So back in the day I actually liked baseball, and thus I remember the moment Bill Buckner erred in scooping up a ground ball and in doing so cost the Boston Red Sox Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
At the time we were busting on him as being old, because of course we were so young. And the error was insanely ill timed. But if you recall it, he was hobbled by injuries and shouldn’t have been out in the field anyway.
But for 30 years, or at least until the Sox won their first World Series title in 2004, he was continually derided and reminded by the sports media as the example of the cursed Red Sox.
This was just horribly unfair.
While yes, his error did allow the winning run to score in the bottom of the 10th, the Red Sox left that game tied, 3–3. So Buckner did not cost them the series. Even if Buckner had made the catch, the game was still tied, so there would have been ample opportunities for the game to go either way.
The fault, if we’re going to throw that around, belongs to John McNamara, the manager who allowed the injured Buckner to take the field in the bottom of the 10th.
In games one, two and five he’d replaced Buckner on defense late in the game with Dave Stapleton. Why, with a two-run league in sudden death baseball, did he not make the same call in Game 6?
We don’t know as so it would be Bill Buckner to take the blame.
Over the course of the next eight months, Buckner would receive death threats, would be booed and heckled, even at home by the team’s own fans.
Buckner, a career .289 hitter, was cut by the team in July of 1987, despite hitting .288 with three home runs and 41 RBI.
Immediately the California Angels picked him up.
He would play almost a year with the Angels before they let him go in May of 1988 prior to a road trip that would go through New York and Boston. The heat was still to hot even for the Angels.
But again Buckner and his excellent bat would be picked up by the Kansas City Royals. At 38 years old, and in 168 games, he would hit .239 with four home runs and 50 RBI. On July 15th of 1988 he would return to Boston to face Roger Clemens. He went 1–2 off Clemens with a walk.
Four years after the incident, he would again return to the Red Sox but this time as a free agent. During the season opener player introductions, the crowd gave Buckner a standing ovation. He would retire as a Red Sox player only a few months later.
Several years later, after the curse of the Bambino was forever extinguished, Buckner would again return to Fenway to throw out the first pitch at another home opener. This time it would be a two minute standing ovation by the fans.
After the game Buckner said, “I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston, per se, but I would have to say in my heart I had to forgive the media for what they put me and my family through. So you know, I’ve done that and I’m over that.”
And so it was for so many years. The Boston wins, the Buckner demeanor and the media’s release of blame from this old ball player gave us freedom from this one errant play.
Until his death this weekend.
And now for some unknown, unkind and undesired reason, we are again inundated with the scene of an injured player making an unfortunate play.
Again the news media lets us down. And instead of lauding a player who gave his all, who played hurt, who gritted it out to help his team over a long and illustrious career, we are given this sad reminder.
Bill Buckner, I know you were a great player. I hope the few people who read this will come away knowing that as well.