Two thousand seven hundred and fifteen hits. A 22-year career. One of only five baseball players to play in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He embodied the cliche of a hard-nosed, gritty player who combined talent with hard work. He played hurt, he didn't complain and teammates loved him.
Bill Buckner died in Boise, Idaho on Memorial Day at the age of sixty-nine after a battling Lewy body dementia. However, the general public will remember him for a mistake that didn't even cost his team the World Series. But certain fans felt it did.
Buckner made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the age of 19. He carved out a underrated career that saw him hit 174 home runs, 498 doubles and collect 1,208 RBI. He finished top 25 in MVP voting four times and only made the All-Star team once as a 31-year-old with the Chicago Cubs.
However, Buckner's legacy is forever tied to the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Everyone knows the story. The Boston Red Sox first blew a 3-0 lead, but recovered and took 5-3 lead in the top of the 10th. Calvin Schiraldi recorded the first two outs with ease. Then the collapse happened. It ended with a Mookie Wilson ground ball going through Buckner's legs as Ray Knight scored the winning run. The Mets won Game 6 and would eventually win Game 7 after the Red Sox blew yet another lead.
But no one, other than Mets fans, remembers Game 7. They remember Buckner's error though. They don't remember that the game was already tied before the error happened. But they remember the error. They don't remember that the Red Sox had plenty of chances to shut the Mets down in Game 6 and Game 7. But they remember Buckner's error.
Some people mistakenly believed Buckner's error ended the World Series. They don't remember that Buckner played with knee problems. They don't remember that manager Jerry McNamara usually substituted Buckner out in late-game situations for defense. Buckner became the goat back when it had a different connotation in sports. He embodied yet another Red Sox failure due to The Curse of the Bambino: a nonsensical phrase that some writers forgot that they cashed in on.
The Boston Red Sox weren't a cursed team. They weren't even a bad team. They just were never good enough to win it all despite their talent and their ability to always remain competitive. It's been a fact of the franchise since the 70s. A Red Sox team with the talent to win it all didn't show up until 2004. Yes, Red Sox fans were able to die in peace.
Yes, embarrassing the Yankees on their way there made victory much sweeter. But, the popular expression that Buckner was now "forgiven" for his error was stupid. Even after the Sox won it all in 2004, it took four more years for Buckner to come back to Fenway Park. On Opening Day, a day where the Red Sox raised yet another championship banner, this happened:
It shouldn't take winning championships for a player to be forgiven for a mistake. Sports fans tend to forget that athletes are people. Athletes have feelings just like the rest of us. They make mistakes, they have bad days and sometimes they snap at work. Making a lot of money playing in front of tens of thousands of people doesn't negate that fact.
Buckner was a bigger man than most. He took his lumps and had fun with his notoriety. He became friends with Wilson and attended memorabilia shows with him. Larry David had Bill Buckner appear on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Buckner embodied grace.
Buckner, also, didn't need our forgiveness.
- Speaking of the Boston Red Sox, it looks like Dustin Pedroia might not play another major league game. His knee continues to bother him and there's no timetable set for his return. In an industry that can spit you out as quickly as it embraces you, the athlete on the other side of his career trying to come back is always difficult to watch. Pedroia's knees have betrayed him, but he desperately wants back in to a team that's World Series or bust.
Athletes will tell the media and fans about the importance of winning. The deeper truth is that most athletes want to be the one responsible for the winning. They want to contribute. It doesn't feel right when you win feel like you had nothing to do with it. There's that nagging sensation in the back of their heads saying they could've done more...they should've done more. Now the former American League MVP is facing that tried and true dilemma for all athletes: when should they pack it in?
When I covered the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, I sat by myself for a little while in the AL dugout for a bit during team batting practice. Pedroia, who was All-Star that year, was making his way back to the clubhouse after taking some swings. Noticing me, he hit me with the Hustle Man head nod and said "what's happening, chief?" and we both cracked up laughing. Dustin Pedroia will always be cool in my book.
- Someone want to explain to me why the hell were Yankees fans booing Manny Machado? No, you can't attribute it to him being a visiting player. The boos for him were louder than the ones for any other member of the San Diego Padres. If Mr. Getaway isn't mistaken, the Yankees didn't offer Machado a contract. It's not like he rejected them.
- Cody Bellinger is out here putting up Mannywood numbers.
- So I'm assuming that on June 1, every baseball team's going to offer Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel the exact same contracts, right?
- John Oliver stating that he became a Mets fan by default because rooting for the Yankees was "the wrong thing to do morally" led to this boneheaded tweet. Mr. Getaway had a few things to say about that. This tweet response also made Mr. Getaway happy.
Writer. Reporter. New Yorker.