News that Bill Buckner had passed away on May 27th after battling dementia shocked Red Sox Nation. Despite a strong career, many fans remembered Buckner for only one thing: Game Six of the 1986 World Series. Buckner lived with that memory for the rest of his life and was unfairly blamed for losing the World Series for the Sox. If the Red Sox hadn’t gone sixty-eight years without having won a championship, and had to wait another eighteen years to win one, perhaps Buckner would have been remembered more positively. If there’s one thing that Bill Buckner taught Red Sox Nation though it’s how to endure and persevere.
Buckner had quite a distinguished career. He collected over 2700 hits, was an All-Star, and a batting champion. His career spanned four decades (1969-1990). In over 10,000 at-bats, Buckner only struck out 453 times. That stat in itself is absolutely astounding. It’s no wonder that his name came up in discussions about potential Hall of Famers. So why didn’t his statistics get more recognition? Simple. Mookie Wilson’s grounder that went through Buckner’s legs in Game Six of the 1986 World Series not only made him the butt of jokes for years to come, but became the symbol of the bad luck that had plagued the Red Sox since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Even though the Red Sox were already in trouble before Wilson even came to the plate, Buckner was still the scape goat.
Despite Wilson’s Grounder, Bill Buckner Taught Fans How to Endure
In this age where one mistake can end entire careers, Buckner stood as a symbol of endurance. He’s an example of how people can recover from what many sports fans might see as a mistake from which there is absolutely no chance of recovery. He didn’t crawl into a hole and hide from the world. Buckner recognized what he did, but he faced the reality of the situation. He didn’t try to blame others. There were no made up excuses. He answered questions about the incident in countless interviews. Buckner even signed photos of the ball going through his legs as Wilson hustled towards first base. Although he was compared to players like Fred Snodgrass and Fred Merkle, Buckner didn’t let it define him. He chose NOT to be play victim.
In time, Red Sox Nation forgave him. Buckner found his redemption (if he was even looking for it. If anything, he forgave Red Sox Nation!). More importantly though, despite the bad hand he was dealt in his career, Buckner went on to prove that one’s life isn’t over in the wake of such a tragedy. There is a chance to recover and find happiness again. We do get a second chance at life; there are do-overs.
I was at Fenway Park when Buckner’s death was announced before the start of the game on Sunday. No one jeered or shouted anything about ’86. No one in my section said anything demeaning. If anything, people shouted “Yeah Buckner! We love you!” Red Sox Nation had clearly learned to move on (though winning four World Series in the last fifteen years has certainly helped heal those wounds). Clearly Bill Buckner taught us that life continues after mistakes, and that they don’t define the way one is remembered if you don’t let them.
Baseball itself is a symbol of second chances. Nine of them, in fact. And no one knew that better than Bill Buckner.