Bill Buckner, who spent 22 years as a first baseman and outfielder in the major leagues, passed away at the age of 69, his family announced in a statement Monday.
“After battling the disease of Lewy Body Dementia, Bill Buckner passed away early the morning of May 27th surrounded by his family,” the statement, obtained by ESPN, said. “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 made his name as an effective hitter and speedy base runner. He led the league in doubles twice and finished in the top 10 for stolen bases twice as well. Buckner was the National League batting champion in 1980 and was an All-Star in 1981. Both accomplishments came as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
Yet there is perhaps no player in MLB history whose career was defined more by one mistake than Buckner.
It was the fall of 1986. Buckner was a key contributor at first base for a Red Sox team trying to win its first Word Series since 1918 and break “The Curse of the Bambino.”
The Red Sox had a 3-2 series lead over the New York Mets and Game 6 at New York’s Shea Stadium had stretched into the bottom of the 10th inning. Boston had taken a 5-3 lead in the top half of the inning but had surrendered two in the bottom half. Then, with a man on second, the Mets’ Mookie Wilson hit a roller to Buckner at first base that trickled through his legs and into the outfield.
The Mets scored on the play to win Game 6, and then won Game 7 as well to claim the World Series. Buckner’s error at a clutch moment on baseball’s biggest stage catapulted him into Red Sox infamy and atop the list of sports’ worst-ever blunders. After his playing days, he even had to move away from the Boston area to Idaho due to the explosive rage of those around him.
“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,” Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan once said, as quoted by ESPN.
Hard feelings between Buckner and Boston fans and media lasted for decades, but things began to change when the Red Sox finally lifted the curse and won the World Series in 2004 and 2007.
The power of forgiveness was on full display in 2008 when Buckner returned to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch of the home opener. He received a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes and brought tears to his eyes.
Buckner leaned on his strong Christian faith through the decades to help him overcome the past he couldn’t avoid.
“It’s life, and everybody has to deal with something, and most of the time it’s a lot more important than a baseball game,” Buckner told the Deseret News in 2015. “You’re talking about cancers, children, and those things that are much more important than baseball. You have choices and some people can’t deal with it and some can. Spiritually that helped me.”
Buckner experienced first-hand all the good that God accomplished through that one fateful October night.
“I’m a person of faith, so there’s a lot there,” Buckner said in 2015. “I’ve had a lot of people call me and thank me for giving them directions to make it through — and that’s a good thing.”
Many in the baseball world, from fans to teammates to opponents, memorialized Buckner on social media throughout the day Monday.
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) May 27, 2019
God Bless Bill Buckner on his passing today.This Picture is from our first year together in Ogden 1968 with Tommy and Bobby Valentine..the greatest draft in @MLB history.He was a dear friend, a strong Christian and wonderful husband and father. 🙏🏻 @Dodgers pic.twitter.com/UwoTL6jKoa
— Steve Garvey (@SteveGarvey6) May 27, 2019
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
Mookie Wilson on Bill Buckner: “I was saddened to hear about Bill’s death. 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.”
— Mike Vaccaro (@MikeVacc) May 27, 2019
Buckner, from California, was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968. In addition to his stints with the Dodgers, Cubs and Red Sox, Buckner also played for the California Angels and the Kansas City Royals. He retired in 1990 having collected 2,175 hits, 1,208 RBI and 174 home runs in his career.
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