By Samuel Chamberlain
Published May 27, 2019
Bill Buckner, a baseball stalwart who compiled 2,715 hits for five different teams over a 22-year career, died Monday. He was 69.
In a statement to ESPN, Buckner's widow, Jody, said that her husband had suffered from Lewy Body Dementia.
"Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life," Jody Buckner said. "Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
A Bay Area native, Buckner broke into the big leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he played the first eight years of his career. Traded to the Chicago Cubs prior to the 1977 season, Buckner spent his most productive seasons on the North Side of Chicago. He was an All-Star in 1981 and finished in the top 20 of MVP voting four times -- in 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1982.
In May 1984, the Cubs dealt Buckner to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for star closer Dennis Eckersley and utility infielder Mike Brumley. Two and a half years later, Buckner would be front and center for one of the most infamous moments in baseball history.
In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the Red Sox held a 5-3 lead over the New York Mets entering the bottom of the 10th inning and were three outs away from claiming their first title since 1918. Red Sox manager John McNamara kept Buckner at first base for the 10th inning, rather than pulling him for defensive replacement Dave Stapleton.
Reliever Calvin Schiraldi retired the first two Mets hitters, then allowed three consecutive singles that cut the Boston lead to 5-4. Bob Stanley replaced Schiraldi and threw a wild pitch that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run. Three pitches later, Mookie Wilson hit a slow ground ball up the first base line. Buckner hobbled over to play the ball, only to see it skip under his glove and into right field as Ray Knight raced around third to score the winning run for New York.
The Mets won Game 7 two days later and the Red Sox championship drought would continue until 2004. Though his teammates refused to blame Buckner for the error, many Boston fans did and Buckner was released in May 1987.
Buckner played for the California Angels and Kansas City Royals before returning to the Red Sox for the start of the 1990 season. However, injuries and ineffectiveness at the plate led to his release in June of that year. Buckner and his family later moved from Massachusetts to Idaho due to ongoing fan and media criticism of his actions on that October night at Shea Stadium.
Wilson said Monday that he and Buckner "had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years.
"I felt badly for some of the things he went through," Wilson added. "Bill was a great, great baseball player whose legacy should not be defined by one play."
Time, a change in the Red Sox ownership and the club's success in the new millennium helped heal the wounds of 1986. Buckner made a triumphant return to Fenway Park in 2008 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a home opener at which the Red Sox celebrated their second World Series title in four years.
"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," Buckner said at the time. "So, you know, I've done that and I'm over that."
Former Mets and Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, a teammate of Buckner with the Dodgers, tweeted: "I know I will always remember Billy Buck as a great hitter and a better friend. He deserved better."