Bill Buckner is a name as synonymous with the World Series as anyone else could ever be to any other sport.
It seems all anyone remembers him for is his play in the 10 th inning of Game 6 in the 1986 World Series when the Boston Red Sox lost to the New York Mets. No need to re-hash it because almost everyone with an Internet connection or a TV has seen it. It’s the one play which seemingly defined his career and that’s not right.
Buckner played parts of 22 seasons in Major League Baseball over four different decades and you don’t play 22 seasons if you aren’t a decent player. But it was that one play that anyone ever cared about. Behind the bag … it gets through Buckner, said play-by-play man Vin Scully.
He was vilified in Boston, public enemy no. 1. Never mind the fact that pitchers Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley couldn’t shut down the Mets in the 10 th inning and gave up three runs. Never mind the fact that Boston lost Game 7, 8-5, with Schiraldi giving up three runs late in the game in relief. No. Buckner was the goat (no, not that GOAT). The Curse of the Bambino lived. Red Sox fans needed a reason to be angry and they found their villain.
Over time, the feelings softened and Buckner wasn’t hated anymore. Buckner himself made peace with the city after everything that happened to him. He didn’t have to – I certainly wouldn’t because I’m a spiteful man when someone does me wrong. He could have told them all to get stuffed but he didn’t. He came back to Fenway Park in 2008 and they cheered for him.
You could tell it meant a lot to him. He was bitter for so long and I couldn’t blame him. After his appearance to throw out the first pitch in 2008, Buckner told the media he had to forgive. He was over it and he wanted to think about the positive. Everything was positive now because people had forgiven him. 2008 was 22 years prior to 1986. The fans had moved on, most likely because the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007; the curse itself ended in 2004 when the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals for the World Series.
Buckner died on May 27 at the age of 69 after succumbing to Lewy Body Dementia, a disease which is similar to Alzheimer’s in terms of symptoms but also causes other movement problems. His death prompted so many reactions from so many people. Mookie Wilson was one who released a statement. He was the batter in the bottom of the 10 th inning when Buckner’s error happened. The two became very good friends after it happened and Wilson said Buckner’s legacy shouldn’t be defined by one play.
No, it shouldn’t.
Buckner had more than 2,700 hits in his career, never struck out more than 40 times in a season, never walked more than 40 times in a season and was quick on the base paths before his knees started giving him trouble. If you look at Buckner trying to field Wilson’s ground ball, he hobbled as best as he could toward it and it simply went under his glove. More so, Wilson thinks he could have beaten Buckner to the bag even if the ball had been fielded cleanly. I wouldn’t doubt it because Wilson was one of the quickest runners in Major League Baseball at the time.
Buckner deserves to be remembered for so much more than one blunder. He won a batting title in 1980 when he hit .324. He was an all-star in 1981. He never struck out more than twice in a game – ever. If you want one of those quirky stats, he had more games where he had seven runs batted in than he had games where he struck out more than twice. He also had more World Series appearances – two – than he had games where he struck out more than twice.
Another piece of trivia: if you’ve ever seen the video of Hank Aaron hitting his 715 th home run in 1975, beating Babe Ruth’s then-Major League home run record, you’ll notice someone trying to climb the fence to try and grab the ball in vain. That left-fielder was Bill Buckner, who dabbled in the outfield in addition to the infield.
But there’s one thing that stands out to many who have seen it. In perhaps the eeriest case of foreshadowing in history, Buckner was interviewed before the 1986 World Series began and talked about the gravity of the whole thing. He said the following:
“The dreams are that you’re going to have a great series and win and the nightmares are that you’re gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs so, you know, those things happen … “
The ball did go through Buckner’s legs and the winning run was scored. He was pilloried, scorned, shunned. In the end, Boston eventually forgave him and he eventually forgave Boston when he didn’t have to. What that man went through for years was both unfair and unwarranted.
Bill Buckner deserves to be remembered for more than just one play and thankfully, he left this planet in peace.