Bill Buckner Dies at 69
Boston, MA– When I was a kid in elementary school, we were able to check out one book each week from the library during library class. I was absolutely infatuated with baseball and I once decided to read a book about the sport’s biggest blunders. Plastered on the cover was the image from the 1986 World Series when the game-winning out rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs for the Boston Red Sox, allowing Mookie Wilson to play the hero.
It was what I always understood Buckner’s legacy to be. I never thought of him as anything but a massive goat in the lore of baseball. But as I grew up, I came to understand that Buckner was extremely unfairly derided for his entire life for the play. I mean, can you imagine? It’s not like he wanted that play to happen the way it did. Baseball is just cruel sometimes. That’s why we love it.
That’s why Bostonians loved Buckner. It’s why baseball fans from all over the world love him. (And Curb Your Enthusiasm fans do, too.) I mean, I can’t speak for everyone, but 1986 was 33 years ago. The Red Sox have won four World Series titles since then. If you’re not over it by now, well, then you don't have the attitude Buckner had.
Buckner owned his place in history, even if the rest of his accomplishments were forgotten in the face of his one unforgettable error. And when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, it felt like there was a collective acceptance that, yes, this one was for you, Billy Buckner. It’s okay. Everything’s okay. They slayed the ghosts of Fenway Park.
Bill Buckner died this week at the age of 69 years old due to complications from Lewy Body Dementia. He was the 1980 National League batting champion and a 1981 MLB All-Star. He played for way more teams than the Red Sox as he also tallied years with the Dodgers, Cubs, Angels, and Royals. He was one of five players to play an MLB game in both the 1960s and the 1990s. Buckner was so much more than the infamous gaffe, and he was so much more than a Red Sox. He hit .289 for his career with 2,715 hits. He’s an MLB legend. And an MLB icon, for better or for worse.
But I don’t want to remember Buckner by the thing that everyone said would outlive him. Lord knows, media outlets have done enough of that. I want to remember Buckner as someone who never stopped trying his best. Someone who could laugh at himself. Someone who enjoyed any warm welcome that baseball had to offer. Someone whose demons were killed long ago. Someone who changed baseball forever. May we all have an impact like that.