Former Red Sox First Baseman Bill Buckner Dies at 69 from Dementia
Baseball player Bill Buckner, known for his career as a first baseman, died Monday after a battle with Lewy Body Dementia. He was 69.
“Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life,” his family said in a statement obtained by ESPN. “Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing his in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Buckner was an All-Star player who logged more than 2,700 career hits during his 22-season stretch in the major leagues.
But it was an error he made as a member of the Boston Red Sox during Game 6 of the ’86 World Series that would largely define his career, as it allowed the opposing New York Mets to take the lead, and eventually win the entire championship.
The Red Sox were still under the alleged “Curse of the Bambino” at the time, and were looking to win their first World Series since 1914.
The team was leading the Mets in the series three games to two, and a win in Game 6 would’ve ended it there, with the Red Sox victorious.
The game was tied in the bottom of the 10th inning, bringing the Mets’ Mookie Wilson up to bat with a runner on second base and two outs.
Wilson eventually hit a pitch up the first-base line, right to Buckner, which, if fielded properly, would have ended the inning and brought it into the 11th. But instead, the ball went through Buckner’s legs, allowing Ray Knight to score and the Mets to win Game 6, and eventually Game 7.
The play haunted Buckner for years, even driving him and his family out of Massachusetts and to a ranch in Idaho.
“It just amazes me. I don’t quite get it. I have come to the understanding that it is here to stay, so I try to look at it in a positive way,” he told ESPN in 2006. “Everybody still remembers me, they say, ‘Yeah, he was the guy that made the error, but he was a pretty good player.’ So I guess that is a positive about it.”
Buckner left the Red Sox in 1987, and went on to play for the California Angels and Kansas City Royals before returning to the Sox for one final season in 1990.
Still, the lore surrounding the error never faded, with Buckner saying he and his family were the targets of derogatory comments from bitter fans for years.
He declined an invitation from the team in 2006 to return to Fenway Park for a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary the ’86 team, but did come back in 2008 to throw out the first pitch of the Red Sox’s home opener.
The emotional moment was met with a standing ovation from the crowd.
“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,” he told the crowd, according to the Boston Globe. “For what they put me and my family through. So, you know, I’ve done that and I’m over that.”
Buckner’s MLB career started in 1969, when he made his debut for the Dodgers at just 19 years old. He later saw success with the Chicago Cubs in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, winning the NL batting title in 1980.
Buckner is survived by his wife Jody, and three children, Brittany, Christen and Bobby.
As news of his death hit the baseball world, many chimed in with tributes, including Wilson, who hit the ball that started it all.
“We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Bobby Valentine, who played with Buckner on the Dodgers, also paid tribute to his former teammate, writing that he “deserved better.”
“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 wrote on Twitter. “He deserved better. Thank god for his family. I’ll miss u Buck!”
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