Buddy Harrelson remembered as a ‘spark plug’ of the Miracle Mets and for his work to fight Alzheimer’s

Buddy Harrelson, a beloved member of the Mets Hall of Fame, died Wednesday night at the age of 79.

The former shortstop who spent most of his career with the Amazins’ died in hospice care in Northport, Long Island after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease, the team announced Thursday.

“We were saddened to learn of Mets Hall of Famer Buddy Harrelson’s passing,” owners Steve and Alex Cohen said in a statement. “He was a skilled defender and spark plug on the 1969 Miracle Mets. The Gold Glove shortstop played 13 years in Queens, appearing in more games at short than anyone else in team history. Buddy was the third base coach on the 1986 World Champs, becoming the only person to be in uniform on both World Series-winning teams. We extend our deepest condolences to his entire family.”

A two-time All-Star and a Gold Glove Award winner, Harrelson was the shortstop for the 1969 Miracle Mets team. A San Francisco Bay Area native who grew to call Long Island home, Harrelson spent 13 of his 16 Major League seasons with the Mets before later becoming a coach with the organization. Harrelson was a third base coach on the 1986 World Series championship team. When Davey Johnson was dismissed in 1990, Harrelson became the manager. He would manage the Mets until the final week of the 1991 season.

“We don’t win in 1969 without him,” his 1969 teammate Art Shamsky said in a statement released by the Mets. “A fighter. The heart of the team. He was such a big part of Mets history.”

Harrelson was known as a fierce competitor on the field and a friendly face off of it. Until his diagnosis in 2016, Harrelson still enjoyed interacting with Mets fans and his former teammates.

Harrelson remained an influential figure in baseball around the area. His dream was to bring a minor league team to Long Island. That dream was realized in 2000 when the Ducks of the Atlantic League began play with Harrelson in the dugout as the team’s first manager. Harrelson had been working behind the scenes with local lawmakers to establish a minor league team. He was a part owner, along with his co-founder Frank Boulton.

“Bud’s impact on Long Island will be felt through Ducks baseball for as long as we play,” Boulton said in a statement. “He was my partner in bringing professional baseball to Long Island following his outstanding playing career in MLB and he made his mark on so many through his charitable giving, appearances and kindness. He was a one-of-a-kind human being, and he is missed greatly.”

His ex-wife, Kim Battaglia, took over his care, helping to organize medical appointments and keep his kids, friends and former members of the Mets in the loop. The two divorced years ago but remained close friends and companions. Harrelson had five kids, two with his first wife, Yvonne, and three with Battaglia. Battaglia worked to ensure that Harrelson could find joy in baseball even as his memory declined.

In 2019, Battaglia helped arrange a trip that would allow Harrelson to see Tom Seaver for the final time. Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, Jerry Koosman and author Erik Sherman flew to San Francisco and drove to the Seaver family home in Calistoga.

“Buddy was more than a teammate and dad’s roommate,” said Sarah Seaver, the daughter of Tom, through 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. Nancy, Annie and I send all our love to Buddy’s family and friends.”

Not long after, Shamsky was able to play catch with Harrelson one final time on the front lawn of Harrelson’s former Hauppauge home. It was a meaningful moment as neighbors came outside to cheer for them.

Battaglia and the Harrelson family became active with the Long Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The organization helped educate the family and provided invaluable resources after his diagnosis. Harrelson even became the honorary chair of the chapter’s annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

“The Alzheimer’s Association mourns the passing of our longtime supporter and former board member, Bud Harrelson,” said Doug Davidson, the executive director of the Long Island chapter, in a statement on X. “He inspired us on and off the field and our organization is grateful to Kim and the Harrelson family for raising awareness of the disease and helping others. Our thoughts are with them.”

Bud Harrelson, beloved Mets shortstop on World Series champs and manager, dies at 79

Battaglia became involved with the board of directors, the advocacy committee and the walk committee.

It’s what he would have wanted, Battaglia told the Daily News in late 2022. He hoped that sharing his experiences with Alzheimer’s would provide relief for other families touched by the disease as well. Harrelson wanted other people to know that they were not alone in the fight.

“He’s the happiest when helping others,” Battaglia told the Daily News.

Harrelson also played for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Texas Rangers. He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1986. The family plans to hold a celebration of life at a later date.

As late as 2022, he could still grip a baseball. A truly Amazin’ Met right until the end.