Bill Buckner, forever known for October error, dies at 69
Sad news to report: Jody Buckner, the wife of former Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Royals and Angels first baseman Bill Buckner, says that her husband died today. The statement from the Buckner family:
“After battling the disease of Lewy Body Dementia, Bill Buckner passed away early the morning of May 27th surrounded by his family. 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 was 69 years old.
Buckner, a second-draft pick of the Dodgers in 1968, made his major league debut with Los Angeles as a 19-year-old in 1969, In all he played 22 seasons in the majors and won the 1980 National League batting title while playing for the Cubs. He led the NL in doubles in 1981 and 1983. His career line: .289/.321/.408. He hit 174 homers, had 2,715 career hits and drove in 1,208 runs. He made the All-Star team in 1981 and appeared in two World Series: 1974 with the Dodgers and 1986 with the Red Sox.
Unfortunately, Buckner is perhaps best known for the play in the 1986 World Series in which a slow roller off the bat of Mookie Wilson went through his legs in extra innings of a Game 6 that, if the Red Sox had won, would’ve given them their first World Series title since 1918.
What is often lost in all of that was that (a) the Red Sox had already blown a 5-3 lead before Wilson came to bat, meaning the play did not alone cost the Red Sox victory; and (b) manager John McNamara, contrary to his practice for most of the season, failed to replace the by-then creaky-on-defense Buckner with Dave Stapleton, who usually took over late in games in which Boston led.
While, for many years after the play Buckner was cast as a goat by the local and national media and a large swath of baseball fans, his teammates supported him at the time and after, noting correctly that the Red Sox would not have been in the position to win the World Series if not for Buckner’s contributions. The passage of time had been good to Buckner in this regard as well, with him receiving a warm reception from Boston fans on several return trips to Fenway Park. Most notably at the 2008 home opener when he threw out the first pitch in dramatic, tears-of-joy inducing circumstances:
After his playing career Buckner was the Chicago White Sox’s hitting coach in 1996 and 1997 and managed the independent Brockton Rox in 2011.
He is survived by his wife, Jody, and three children.