Bill Buckner was a great baseball player. He also was only a spoke in the wheel that caused the Boston Red Sox to lose Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Immature Red Sox fans like to point at Mr. Buckner as the sole reason their team lost that game. There is not one person to blame, but an entire team – two teams, in fact. Not only did the Red Sox lose that game, but the New York Mets also won it.
First, I’m going to place the blame around for the Red Sox loss besides Buckner’s error. Then I’m going to point out the fantastic career that the first baseman had. I don’t think he should be in the hall of fame, but he’s not far away. Many believe the hall of fame should be reserved for the top 1% of all big league ballplayers. Buckner falls in the top 2%.
With the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and the Red Sox up three games to two, the Mets’ Mookie Wilson hits a moderate grounder about 10 feet inside the foul line to first baseman Bill Buckner. Ray Knight is on second base. Buckner makes the stereotypical little leaguer mistake when he doesn’t get his glove to the ground, it rolls under his glove and between his legs and Knight scores from second base to give the Mets the victory.
Spreading the blame
The game was tied at a chaotic Shea Stadium. Even if Buckner makes the play for the final out of the 10th, the odds are still in the Mets’ favor they’re going to win the game. They were one of the greatest single-season teams ever, with 108 regular season wins. Boston was good (95 wins), but they didn’t have the greatness of the Mets.
Where’s the blame for Red Sox pitcher Bob Stanley? After relieving Calvin Schiraldi with two outs in the 10th, the first thing he did was throw a wild pitch to Wilson to score Kevin Mitchell from third, the tying run. Take half of Buckner’s blame and give it to Stanley.
After a masterful regular season, reliever Schiraldi seemed to be spent in the World Series – at least in the sixth game. Schiraldi relieved Roger Clemens to start the eighth inning. In two and two-thirds innings, Schiraldi allowed four hits, two walks and four runs. Now let’s take some of Buckner and Stanley’s blame and give it to Schiraldi. The man was tired and the New York batters had figured him out by the 10th inning.
Babe Ruth also deserves some of the blame. I believe in the Curse of the Bambino in Game 6 is a great example. Schiraldi retired the first two batters in the bottom of the tenth – Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez. Boston was up by two runs and only needed one more out to claim their first World Series title since 1918. One out. Gary Carter then hit a soft single to left field. With a runner on first, the Red Sox still only need one little out and there’s two bases to get it now. Mitchell pinch hit for the pitcher, Rick Aguilera, and lined a single to center field, sending Carter to second. Now there are three bases to get ONE more out and send New England into a frenzy. With Ray Knight batting, Schiraldi worked the third baseman to an 0-2 count. Now the Red Sox not only need just one little out, which is available at three bases, but they can also get that one little out with one little strike. Nope. Knight singles to center field to score Carter and send Mitchell to third. Mitchell will score on the wild pitch and Knight will score on Buckner’s error. A story like this should have been featured in the opening sequence of Magnolia. They just don’t happen, especially in World Series games. Babe Ruth had a hand in it and part of the blame should be given to him.
Why was Schiraldi still pitching in the 10th inning? The middle reliever was working his third inning and had already given up a run in the eighth. Boston managers have a history of leaving pitchers in for too long and John McNamara is no exception. It may have been wise for a fresh arm to start the 10th inning and if not to start the bottom half, then after Carter and Mitchell delivered consecutive hits. Now we’re really spreading the blame.
Even more puzzling than leaving Schiraldi in the game is the decision by McNamara to leave Buckner in. The first baseman was 36 years old and had terrible knees. During the regular season McNamara would often replace his aging first baseman with a younger player more apt to play the position.
Roger Clemens pitched a great game. He allowed one earned run over seven innings and struck out eight batters. He pitched well, but he still screwed up and it had nothing to do with what he did on the mound. After Boston went ahead in the top of the tenth, Clemens retreated to the clubhouse to shave off his five o’clock shadow so he could be as pretty as possible for the post-game interviews. When the jumbotron showed Clemens and his baby face, the Mets bench took notice and it gave them even more reason to get fired up. Never give the other team, especially the 1986 Mets, a reason to get mad. Now even the starting pitcher with the most impressive stat line has some of the blame.
Clemens gave up only one earned run, but another run crossed the plate while he was on the mound and it wasn’t earned. In the fifth inning, with Knight at first base, Wilson hit a single to right fielder Dwight Evans. An error from the great Evans allowed Knight to reach third on the play and eventually score the unearned run. It looks like Mr. Buckner wasn’t the only fielder to allow an unearned run.
The New York Mets assembled one of the greatest teams in the history of the game and a two-run lead simply wasn’t enough to contain them. Ever think of that?
Now that the case for Game 6 is over, let’s look at the other 2,539 games Bill Buckner played.
The man loved to hit a baseball and it’s obvious in his statistics. In an age when on-base percentage wasn’t as highly valued, Buckner was the perfect player for the fan who hates to sit and watch batters take pitch after pitch looking for something just right. A .289 batter, Buckner’s OBP was a lowly .321 for his career. He didn’t like to walk, he liked to hit the ball and he rarely struck out. Through 22 seasons, the most he even struck out in a season was 40 in 1984 when he split time between the Cubs and Red Sox. Ryan Howard could cover that total this May. Four times in his career Buckner led his league in at bats per strikeout. In 1980 for the Cubs, Buckner struck out once every 32.1 at bats. For his career, he struck out only once per 20.7 at bats. Even Barry Bonds, known for having one of the greatest hitting eyes of all time, struck out once per 6.4 at bats in his career.
Buckner finished his career with 2,715 hits. Remember last season when Yankees fans acted as if Derek Jeter found Osama bin Laden when he passed Lou Gehrig on the team’s hit list? At that point, he only had seven more hits than Buckner.
He played for five teams over his career with the most games played for the Cubs followed by the Dodgers, Red Sox, Royals and Angels. His prime came on the North side of Chicago when he batted .300 over eight seasons and won the 1980 National League batting title with a .324 average.
Like Fred Merkle before him and Chuck Knoblauch after, Bill Buckner should be recognized as a great ballplayer.