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Monday, May 27, 2019

Bill Buckner got over it

Bill Buckner got over it
Several years after the 1986 World Series, in a hospitality suite at a postseason event, Bobby Valentine introduced a friend to Frank Cashen. For Cashen, who had been the Mets team that pitched the Boston Red Sox in that memorable series, Valentine's guest was a legend.

"Oh, wow, Bill Buckner!" Cashen exclaimed to the man, according to Valentine, the former Major League manager. "You're my favorite Red Sox player of all time!"

Valentine, a confidant of Buckner until the day of his death, on Monday at the age of 69, was mortified. How did Buckner respond?

"Buck wanted to kill him," Valentine said Monday. "But he walked away, you know.

Had it not been for his fateful mistake in that 1986 World Series, Buckner, who suffered from dementia with Lewy's body, a degenerative brain disease, would have been the best batter of his generation. Instead, his legacy includes some very striking statistics and a terribly unfortunate mistake, but also proof that there are opportunities for true grace even after a really bad night.

In a career that lasted from 1969 to 1990, Buckner compiled 2,715 hits, won a batting title, formed a stellar team and never hit three times in a game, something that 16 major leaguers did only on Sunday.

Buckner even stole 31 bases in 1974, helping lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to the National League pennant. But that was before a severe ankle injury, and when he returned to the World Series, with Boston in 1986, he had become a symbol of seasoning, a hero with big tacos who needed nine injections of cortisone just to finish that season

And there he was, playing first base at Shea Stadium in the tenth inning of Game 6, with the Red Sox on the verge of his first championship since 1918. At the end of every Boston win in the postseason, the Manager of the Sox Rojas John McNamara used A more mobile first baseman, Dave Stapleton. But this time he let Buckner play the field.

With two outs and the bases empty, followed by two runs, the Mets moved: three singles produced a leak, Calvin Schiraldi, and Mookie Wilson faced another reliever, Bob Stanley. With one stroke of the title, Stanley's wild shot eluded receiver Rich Gedman, tying the game, 5-5.

On the tenth pitch of his at-bat, Wilson came back from the first baseline. Buckner did not charge him, since a more agile Stapleton could have done it to crawl astride the ball, bend over to pick it up and watch in disbelief as he jumped down his legs, scoring Ray Knight with the winning run.

In a 2011 interview with The New York Times, McNamara said he does not regret having left Buckner in the game.

"If the ball were hit on either side of him and he could not be in front of her, yes, he would have questioned me," McNamara said. "But it hit the ball."

Even if Buckner had thrown the ball cleanly, Wilson could have hit him or Stanley in the bag. And as scapegoats, Schiraldi or Stanley deserves the biggest blame: according to Baseball Reference, the Mets had a 1 percent chance of winning before the first of their three singles with two outs, and a 60 percent chance after the release of Stanley

The Red Sox also had another game to keep the Mets away, but as they did, Stapleton will never play in the big leagues again, and Buckner will escape to the fight. of his mistake

"He handled it incredibly well, but he killed it," Valentine said, speaking metaphorically, of course. Valentine shared a room with Buckner in the children and played with him in the Dodgers. "There were probably 50 interviews in which he blamed McNamara, or he said something about Stanley throwing the wild pitch or anything else about Game 6. He never said that about any of them."

The Red Sox threw Buckner in July 1987, but fans encouraged him when he returned to the team in 1990. They did it again in 2008 when Buckner threw the first ceremonial pitch at Fenway Park the day the players received their championship rings. Winning the World Series last October, for his second title of that decade.

At a press conference after his presentation, Buckner referred to the error as "the ugliest part of sports" and added: "I do not think that in society at large this is the way we should operate. Children, do not get it, then you will be buried, so do not try. "

Buckner had great success in his playing career, only 65 players have accumulated more success, and later he worked as a hitting coach for the Chicago White Sox and in Idaho, where he was an avid nature lover.

Buckner also performed at shows with Wilson and appeared as himself in a 2011 episode of Larry David's HBO series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Buckner saves a baby from a burning building and leaves in gratitude to the spectators' audience of gratitude.

Was it such a delayed redemption? It seemed that way, but Valentine said that was not Buckner's motivation to take on the role. The reason, he said, was that Buckner's daughter was an aspiring actress and was offered a show on the show.