Bill Buckner Deserved Better


Memorial Day saw the passing of former Red Sox Bill Buckner, a sad story not only because he died at a relatively young age of 69, but also because of the unfair manner in which he is being remembered.  The day also brought what felt like a retirement announcement for another Red Sox infielder battling injuries, Dustin Pedroia.  I look at both, and more, in this week’s Red Sox Column to be Named Later.

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Buck the Trend

The death of Bill Buckner on Monday rekindled many memories for Red Sox fans who lived through the long drought of championships for most of the 20th Century.  Buckner of course became the scapegoat and poster child for the long-suffering fans, a distinction that was wildly inaccurate and undeserved.  He was memorialized on ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday morning, which repeatedly showed the infamous play from Game 6 of the ’86 World Series for which Buckner has become vilified.  And while the reporter mentioned the unfairness of this distinction, the clip was nevertheless shown repeatedly, further burning the image into America’s conscientiousness.

For the record, Buckner’s error in the 10th inning on the grounder hit by Mookie Wilson DID NOT cost the Red Sox the series.  While it is true that the Red Sox held a 3-2 series advantage going into Game 6, and also held a two run lead going into the bottom of the 10th inning, the Mets had already tied the score before Wilson hit the ball.  Buckner’s misplay only served as the dagger in the heart of Red Sox fans, who had been waiting only 68 years at that time for a World Series Championship and had their hopes once again squashed when it appeared their hopes would finally be realized.

The World Series error should only be a footnote on what was an outstanding 22 year career for Buckner.  His career started in the National League in 1969, where he spent eight years as a speedy outfielder with a .289 average and 93 stolen bases.  If you look back at the video of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, it was Buckner climbing the left field fence in Atlanta that night.  His Dodger days were followed by another eight seasons with the Cubs before he was traded to Boston in the middle of the 1984 season in a deal that included Dennis Eckersley being sent to the Cubs. 

By the time Buckner came to the Red Sox, ankle injuries had robbed him of the speed he once possessed, and he had long since converted to first base, and was ironically considered to be a good fielder.  In parts of five seasons with the Red Sox (1984-1987, 1990) Buckner posted a .279/.315/.410 slash line, and had 48 home runs and 324 RBI.  Pedestrian numbers in comparison to today’s power numbers, but quality stats for the time.  Overall in his career he batted .289 with 2,715 hits, and more impressively, struck out only 453 times in 22 years, an average of just over 20 per season.

Sometimes fate can be cruel.  While Buckner had a long and what should have been fulfilling major league career, he will forever be remembered for one bad play.  Buckner had to go into virtual exile for many years in Montana to try to escape his past after his playing days were over.  Red Sox fans came to forgive Buckner after finally winning championships in 2004 and 2007, and even welcomed him to throw out the first pitch during the banner raising ceremony for the home opener in 2008.  But it should never have gotten to that point. 

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Also on Monday, the Red Sox held a hastily called press conference in which Dustin Pedroia announced that he will be stepping back from his rehab efforts to contemplate and re-evaluate his future.  Pedroia is still experiencing pain in his reconstructed knee, and it certainly appears that his playing days have come to an end.

It is fitting that this announcement came on the same day as the passing of Bill Buckner.  Like Buckner, Pedroia continued to try to play the game when his body would no longer allow him to do so.  Fortunately for Pedroia, it never resulted in a signature moment as it did for Buckner.

Many are calling for Pedroia to hang up his cleats for good, some for better reasons than others.  Some see the emergence of Michael Chavis and believe he is as an adequate replacement.  Others, like myself, simply want to see Pedroia get out before he damages himself to a point where his long term quality of life will suffer.  Sadly, he may have already crossed that threshold.

Pedroia played the game with reckless abandon.  Being an undersized player, he played the game the only way he knew how, hard and all-out.  The years finally took their toll on Pedroia, as they eventually do with all players.  While I feel he earned and deserved every chance from the organization to come back from this injury, it is now clear that both he and the Red Sox need to move on.

Trending Up

After a bit of a down week last week when he continued to hit the ball well without results, Rafael Devers returns to the Trending Up side of the ledger.  In six games, the red-hot Devers slashed .481/.500/1.000, with four homers, eight RBI, eight runs scored, and two doubles.  He has also been playing a solid, and at times spectacular third base.  Devers has not made an error since his costly miscue in the first game in the Chicago series on May 3rd.  At the tender age of 22, we may be witnessing the emergence of the next Boston superstar.

MLB Collectibles and Memorabilia gear at Fanatics.comSteve Pearce, pressed into service in place of an ailing J.D. Martinez, also appears to have finally found his stroke after a rough start.  Pearce batted .389 for the week, with a homer and four RBI.  Xander Bogaerts also helped pick up the slack from Martinez’s absence, batting .333 with a pair of homers, five RBI, and six runs scored.

On the mound, a pair of Ryans get the spotlight.  Ryan Brasier managed to get through the week unscored upon, pitching three perfect innings, though in a reduced role.  And Ryan Weber turned in a gutsy spot start to close out the Toronto series, going six innings to help out a beleaguered bullpen, allowing only one earned run.

Trending Down

Christian Vazquez has finally cooled off after a strong run over the previous few weeks.  Last week Vazquez fell below the Mendoza line, slashing only .167/.167/.292,  While he did slug a home run, he also grounded into three double plays.

Michael Chavis and Andrew Benintendi each checked in with a .207 average for the week.  Benintendi has been dropped out of the leadoff spot in the order when facing left-handed starters, with Chavis elevated to that slot.  Chavis clubbed a pair of homers last week, but also struck out twelve times in 32 plate appearances.

The Tyler Thornburg experience may also soon be coming to a close.  Thornburg, relegated to mop-up duty for much of the season, pitched in only one inning last week and allowed two earned runs.  He was also placed on the injured list with a right hip “impingement”.  He may have thrown his last pitch in a Red Sox uniform.

Look Ahead

The Red Sox are in an unusual part of their schedule.  A seven game road trip to Toronto and Houston is followed by a brief three game home stand against the Indians.  Then its right back out on the road for a four game weekend series in the Bronx against the Yankees.  The Red Sox currently sit 6 1/2 games behind the New York in the AL East standings, and cannot afford to fall any further behind the Bombers, who are gradually getting key players back from injury.  Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello and David Price are all in line to make starts for the Red Sox in the series.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Bill Buckner Deserved Better
Bill Buckner Deserved Better
Boston Sports Syndicate
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