Buckner dies at age 69 to Lewy body dementia
Bill Buckner was an All-Star and batting champion, a gritty gamer who was welcome on any team.
A reliable fielder, too.
But a little grounder forever changed his legacy.
Buckner, who made one of the biggest blunders in baseball history when he let Mookie Wilson’s trickler roll through his legs during the 1986 World Series, died Monday. He was 69.
“He deserved better,” former Dodgers teammate Bobby Valentine tweeted .
Buckner died after a long battle with Lewy body dementia, his family said in a statement. The disease causes Alzheimer’s-like symptoms along with movement and other problems.
Buckner made his major league debut as a teenager, played until he was 40 and amassed 2,715 hits in between. Yet for all he accomplished, it was his error at first base in the 1986 World Series that fans always remembered.
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 Wilson hit a roller up the first base line that got past a gimpy Buckner, a misplay that let Ray Knight rush home from second base with the winning run.
The Red Sox lost 8-5 in Game 7, and their World Series drought continued until they won the championship in 2004.
In the aftermath of Boston’s near-miss, Buckner became a target of fans in New England and beyond, his mistake shown over and over on highlight reels.
“You can look at that Series and point fingers in a whole bunch of different directions,” Buckner said a decade ago. “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.
A curious thing happened over time, too: He became pals with Wilson.
“I was saddened to hear about Bill’s death,” Wilson said in a statement. “We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years. 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.”
But sure enough, several years ago when he made a guest appearance on the TV show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the main gag involved star Larry David tossing a ball autographed by Wilson toward Buckner, who lets it get past him and out the window.
A footnote: While Buckner was long 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.
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.
“I think it was a travesty the way he was last remembered,” said 67-year-old fan Blaine Macinnis from Wilmington, Massachusetts.
He is survived by his wife, Jodi, two daughters and one son.