A spindly, good-field, no-hit shortstop from California would
seem an unlikely New York symbol, but for nearly 35 years Bud
Harrelson has been a Mets icon. By the time the 160-pound pride
of Hayward, Calif., was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in
1978, he had helped the Mets to a World Series championship in
'69 and a National League pennant in '73. En route to the
latter, Harrelson brawled with Pete Rose, then of the Cincinnati
Reds, in Game 3 of the League Championship Series, a display of
scrappiness that endeared him further to New Yorkers. After
retiring as a player in '80, Harrelson worked the '83 season as
a Mets broadcaster, then managed the Little Falls (N.Y.) Mets of
the New York-Penn League in '84 before joining Davey Johnson's
staff as the third base coach in '85. When Ray Knight pranced
gleefully toward home after Bill Buckner's notorious error in
Game 6 of the '86 World Series, Harrelson danced beside him.
Harrelson's love affair with the Big Apple temporarily turned
sour when he succeeded Johnson as Mets manager in '90. Harrelson
was canned with a week remaining in the tumultuous '91 season,
during which New York finished fifth and Harrelson battled his
players and the media. "I was fired on a Saturday night, and
when I went to the bus stop with my kids on Monday," recalls
Harrelson, 55, who still lives in Hauppauge, N.Y., "the kids on
the bus were booing me."
Few realize that Harrelson's .529 winning percentage ranks him
third among Mets managers, but it suits Harrelson just fine if
no one remembers his stint at New York's helm. Leaving the
majors has given him a chance to devote more time to charitable
endeavors and to his five kids, two of whom, Kassandra, 15, and
T.J., 12, still live at home. Bud and his wife, Kim, are the two
largest Make-A-Wish fund-raisers in their county, and he has
been visiting schools and Little Leagues regularly for 30 years
to sign autographs and to urge kids to stay in school. Harrelson
is returning to the diamond this year as co-owner and field
manager of the expansion Long Island Ducks of the independent
Atlantic League. The Ducks, the first pro baseball team on Long
Island outside New York City will inaugurate a 6,002-seat
stadium in Islip, N.Y., on April 28.
Suburban Long Islanders could see another former Met in their
midst before the season is done: Harrelson has invited perennial
rehabber Darryl Strawberry to play for him. "In my career in New
York, the Ducks may be the biggest impact thing I've ever done,"
says Harrelson. "This will be my legacy."
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS, JR. (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON
Harrelson is returning to the diamond this year as co-owner and
manager of the Long Island Ducks.