Bill Buckner, an elite hitter for 22 seasons whose All-Star career was overshadowed by an infamous fielding error he made in the 1986 World Series, has died, according to Major League Baseball. He was 69.
His wife Jody told ESPN that Buckner was battling Lewy body dementia and was surrounded by his family before his death.
An outfielder and first baseman, Buckner played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, the California Angels and the Kansas City Royals. His playing career spanned parts of four decades, from 1969 to 1990.
Buckner won a batting title with the Cubs in 1980 (hitting .324), represented the Cubs in the 1981 All-Star Game and retired with a lifetime batting average of .289.
But his fielding error for the Red Sox against the New York Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series came to overshadow his heroics at the plate.
The Red Sox led the series 3 games to 2 and were up 5-3 in the 10th inning of the pivotal sixth game at Shea Stadium. Buckner, hobbled by ankle injuries, was often replaced at first base by another player late in games, but Red Sox manager John McNamara chose to leave him in the field to start the bottom of the 10th.
The Red Sox got two quick outs – and were one strike away from their first title since 1918 – when things unraveled. Three singles and a wild pitch later, the game was tied.
Then the Mets’ Mookie Wilson hit a grounder that dribbled up the first-base line and went underneath the glove, and through the legs, of the normally sure-handed Buckner, leading to a 6-5 Mets win.
The Mets beat the Red Sox two nights later in the deciding seventh game. And the legend of the Curse of the Bambino – the notion that the Red Sox jinxed themselves by selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 – grew larger.
Buckner became a scapegoat for the team’s hard-luck loss and endured boos and even death threats from angry Boston fans. The Red Sox released him midway through the next season, but he briefly returned to the Red Sox in 1990 as a free agent.
After retirement Buckner moved with his family to Idaho, out of the media spotlight. Boston fans eventually forgave and even embraced him. The Red Sox, who finally won the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007, invited him back to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch at the team’s home opener in 2008. Buckner received a standing ovation.
Over his career Buckner’s smooth, left-handed swing produced 2,715 hits, 174 home runs and 1,208 runs batted in. He led the National League in doubles in 1981 and tied for the league lead in doubles two years later.
“We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years,” Mookie Wilson said Monday in a statement released by the Mets. “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.”