NEW YORK -- After learning that he had Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016, former Major League shortstop Bud Harrelson, best known for his four decades as a Mets shortstop, third-base coach and manager, decided to go public about his illness. He wanted people to know what he was going through and not feel alone if they, too, were affected by the disease.
According the Alzheimer's Association, “Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.”
These days Harrelson, 78, is in an assisted living facility on Long Island, which he has called home since 2021. Harrelson cannot do the little things most people take for granted -- he can’t put a sentence together or dress himself. He cannot be by himself for fear that he might fall and hurt himself, and he therefore has a companion with him 24 hours a day.
When he sees family, Harrelson doesn’t recognize them at first. It doesn’t help that they are required to wear masks whenever they see him, but when loved ones bring down their masks, Harrelson does realize who they are and has a big smile on his face. Harrelson can also hold a ball in his right hand as if he is getting ready to throw it.
“It says something about how deeply ingrained all the years of training and skills that go into making a Major League player, and, in Bud’s case, [it’s] one of the last things that has survived intact,” said Kim Battaglia, Harrelson’s ex-wife and one of six people [Harrelson’s five children are the others] who make decisions on his behalf.
After he entered the facility, Harrelson’s family, affectionately known as Team Harrelson, have carried the baton for him in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, with the help of the Alzheimer's Association of Long Island, the Harrelson family is spreading awareness about the disease and helping raise funds to help find a cure.
This past September, for example, Battaglia participated in the 2022 Walk to End Alzheimer's in North Babylon, N.Y. Team Harrelson raised $3,873 in the fight against the disease.
Battaglia credits AALI for helping the family understand what Harrelson is going through.
“We have used their services. I have felt their support all along. I would be lost without it,” Battaglia said.
Harrelson and Battaglia were married for 34 years before divorcing in 2010. Although she asked for the divorce, Battaglia’s love for Harrelson never wavered. After Harrelson was first diagnosed with the disease, son T.J. cared for his father. But Battaglia realized that her son, who also had a full-time job, was overwhelmed and she stepped in to help.
“He is the kindest, most generous man I've ever known,” Battaglia said about Harrelson. “I love him completely. When I saw the level of care Bud needed, that’s when I decided to move in. Yes, I still care for Bud deeply. He would do the same for me.
“Never once during the breakup of our marriage, there was never any unkind words between us. It was the most amicable separation of life and assets. We remained very good friends and very much a part of each other’s lives.”