1969 postseason.

For his career with the Mets from 1965-77, the Phillies in ’78 and ’79 and the Rangers in ’80, Harrelson batted .236 with seven home runs in 5,516 plate appearances.

“There wasn’t a play he couldn’t make at short,” said former Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda, who played six seasons with Harrelson. “When I played left, he saved me so many times, coming back to catch pop-ups. We must have had 50 collisions and he never complained once.”

Reds menace

Harrelson enhanced his place in Mets lore in that ’73 NLCS. After Jon Matlack shut out the Reds, 5-0, in Game 2, Harrelson offhandedly joked that Matlack had made the Reds “look like me hitting.”

Before Game 3, Reds second baseman Joe Morgan warned Harrelson that the Reds were ticked off and that there might be repercussions.

Sure enough, in the fifth inning, Rose tried to break up a double play by sliding hard into second base, where the 160-pound shortstop made the turn successfully. A melee broke out, emptying the team benches.

Pete Rose swings at Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson in Game...

Pete Rose swings at Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson in Game 3 of the 1973 NLCS. Credit: AP/Marty Lederhandler

When Rose returned to leftfield in the bottom of that inning, fans threw debris onto the field, prompting Reds manager Sparky Anderson to remove his team for its protection.

Only after Mets manager Yogi Berra and several players, including Willie Mays, implored fans to calm down did play resume. The Mets won that game and eventually the series before losing the World Series to the Athletics.

“It’s never far from people’s memories,” Harrelson said of the brawl. “I’ll be signing autographs and some kid will say, ‘My dad told me you got in a fight with someone.’ I’ll say, ‘Yeah, Pete Rose. I hit him in the face with my eye.’ ”

Rose’s son Pete played for Harrelson’s Ducks in 2005 and 2007.

Kim Battaglia, Harrelson’s ex-wife and in recent years his caregiver, told Newsday last year, “Buddy was always proud of the fact that, years later, he signed Pete Jr.”

As the Mets’ third-base coach in 1986, Harrelson became the only person to be in uniform for both of the franchise’s World Series championships.

In Game 6, he excitedly shadowed Ray Knight down the third-base line as Knight scored the winning run after a fielding error by the Red Sox’s Bill Buckner. Harrelson nearly beat Knight to home plate.

Harrelson went 145-129 as the Mets’ manager in 1990 and ’91.

“Buddy loved coming to the field,” former Mets pitcher Ron Darling said. “He did things with such grace and caring. Without a doubt, I learned more baseball from Buddy than any other person in the Mets’ organization.”

Ed Kranepool, a Jericho resident who played 18 years with the Mets and was Harrelson’s teammate most of that time, said, “Buddy and I were with the Mets in the early days and he did everything to promote the team. I don’t think we ever missed a Little League dinner in the early years to talk baseball to kids.”

Ducks dedication

Harrelson moved to Suffolk County at the start of the 1969 season and never left, which gave added meaning to his long association with the Ducks, who began play in 2000 and quickly rose to the top of the Atlantic League’s attendance list.

“Bud’s impact on Long Island will be felt through Ducks baseball for as long as we play,” owner and CEO Frank Boulton said in a news release. “He was a one-of-a-kind human being and he is missed greatly.”

Bud Harrelson at the 40th anniversary of the 1969 World Championship team on August 22, 2009. Credit: Getty Images/Jared Wickerham

Harrelson remained active and visible even after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, including appearing with his 1969 teammates at 50th anniversary celebrations in 2019.

In 2018, the Ducks honored him by retiring the No. 3 jersey he wore with that team and the Mets.

“I never thought I’d get something like that,” he said that day. “It’s usually for somebody big in baseball.”

Harrelson is survived by his children, Kimberly, Timothy, Alexandra, Kassandra and Troy, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

AMAZIN' TRIBUTES

SARAH SEAVER (TOM’S DAUGHTER)

“Dad and Buddy loved to talk baseball together, but more than anything there was laughter, huge smiles and a lot of love between them."

ED KRANEPOOL

“He always made prefect throws to me at first — everything was chest-high. Buddy and I were with the Mets in the early days and he did everything to promote the team. I don’t think we ever missed a Little League dinner in the early years to talk baseball to kids.”

JERRY KOOSMAN

“He was the best shortstop who played behind me — period. I can’t tell you how many runs he saved.”

CLEON JONES

“Buddy and I started out together in the minor leagues in Buffalo. He worked so hard to become the shortstop that he became. He listened to the coaches and did everything he could to get better.”

RON SWOBODA

“There wasn’t a play he couldn’t make at short. When I played left he saved me so many times, coming back to catch pop-ups. We must have had 50 collisions and he never complained once.”

ART SHAMSKY

“We don’t win in 1969 without him. A fighter. The heart of the team. He was such a big part of Mets history.”

KEITH HERNANDEZ

“I played against Buddy. Remember him as a feisty player who would do anything to win. As a coach, he was so caring and giving. He was the best third-base coach in the game. Also, he threw the best BP in baseball. We bonded over both being from the same area in San Francisco. He was just a great man.”

KEVIN MITCHELL

“I don’t score the tying run in Game 6 without Buddy’s advice. He gave me a tip to be aware that Bob Stanley throws a lot of balls in the dirt. What a nice man he was.”

RON DARLING

“Buddy loved coming to the field. He did things with such grace and caring. Without a doubt, I learned more baseball from Buddy than any other person in the Mets organization.”

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