Bill Buckner dies at 69 after battling dementia

Via:  john-russell  •  3 months ago  •  19 comments

Bill Buckner dies at 69 after battling dementia

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Bill Buckner dies at 69 after battling dementia


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Bill Buckner, the longtime major leaguer whose error in the 1986 World Series for years lived in Red Sox infamy, died Monday. He was 69.

"After battling the disease of Lewy Body Dementia, Bill Buckner passed away early the morning of May 27th surrounded by his family," his family said in a statement. "Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life. Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Buckner played 22 seasons in the majors, was an All-Star once and won a batting title in 1980. But it was a ball that went through his legs at Shea Stadium on a cool Oct. 25 night in 1986 that made for one of baseball's most shocking moments.

Boston, looking for its first World Series title since 1918, carried a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 against the Mets. New York tied it with two runs, then brought Mookie Wilson to the plate.

Wilson worked a 3-2 count off reliever Bob Stanley, and then, with a runner on second base, bounced a slow roller up the first-base line on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. Buckner ranged to his left, went down to snag the ball behind the bag and watched it roll through his legs and into right field. Ray Knight scored to give the Mets a 6-5 can-you-believe-it win. They took Game 7, too, a gut punch to a Red Sox team a strike away from a long-awaited title just 48 hours earlier.

"We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years. I felt badly for some of the things he went through. Bill was a great, great baseball player whose legacy should not be defined by one play," Wilson said Monday in a statement released by the Mets.

Red Sox principle owner John Henry said in a statement that his team is "proud that Bill Buckner wore a Red Sox jersey during the course of a terrific career that spanned more than two decades. His life was defined by perseverance, resilience and an insatiable will to win. Those are the traits for which he will be most remembered."

Team chairman Tom Werner added that Buckner "personified toughness and grit, and his determination to play through pain defines him far more than any single play ever could."

Buckner's teammates on the 1986 Red Sox said he wasn't to blame, noting Boston wouldn't even have been in the World Series without his efforts that season.

"No one played harder than Bill. No one prepared themselves as well as Bill Buckner did, and no one wanted to win as much as Bill Buckner," right fielder Dwight Evans later said.

But many in Red Sox Nation didn't see it that way.

"When that ball went through Bill Buckner's legs, hundreds of thousands of people did not just view that as an error, they viewed that as something he had done to them personally," longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan once said.

That single moment ended up defining Buckner's career, and even followed him after it.

When he retired in 1990, he and his family remained in Massachusetts. But the taunts and criticism from fans and media remained, forcing them to move to Idaho, where Buckner, an avid outdoorsman, bought a ranch.

When the Red Sox invited him to take part in a ceremony at Fenway Park honoring the 20-year anniversary of the 1986 team, Buckner declined.

But time heals most wounds, and though it took years, the relationship between Buckner and Boston fans eventually warmed.

The first step came in 2004, when the Red Sox finally ended the "Curse of the Bambino" by sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series. For fans, it was a chance to forget about the past and celebrate the present.

The next step came four years later in the Red Sox's 2008 home opener. That previous October, the team had won its second World Series title in four years, and on that April day, they were celebrating it with past and present Boston sports greats. One of them there: Bill Buckner.

From out under a massive American flag draped over the Green Monster, Buckner was introduced to the crowd and walked slowly to the mound amid a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes. With tears in his eyes, the left-hander delivered the ceremonial first pitch, a strike to former teammate Evans as the Fenway faithful roared.

"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," Buckner said of why he decided to return to Fenway. "For what they put me and my family through. So, you know, I've done that and I'm over that."

Buckner, a baseball and football star growing up in Napa, California, was a second-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1968, going one round after Los Angeles took Bobby Valentine. Buckner made his major league debut as a 19-year-old in 1969, beginning the first of what turned out to be eight seasons with the Dodgers.

Valentine tweeted that he will miss his former teammate.

As I clear my head and hold back the tears I know I will always remember Billy Buck as a great hitter and a better friend. He deserved better. Thank god for his family. I ll miss u Buck! — Bobby Valentine (@BobbyValentine) May 27, 2019 — Bobby Valentine (@BobbyValentine) May 27, 2019 — Bobby Valentine (@BobbyValentine) May 27, 2019

The Dodgers tweeted "our thoughts and prayers are with the Buckner family."

Buckner was traded to the Cubs in 1977 and enjoyed some of his best seasons in Chicago. He won the NL batting title in 1980, hitting .324. A year later, he was named to his only All-Star team and finished 10th in NL MVP voting. The Cubs dealt Buckner to the Red Sox in May 1984.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Bill Buckner, a great ballplayer and beloved member of the Cubs family," Cubs executive chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement, adding that "after his playing days, Bill served as a valued member of our player development staff and was a fan favorite during his appearances at our Cubs conventions."

In all, Buckner spent 22 seasons in the big leagues, playing first base or the outfield for five teams, including the Red Sox twice; they signed him as a free agent in 1990, but he struggled at the plate in his second stint there and was released before officially retiring. He finished his career with 2,715 hits, 1,208 RBIs, 1,077 runs scored and 174 home runs.

After his playing career, Buckner remained in baseball as a coach, including a stint as the White Sox hitting coach in 1996 and '97, and a return to Massachusetts in 2011 as manager of the independent league Brockton Rox.

He is survived by his wife, Jodi, and three children, Brittany, Christen and Bobby, who played baseball collegiately.


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1  seeder  JohnRussell    3 months ago

Bill Buckner was a really good player.  He had over 2,700 hits during the 1970's and 1980's.  The only guy who had more hits during that time period was Pete Rose. 

Buckner played for the Cubs for seven years, and had many great moments. You can't take someone who played major league baseball for 20 years and boil his worth down to one play, even if it did cost Boston a World Series. 

1.1  Enoch  replied to  JohnRussell @1    3 months ago

Dear Friend John Russell: This was a pint made by Mookie Wilson, one of Buckner's contempaorary's.

I concur with both of you.

A multi year career isn't the same as one play.


Sean Treacy
2  Sean Treacy    3 months ago

20 years and never struck out three times in a game.  Many guys can’t go a week without doing that.

2.1  BeastOfTheEast  replied to  Sean Treacy @2    3 months ago

Buckner was a good hitter. He hit .300 or better seven times and finished his 22-season career with 2,715 hits. His best attribute was his ability to make contact. His season high for strikeouts was 39, and he was the toughest hitter to strike out in his league in four different seasons, including 1986.

Buckner ranks second among players who debuted in the Division Play Era (since 1969) in most plate appearances per strikeout. He struck out every 22.2 plate appearances (a rate better than Joe DiMaggio), only surpassed in that era by Tony Gwynn’s 23.6.

Buckner was one of the Red Sox's best hitters down the stretch in 1986. In a 27-game span from Aug. 21 to Sept. 19, he hit .368 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs. He ended up finishing second on the team with 102 RBIs.

Just for Buckner to be out on the field for the 1986 World Series was impressive, virtually a medical miracle. He was playing with a severely injured Achilles, an ankle injury that had plagued him since 1975.

Watching Bill Buckner try to play in this World Series makes one wince. He said before the Series began that someone would have to shoot him to keep him out of it. If he were a racehorse, someone would. Every game, the No. 3 man in the Red Sox batting order extends his Series record for most innings played without ankles. The pain and frustration are written all over his face. The question must be asked: Should he be out there at all?”

Buzz of the Orient
3  Buzz of the Orient    3 months ago

I'll bet Mitch Williams had to go through the same thing.  Just ask A.Mac.

4  Texan1211    3 months ago

As a life-long Dodger fan, I always liked Buckner and his approach to the game.

A true class act.

Goodtime Charlie
5  Goodtime Charlie    3 months ago

I've been a Red Sox fan since I was seven in 1954. Game six of the 1986 World Series broke my heart, the Red Sox should have won it 5-3. I never blamed Buckner for the loss, the game shouldn't have gotten that far. Dumb ass Red Sox manager John McNamara left in pitcher Calvin Schiraldi after he gave up back to back singles with two outs and then Ray Knight got the third consecutive single. Enter Red Sox pitcher Bob Stanley with an ERA of 4.37 who throws a wild pitch allowing the Mets to tie the game and then the Buckner error giving the Mets the win. Buckner didn't lose the game for the Red Sox piss-pour managing did.

RIP Billy Buck, you were a standout ballplayer and a gentleman.

5.1  Texan1211  replied to  Goodtime Charlie @5    3 months ago

Always struck me as weird when people think one play decides a game. I felt sorry for Buckner after his stellar career--being remembered by some as a goat instead of the solid player he was.

5.1.1  CometRider  replied to  Texan1211 @5.1    3 months ago

I bet no one in his day remembers even one the 17 errors Lou Gehrig committed during his career causing the Yankees to lose.

5.1.2  Texan1211  replied to  CometRider @5.1.1    3 months ago

That's true.  People don't remember Nolan Ryan as a barely-above .500 pitcher, either. We tend to remember the biggest moments, which is bad when it is something like Buckner's error.

I think people who follow sports pretty intensely usually can recognize the totality of a player's career and judge the player on that.

Vic Eldred
5.1.3  Vic Eldred  replied to  Texan1211 @5.1.2    3 months ago
I think people who follow sports pretty intensely usually can recognize the totality of a player's career and judge the player on that.


I can tell you that the feeling for Buckner, among Red Sox fans, changed a whole lot after 2004. That was when the Red Sox suddenly became the team that could! The team that Buckner played for was still living under "the curse of the Bambino."

The teams these guys played for & the era they played in also have to be considered. 

The example you gave with Ryan is the best you could have given. First and foremost, he pitched for weak hitting teams. Do you remember the mantra of Angels fans back then? "We got Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin."  The thing about Ryan was his whole game was his blazing fastball. When he was scheduled to pitch, you knew you were either gonna be treated to another possible record setting "no-hitter" or he might find himself taking a shower after a few innings!

5.1.4  Texan1211  replied to  Vic Eldred @5.1.3    3 months ago

One thing Ryan did do exceptionally well was fill seats. He was good for at least 5-10k more on days he pitched.

Vic Eldred
5.1.5  Vic Eldred  replied to  Texan1211 @5.1.4    3 months ago

I believe he led the AL in strikeouts for just about every year he was with the Angels

5.1.6  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  Vic Eldred @5.1.3    3 months ago

You could make a reasonable argument that Nolan Ryan is the greatest pitcher of all time. Probably the most impressive is his seven ho-hitters, along with the literally dozens of other times he took a no hitter into the late innings. 

But Ryan also holds some truly impressive other distinctions

  • Lowest batting average allowed, pitcher, career (minimum 1500 innings), .204
  • Fewest hits per 9 innings, career (minimum 1500 innings), 6.56

37 complete games in his career in which he allowed 2 hits or fewer, which is more than any other two pitchers combined (Jim Palmer and Jim Maloney are second with 17 each). 

His 3.19 ERA is very competitive with other all time greats like Bob Gibson (2.9) , Bob Feller,  Warren Spahn, Roger Clemons,  and Greg Maddux (3.15)

5.1.7  Texan1211  replied to  JohnRussell @5.1.6    3 months ago

Ryan leads in career strikeouts AND walks.

His winning percentage was .526.

He is 5th all time in innings pitched, despite leading in seasons played.

His .309 on-base percentage is high--not even in top 100 pitchers of all time.

First in wild pitches, third in losses.

1st pitcher to give up 10 grand slams in career.

I did get a huge kick out of it when he kicked Robin Ventura's ass, which the Rangers played before every game for some time.

Vic Eldred
5.1.8  Vic Eldred  replied to  JohnRussell @5.1.6    3 months ago
along with the literally dozens of other times he took a no hitter into the late innings. 

That was his big complaint with the Angels, I believe he got tired after 10 innings, lol

But you are right...He was one of the greats!

5.1.9  seeder  JohnRussell  replied to  Texan1211 @5.1.7    3 months ago

Nolan Ryan pitched over FIVE THOUSAND innings of major league baseball, and major league baseball players hit an aggregate of .204 against him across those 5000 innings.  Most of the time a .204 hitter is not even a starter and if it continues they will be out of the major leagues before long. That is what all of baseball batted against Nolan Ryan. It is a monumental achievement on his part. 

Vic Eldred
5.1.10  Vic Eldred  replied to  Texan1211 @5.1.7    3 months ago

Those are interesting stats and they usually lead to the same place. I remember somebody running up to me, in my misspent youth, to reveal that Phil Niekro had lost 20 games for the Atlanta Braves the previous year (1977). (He did it again in 79). That was the old bad Braves team prior to the 90's rebuilding. I reminded that individual then of how bad the Braves were at the time and how much confidence they must have had in Niekro to leave him in all those close games. If you read it right, that stat was a tribute to a very good pitcher.

5.1.11  Texan1211  replied to  JohnRussell @5.1.9    3 months ago

Yes, that is right.

But his .309 OBA against is very poor for a pitcher with stats like his.

Had he played on better teams, his win perfcentage may have been better, but that is just one of those things we'll never know.

Ryan had a stellar career and is richly deserving of his place in the Hall of Fame.

My point is that it is unfair to Buckner to remember him for one error when he had an outstanding career.

We remember Ryan for his strikeouts and no-hitters---not for the 10 grand slams he gave up or his OBA against or his .526 win percentage.


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