Someday history will remember real Bill Buckner

Bill Foley
Contributing Writer

Bill Buckner deserves so much better.

The great man and ballplayer died today at the age of 69, and all the obituaries about him mention that stupid error in the first sentence.

Yes, we know Mookie Wilson’s ground ball went through Buckner’s injured legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. We’ve all heard the call from Vin Scully.

“Here comes Knight and the Mets win it.”
(Brian Snyder-Pool/Getty Images)

The replay of that play has been shown more than any other play in baseball. More than Willie Mays’ catch. More than Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World.”

The error has been replayed so many times that so many people think that it cost the Red Sox the World Series title.

Here is a news flash for you, it did not.

Because the replay has been burned into the mind of every person who ever watched a baseball game on television, most people not old enough to have watched that play — and many who did watch it — believe that the Red Sox would have won the World Series had Buckner fielded that ball.

The truth is Boston had already blown the two-run lead in the 10th inning by the time the speedy Wilson hit that slow roller down the first-base line.

If the hobbling Buckner would have fielded the ball, the best the Red Sox could have done was go to the 11th inning.

Also, if he would have fielded the ball, there was probably a less than 50 percent chance that they would get the out. Buckner would have had to beat Wilson to the bag — no easy task for a health first baseman in that spot — because pitcher Bob Stanley was not covering first base quickly enough.

In all likelihood, Wilson would have beaten out the grounder and advanced Ray Knight to third base with two out.

If the Red Sox would have gotten the out, the Mets would have probably just won it in the next inning anyway. Teams do not blow two-run leads with two out, two strikes and nobody on base and end up winning the game. It just was not going to happen.

Also, that was Game 6. The Red Sox had a chance to win again two nights later in Game 7. The Red Sox, by the way, blew a 3-0 lead in that game, even though Buckner went 2 for 4.

There were many to blame for the Red Sox losing a series they should have won. The thing is, we should not be pointing any blame. The team that gave us such a magical run should be remembered with honor, not finger pointing.

Especially today.

Today is a day to remember the man who hit .315 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in September of 1986 to help the Red Sox secure the American League East title.

Today is a day to remember the man who singled to start the improbable rally that led to Dave Henderson’s heroic home run in Game 5 of the ALCS.

Today is a day to remember the man who climbed the fence to try to rob Hank Aaron of his 715th home run.

Today is a day to remember the man who threw out the first pitch at the Red Sox 2008 home opener when nobody would have blamed him if he told the team and its fans to take a long hike off a short plank.

Today is the day to remember a great ballplayer, a great teammate and a great man.

It is not the day to remember one stupid error.

Through 22 seasons in the big leagues, Buckner played the game the way everybody should play it. He owed an apology to no one. He batted .289 for his career, and he won the National League bating title with a .324 average while playing for the Cubs in 1980.

The stats only begin to tell story of Buckner, though. He was the ultimate gamer, a warrior who sacrificed his body for his team. Without his gutsy performance in 1986, we would be still watching videos of California Angel heartache in the 1986 World Series.

When the Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino in St. Louis in 2004, some fans were shown on TV holding a huge sign proclaiming that Buckner was now forgiven for his error.

Nothing could be so farther from the truth. Buckner was not forgiven because there was nothing to forgive.

Buckner’s career was turned into a laughing stock by a media perception that was very far from reality. The majority of real baseball fans saw through that garbage, but too many did not.

Yet, there Buckner stood, waving to the crowd before the 2008 opener at Fenway Park. He was offering forgiveness for decades of hell he and his family had to endure.

Talk about the heart of a champion.

I was 12 years old when the tears of losing the 1986 World Series streamed down my face. I am ashamed to say that I pointed the finger of blame at several players in the decades that followed.

Never, though, did I blame Bill Buckner. Instead, I admired the way that he played the game. I respected how hard he played for the team that I love.

For years, Buckner was near the top of the list of people I wanted to meet. I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him that I got it. I wanted to say how much I appreciated him.

I wanted him to know that, someday, history will remember the real Bill Buckner and forget about that stupid error.

Unfortunately, that day is not today.

Follow Bill Foley on Twitter — @Foles74