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
In all likelihood, Wilson would have beaten out the
grounder and advanced Ray Knightto 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
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.