Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #17, Bud Harrelson:
Harrelson’s 162 game averages, 1965-1968:
.233/.295/.285, 14 doubles, 48 walks, 12 steals, 3 runs saved defensively, 1.2 wins above replacement
Harrelson’s 162 game averages after knee surgery, 1969-1977:
.235/.333/.289, 16 doubles, 78 walks, 15 steals, 7 runs saved defensively, 2.8 wins above replacement
The batting average and the slugging percentage remain unchanged, but Harrelson was a much improved player, both defensively and offensively, after knee surgery before the 1969 season. He got on base more often, and became a better baserunner and fielder. I don’t know if the repaired knee helped or if Harrelson just figured it out, but he was a much better player after 1968.
Harrelson might be underrated. He never hit for high, or even respectable, batting averages, and Tom Seaver hit same number of home runs as a Met — six — but he wasn’t nearly the offensive zero he is sometimes made out to be. He could run a little bit, stealing 23 bases in 1970, and 28 bases in 1971. He had an excellent batting eye, drawing 95 walks in 1970, and 71 in 1974; among Mets players, only John Olerud, Keith Hernandez, and Darryl Strawberry have drawn more walks in a single season. Thanks in part to the walks, Harrelson posted a .324 on base percentage for his Mets career, during a period when the league average OBP was .326. He wasn’t creating many runs with his bat, but he also wasn’t an out-machine, and his fielding made up for the rest of it.
Harrelson was never a great player — his best seasons were 1970 and ’71, when he made the All Star teams — but he was an average player at a tough position for a decade, doing nothing great but plenty of things well. All those average seasons add up to give him enough value to rank here, at #17.
That said, don’t read too much into anyone being number #17, or #21, or #34, or whatever — the difference in quality between the #14 player and #17 Harrelson is roughly the same as the difference between #17 Harrelson and #49 John Milner. The rankings aren’t all that important until next week, when we hit the top 15. I should really draw out the pyramid of Mets greatness when I’m done.
He weighed 97 pounds when he made the high school football team, Bud Harrelson remembers. “I was all helmet and pads, but I played both ways — halfback and safety.” They tried to bully him then. Nobody does now. They’re afraid, if a fight starts, he’ll stab them to death with an elbow.