Bill Buckner, who sadly became most famous for letting a groundball roll through his legs, died Monday. He was 69.
The ex-Major League Baseball All-Star and longtime Boise resident died after a long battle with Lewy body dementia, Buckner’s family said in a statement. The disease causes Alzheimer’s-like symptoms along with movement and other problems.
At Fenway Park on Monday, video clips of Buckner’s 22-year career were shown on the scoreboard before the Red Sox hosted Cleveland. His picture was posted and there was a moment of silence, followed by applause from the crowd.
“Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life,” his family said.
But Buckner’s legacy is far greater than a simple fielding error.
He won an NL batting title, was an All-Star, played in 2,517 games from 1969 to 1990 for five teams and racked up 2,715 hits in a 22-year career. Buckner was also one of just five players to appear in a game in the 1960’s and 1990’s. Carlton Fisk, Rick Dempsey, Nolan Ryan and Jerry Reuss were the others.
Buckner had more than 10,000 plate appearance and struck out just 4.5 percent of time. The only other player in the expansion era with a lower strikeout rate was Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
But Buckner’s name was always associated with that little groundball in the 1986 World Series.
Trying for their first crown since 1918, the Boston Red Sox led the New York Mets 5-3 going into the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6 at Shea Stadium.
The Mets tied it with two outs., then Mookie Wilson hit a trickler up the first base line that rolled through Buckner’s legs, an error that let Ray Knight rush home from second base for the winning run.
While Buckner was criticized for the error, many in baseball contend that even if the ball had been handled cleanly, the speedy Wilson would have beaten it anyway.
However, that didn’t matter.
The Red Sox lost 8-5 in Game 7. Buckner was released from the team the following summer.
“I think it was a travesty the way he was last remembered,” said 67-year-old Red Sox fan Blaine Macinnis from Wilmington, Massachusetts. “It was a great injustice of how he ended it with that last play. It’s a shame. That’s how life is.”
In the aftermath of Boston’s near-miss, Buckner became a target of fans in New England and beyond, with his misplay shown over and over on highlight reels.
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It’s what caused him to move out west and eventually end up in Boise for a time.
He was the hitting coach for the Boise Hawks from 2012-13. During Buckner’s time with the Hawks, he coached current big leaguers: Albert Almora (Cubs), David Bote (Cubs), Kris Bryant (Cubs),Willson Contreras (Cubs), Kyle Schwarber (Cubs), Jeimer Candelario (Tigers), Gleyber Torres (Yankees) and Daniel Vogelbach (Mariners).
Buckner was once ejected from a Hawks game for arguing over a strike three call for a batter not getting back in the box fast enough. Instead of leaving the stadium, he showered before grabbing a six pack of beer and watching the rest of the game from the stands.
Buckner was also frequently seen in the community, particularly at Boise State football and basketball games.
“I was deeply saddened to hear the news this morning of Bill’s passing. My heartfelt prayers go out to his wife Jody, and their three beautiful children, Brittany, Christen and Bobby,” Boise State baseball coach Gary Van Tol, who was the Hawks’ head coach during Buckner’s tenure, said in a statement.
“... he taught me humility, dignity, grace and patience. He had a following wherever we went. People waited for him before we arrived to the stadium and stayed around well after the game to shake his hand, get his autograph or take a picture. He always made time for others. He impacted so many people in the game of baseball including all of us in Boise, where he called home.”
Bobby Buckner played for Boise High School where a few of the practice facilities there were named after his father.
Bill Buckner also owned three car dealerships, including one in Emmett and several commercial properties. He had a home near Table Rock that sold for $1.7 million in 2013.
Buckner did end up making amends with the Red Sox.
In 2008, Buckner accepted an invitation to throw out the first ball for the home opener at Fenway Park as the Red Sox celebrated winning another title. They won their first in 86 years in 2004.
Buckner drew loud cheers as he walked from the Green Monster in left field to the mound, and made his ceremonial toss to former teammate Dwight Evans.
Buckner said the moment was “probably about as emotional as it could get.”
“I really had to forgive,” he said later that day, “not the fans of Boston per se, but I would have to say, in my heart, I had to forgive the media for what they put me and my family through. So I’ve done that. I’m over that. And I’m just happy that I just try to think of the positive. The happy things.”
“You can look at that Series and point fingers in a whole bunch of different directions. We did the best we could to win there and it just didn’t happen and I didn’t feel like I deserved so much blame.”
Buckner made his big league debut with the Dodgers at 19 in 1969, was a batting champ with the Cubs and played until he was 40. He had a career .289 average and over 100 RBIs in three seasons, twice with Boston. Buckner finished with 174 home runs and 1,208 RBIs.