Buckner with the Boston Red Sox
Born: December 14, 1949|
|September 21, 1969, for the Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|May 30, 1990, for the Boston Red Sox|
|Runs batted in||1,208|
|Career highlights and awards|
William Joseph Buckner (born December 14, 1949) is an American former professional baseball first baseman who played in Major League Baseball (MLB) for 22 seasons, from 1969 through 1990. During his career, he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, California Angels, and Kansas City Royals.
Buckner is best remembered for a ground ball fielding error in the tenth inning that ended Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, a play that has since become prominently entrenched in American baseball lore.
Buckner was born in Vallejo, California and grew up in American Canyon, California. He graduated from Napa High School in 1968 after playing on the school's baseball and football teams. While playing football, he was a two-time All-Statewide receiver Coaches and also achieved All-America honors twice. Buckner was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round of the 1968 Major League Baseball draft. His friend, Bobby Valentine, was the Dodgers' first round pick. Upon signing with the Dodgers, Buckner was assigned to the Ogden Dodgers of the Pioneer League. He also briefly attended Los Angeles Valley College, the University of Southern California and Arizona State University and became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity while a farmhand with the Dodgers.
Los Angeles Dodgers
After two minor league seasons, in which he batted .323, Buckner made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a September call-up in 1969 at the age of 19. He appeared in one game, September 21 against the San Francisco Giants, and popped out to second baseman Ron Hunt, pinch hitting for Jim Brewer in the ninth inning.
Buckner began the 1970 season with the Dodgers, but after batting .121 with no home runs and no RBIs, he was returned to Triple-A Spokane. His .335 batting average with the Spokane Indians earned him a second chance, and he returned to the Dodgers when rosters expanded that September. He batted .257 in the months of September and October, with four RBIs and five runs scored.
Buckner earned a starting job with the Dodgers in 1971 as their opening day right fielder. Buckner also played some first base with the Dodgers, making 87 starts at first in 1973, but when Steve Garvey emerged as a Gold Glove first baseman and the National League's Most Valuable Player the following season, he was shifted to left field permanently. Buckner played a supporting role in a baseball milestone on April 8, 1974. Playing left field, Buckner climbed the fence in an attempt to catch Hank Aaron's 715th home run, he also played in first World Series that year which the Dodgers lost to the Oakland Athletics in five games. In his Dodger career, Buckner batted .289 with 38 home runs and 277 runs batted in in 773 games.
Following the season, Buckner was traded to the Chicago Cubs with Iván DeJesús and Jeff Albert for Rick Monday and Mike Garman. He had suffered a staph infection in his ankle in 1976, so the Cubs shifted him to first base, where he remained for the final fourteen years of his career.
Whereas early indications seemed to lean toward the Dodgers getting the better end of this deal, with Monday becoming one of the key centerpieces of the Dodgers clubs that went to the 1977 and 1978 World Series, Buckner soon emerged as something of a star for the beleaguered Cubs. During his career in Chicago, he batted over .300 four times, leading the league in 1980 at .324, and was the Cubs' sole representative at the 1981 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
On May 17, 1979, in a famous slugfest at Wrigley Field that included three homers by Dave Kingman and two by Mike Schmidt, Buckner went four-for-seven with a grand slam and seven RBIs. When manager Herman Franks resigned late in the 1979 season, he made negative comments about several players, including calling Buckner "nuts."
During the 1984 season, Bucker saw a loss of playing time at first base to Leon Durham. Buckner was at odds with the Cubs management due to the lack of playing time, and in protest vowed not to shave until he played two games in a row at first base. Buckner finally shaved in-between games of a double-header on May 24th, 1984 because he found out he was going to be traded the next day to the Boston Red Sox.
Boston Red Sox
Early in the 1984 season, the Boston Red Sox were in the market for an upgrade at first base. On May 25, they acquired Buckner from the Cubs for Dennis Eckersley and Mike Brumley. The Red Sox were 19–25, and in sixth place in the American League East at the time of the trade, and improved to 67–51 the rest of the way to finish the season in fourth.
Buckner appeared in all 162 games for the Red Sox in 1985, and batted .299 with sixteen home runs and a career high 110 RBIs. Buckner was a prototypical contact hitter, and struck out just 36 times in 718 plate appearances to lead the league in that category (he also led the league in most at bats per strike out in 1980, 1982 & 1986, and placed second in 1979, 1981, 1983 & 1987). In 1985, he also set the Major League record for assists by a first baseman in a season with 184. His record stood for almost 25 years; in 2009, the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols had 185 assists.
In September 1986, Buckner hit .340 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs, while missing just three games in spite of chronic ankle soreness. Dave Stapleton, the Bosox first baseman prior to the acquisition of Buckner, began seeing more playing time as a late inning defensive replacement for Buckner in September and October. Buckner, meanwhile, became the first major league player to wear Nike high-top baseball cleats professionally in an effort to relieve pressure from his ankles.
Buckner drove in over 100 runs for the second season in a row, and was a key member of the team that won the American League East by 5.5 games. He entered Game five of the 1986 American League Championship Series batting just .111 in the ALCS, and was 0-for-3 in the game when he singled to start the ninth inning rally, which was capped off by Dave Henderson's famous home run. He went three-for-six in the final two games, as the Red Sox came back from the brink of elimination to defeat the California Angels, and win the American League pennant.
1986 World Series
Boston was leading the heavily favored New York Mets three games to two in the 1986 World Series when Game Six of the series went into extra innings. For his part, Buckner was batting just .143 against Mets pitching, and was 0-for-5 in Game 6. When the Sox scored two runs in the top of the tenth, Boston manager John McNamara chose to have Buckner take the field in the bottom of the inning instead of bringing Stapleton in as a defensive replacement for the ailing Buckner as he had in games one, two and five.
With two outs and no one on base, New York struck back with three straight singles off Calvin Schiraldi and tied the game on a wild pitch by Bob Stanley. Mookie Wilson fouled off several pitches before hitting a slow roller to Buckner at first base. Aware of Wilson's speed, Buckner tried to rush the play. As a result, the ball rolled to the left side of his glove, through his legs and into right field, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run from second base. Had Buckner made the play with Wilson safe at first, the score would have remained tied for the next Mets batter. Had Buckner put out Wilson at first base, Game 6 would have gone to an 11th inning.
Many experts now believe that right fielder Dwight Evans is also to blame for the error since he did not adequately back up Buckner after the error. Had he backed him up, he would've been able to prevent Knight from scoring from second.
Boston led Game 7 of the World Series 3–0 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning when New York scored three runs off Bruce Hurst (who had been named World Series Most Valuable Player before the Mets' improbable comeback in Game 6) to tie the game, and score three more off Schiraldi in the seventh to take a 6–3 lead. Buckner was two-for-four in the game, and scored one of two runs the Sox scored in the eighth. However, the Mets rallied again to win 8-5 and won their second World Series Championship in franchise history.
Regardless of any of the other perceived shortcomings that led to Boston's loss in the 1986 World Series, Buckner's error epitomized the "Curse of the Bambino" in the minds of Red Sox fans, and he soon became the scapegoat for a frustrated fan base. Buckner began receiving death threats and was heckled and booed by some of his own home fans, often with the false belief or implication that his play alone could have instantly won the series for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, he was the focal point of derision from the fans of opposing teams on the road—especially when he faced the Mets in Spring training 1987, and the first time he came to bat at Yankee Stadium during the regular season. The Red Sox released Buckner on July 23, 1987, after he recorded a .273 batting average, two home runs and 42 RBI through 95 games.
Upon his release from the Red Sox, Buckner signed with the California Angels. For the remainder of the 1987 season, Buckner batted .306 and drove in 32 runs in just 57 games.
At 38 years old, Buckner was released by the Angels on May 9, 1988 just before a road trip that would have brought him to New York against the Yankees and Boston. He signed with the Kansas City Royals shortly after his release, and walked into Fenway Park as a player for the opposing team for the first time on July 15. He went one-for-two off Roger Clemens with a walk.
Bill Buckner’s last home run was against Kirk McCaskill on April 25, 1990, at Fenway Park – and was the only inside-the-park home run of his career. Despite his infamous bad legs, the 40-year-old Buckner circled the bases in the fourth inning when Angels’ outfielder Claudell Washington fell into the grandstands behind the short right field wall while attempting to retrieve Buckner’s drive over Washington's head.
His return was short lived, as he retired on June 5 with a .186 batting average, one home run and three RBIs.
On April 8, 2008, Buckner threw out the first pitch to former teammate Dwight Evans at the Red Sox home opener as they unfurled their 2007 World Series championship banner. He received a two-minute standing ovation from the sell-out crowd. After the game, when asked if he had any second thoughts about appearing at the game, he said, "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 for what they put me and my family through. So, you know, I've done that and I'm over that."
Buckner was a speedy baserunner until his ankle surgeries in 1975 and '76 for a severe ankle sprain and bone chips, respectively. He twice finished in the top-ten in the league in stolen bases (1974 and 1976), and twice led the league in doubles (1981 and 1983). After moving to first base, he played 1,555 regular season games and made only 128 errors in 13,901 chances.
After Buckner retired from professional baseball he moved his family to Idaho, where he invested in real estate in the Boise area. One of the housing subdivisions which he developed is named "Fenway Park". He lent his name to and was a minority owner of a local car dealership, Bill Buckner Motors in Emmett, which was in business from 2006 to 2008.
On January 4, 2011, Buckner was named the manager of the Brockton Rox of the Can-Am League. The Rox posted a 51–42 record in 2011, but after the season, the Rox dropped the professional format to join the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. In December, Buckner became the hitting instructor for the Boise Hawks for 2012. The Hawks are the Colorado Rockies affiliate in the Class A-Short Season Northwest League. Buckner announced his retirement from baseball on March 3, 2014. Buckner was inducted into the Napa High School Hall Of Fame in 1997 and the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2010.
With his wife, Jody, Buckner has two daughters, Brittany and Christen, and a son, Bobby. Bobby is a member of the Texas A&M–Corpus Christi Islanders baseball team. Buckner also has two brothers, Jim and Robert, who played minor league ball but did not make it to the majors. He also has a sister, Jan, who is Jim's twin.
Warren Brusstar, who also graduated from Napa High School, was a teammate with Buckner for a year and a half while they played for the Cubs.
References in popular culture
Charlie Sheen purchased the "Buckner Ball" at auction in 1992 for $93,000, and it long resided in the collection of songwriter Seth Swirsky, who refers to it as the "Mookie Ball." The ball was on loan for a time from Swirsky to the Mets to display in their Mets Hall of Fame and Museum, and it was among the most popular artifacts for fans to see. On May 3, 2012, Swirsky sold the ball through Heritage Auctions for $418,250.
Buckner made a cameo appearance at the beginning of the sports parody film The Comebacks and was featured in an episode of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as a cameo appearance in the pilot episode of the short-lived sitcom Inside Schwartz, advising the title character to "just let it go". His famous miscue is also referenced in the films Celtic Pride, Rounders and Fever Pitch, the episode "Brother's Little Helper" of The Simpsons, and the musical Johnny Baseball. On October 23, 2008, during former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony in House hearings on the economic crisis of 2008, Representative John Yarmuth referred to Greenspan as one of "three Bill Buckners."
Buckner is mentioned in The Areas of My Expertise in a series of New England sports references. In the book, John Hodgman describes a (fictional) radio personality and recounts the premonition she had regarding Buckner's infamous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
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