Boston Red Sox

It’s Time to Free Bill Buckner

By C. Eric Lincoln

The New York Mets have had a weekend-long celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the team that defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games to win the 1986 World Series. This was the World Series that truly gave rise to Red Sox Nation, one grieving and often surly nation under a futile and unfair baseball god. A Series that raised the question of whether or not the Red Sox were cursed by the great Bambino or Harry Frazee or a cadre of otherwise bit players who toiled for the evil empire, the New York Yankees. The only person cursed, however, as a result of the 1986 clash, was Bill Buckner. And its time to free his name of a terrible lie once and for all.

The New York Mets spent a glorious August weekend at Shea Stadium honoring the team that came from behind to beat the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.

Most of the backstory involved memories of that fateful and memorable sixth game that would eventually give rise to the various and sundry theories of the Red Sox being eternally cursed by one thing or another.

Again and over again on a diamond vision screen too large for its own good, fans were treated to the final moments of that sixth game in which, as every child in New England can surely recant, shows us the ill-fated Red sox first baseman, Bill Buckner— as he allowed a bounding ground ball to trickle through his legs—and the next recurrent vision of Ray Knight dancing across home plate with the winning run, 6-5.

A walk-off grounder that has never been forgotten nor forgiven.


Problem is Bill Buckner is no more the scapegoat in this Red Sox loss than Babe Ruth himself.

No, this is not another conspiracy theory involving senile disabilities of a Red Sox manager, astrological signs, or the fact that Tom Seaver was seen sitting in the Red Sox dugout.


Bill Buckner had very little responsibility for this loss.  If any.

All you have to do is read the Mets own history of the game as published in their current yearbook. Read the excerpt carefully and slowly before you make any judgment.

When you do, the result is startling.

“Dave Henderson’s home run had put the Sox ahead, 5-3,  in the 10th. But with two out, (and the Red sox one strike from a World Series win) Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight all followed with singles, to cut the Red Sox lead to, 5-4. Boston  reliever Bob Stanley was summoned and with two out and one strike away from a world championship, Mookie Wilson dodged Stanley’s wild pitched THAT ALLOWED Mitchell TO TIE THE GAME.”


At this point the Mets had made their comeback. They had tied the game, and nowhere is the name Buckner to be found the these public transcripts.

On Bob Stanley’s eighth pitch, Wilson hit the now-famous ground ball that went through Buckner’s usually steadfast wickets, allowing Knight to score and the Mets to win, 6-5.

As Casey Stengel would say, you could look it up.

The Buckner scenarios are few:

If he fielded the ball cleanly and makes the unassisted putout, the game goes to the 11th inning.

And that’s it.

One cannot assume beyond fallacy that either the Mets or the Red Sox win the game if Buckner fields the ball cleanly.

And no one can assume that the Red Sox can not win the seventh game after a day’s rest. So where does that leave Buckner?

A scapegoat forever.

Leaving Bob `Wildpitch’ Stanley and his catcher Rich Gedman, two ghost ships quietly escaping in the night.

Stanley came to the mound with history in his hand. He had two out, the lead, the game, and indeed the championship in his palm.

No quantum physics here.

If Stanley retires Wilson before the Mets tie the game, the Red Sox would have won their first World Series since 1918. Buckner’s error came in a game that had already been knotted up by Stanley’s wild pitch.

That World Series moment brought sadness to a distinguished baseball career —  a lifetime batting average of .289 in 2,517 games and a fielding percentage of .992 in 1,555 games at first base — one of a handful of players to have appeared in four baseball decades.  

When the Red Sox honored their own 1986 team a few months ago, the team flashed an image of Billy Bucks on their huge diamond vision, as his face received a kindly round of applause. But Buckner himself was home in in the flatlands of Montana where he has shielded himself and his family as peacefully as he possibly can.

He has heard the jeers and the jokes and for two decades now. Enough is enough.

In all, Buckner left the  Major Leagues with figures good enough to place him alongside first baseman such as Steve Garvey and Keith Hernandez; Hernandez being the very same gent  who was in a Mets uniform that fateful night, soaking down a beer as he watched his team rally on a clubhouse television.

Odd where life places us all.

One thing is certain. Life shouldn’t leave William Joseph Buckner as the poster boy for the past sins and curses of something called Red Sox Nation.

You’d like to think that Bob Stanley or Rich Gedman might step up out of the shadows one day and put their arms around Bill Buckner.

Like real teammates.

2 replies on “It’s Time to Free Bill Buckner”

walk-off grounder Strong piece. Loved the phrase “walk-off grounder.” Keep up the good work. Let’s see more.

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