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Vintage Rick: Red Sawx Basebawl. [UPDATE]

March 6, 2010

The Wikimedia caption for this picture is "Bill Buckner makes an error." That's like the understatement of the century.

Hop into Rufus’s time-traveling telephone booth, it’s time for another round of Vintage Rick! This time, the article is from December 6, 2004. Let’s get to it.

So the Sportsmen of the Year are the 2004 Boston Red Sox? Big freakin’ beans. You want to know who deserves the Sportsman urn more?

I get it, beans…for Bean Town! Good one, Reilly. Even in 2004, I think this was a tired, worn-out way to refer to Boston. I think the only people who use the bean/Bean Town riff are guys like Reilly who can’t just be content with saying Boston, they’ve got to get all clever with us…see I know things. I know that Boston is nicknamed Bean town. All this talk has given me a hankering for some Boston Baked Beans. Hell, I don’t care who gets the Sportsman urn (does anyone?), just make sure it’s filled with Boston Baked Beans, those things are freaking delicious. All right, all right…who should have won?

Bill Buckner, that’s who.

Bill Buckner, 2004 Sportman of Year! Hmm…that seems ridiculous, but go on. I’ll hear you out.

Bill Buckner, for never having taken out a Boston columnist with a hunting rifle. Bill Buckner, for not having choked one of the thousands of drunk accountants from Providence who’ve come up to him over these last 18 horrible years and said, “Gotta get that glove down, Billy Buck!”

So…Bill Buckner should have been given the 2004 Sportsman of the Year award for NOT being a murderer? OK. Makes sense. And really, what is it about accountants from Providence, gettin’ all drunk and unruly. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, you never, NEVER, wanna cross an accountant from Providence.

Bill Buckner, for not having holed up in a Tuff Shed in East Nowhere, Mont., and started a letter-bomb delivery service.

Now he gets it for not being a crazed serial killer. “We’d like to bestow the 2004 Sportsman of the Year Award upon Bill Buckner. Bill has had many achievements in these past 25 years, chief among them being that he was NOT the Unabomber. Congratulations, Bill.”

Oh, now you want to make nice? Now you want to carry around your We Forgive Bill Buckner banner at the Sox’ sweep of St. Louis? The Red Sox even wanted to bring Buckner back to Boston for the victory parade–”to give him his moment of glory,” according to their spokesman.

I am not a fan of Boston sports, and I’m even less of a supporter of Boston sports fan, and with the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox all winning titles this decade, the whole tortured Boston fan thing, is just absolutely ridiculous and yet lazy writers continue to use the angle. HOWEVER, between the Buckner incident and 2004, Boston fans were probably justified in not liking Buckner. As an outsider, I felt for both parties. Buckner was in the wrong place at the wrong time. With his knees, he probably should have never been at first. But at the same time, when a fan-base is waiting for so long, and it’s right there, well I don’t see anything wrong with Buckner not being everyone’s best friend.

You know what Bill Buckner says to all of that? Forgive what?

“My first reaction to that sign was, That’s not very nice,” says the perpetually polite 54-year-old Buckner, who is retired and living in Boise. “It really bothers me that people think that somehow I lost the World Series.”

He’s right, it was only Game 6. So it wasn’t his fault that they lost the World Series, but it was his fault that they didn’t WIN the World Series right then and there. There were two outs, two run lead. He gets the ball, it’s over. So…

[[UPDATE]]: Reader Becca says I’m wrong. And she’s right. Boston relief put in a pretty awful performance in that inning allowing the Mets to tie the game. In my crazed, Rick-Reilly-reading state, I sometimes overlook these things. Still, Buckner should have caught it, and shouldn’t win the 2004 Sportsman of the Year Award.

Buckner doesn’t like to talk about it. He doesn’t like to think about it. And he doesn’t want to be reminded about it. “I’m talking to you,” he says, “but that’s it. I’ll never do another interview on this again. Ever.”

Of course he doesn’t want to talk about it. The guy blew it.

You think he sounds bitter? Wouldn’t you be?

Yes, yes I would be. And you know what, I don’t have the apparent intestinal fortitude or inner-strength that Buckner has. If that happened to me, I’d Ted Effing Kaczynski right now. I’d be picking off journos with a high-powered rifle, and punching accountants in the face. So good work Bucky, here’s an award for a making a huge mistake 18 years ago. At least you didn’t kill anyone.

Wouldn’t you be a little torqued off that of the thousands of ground balls you fielded–99.2% successfully–fans only want to talk about that One Ground Ball? Over and over they remind you of One Ground Ball that no-hopped through your legs in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, allowing the New York Mets to beat the Red Sox that night and go on to win Game 7?

“Torqued off” is a made up thing. Also, Rick, I think you should read that paragraph again and think about it for a bit. You’ve kind of just laid out the exact reason why Buckner was a pretty deserving goat…well, and Manager John McNamara for leaving Buckner in there. A guy who fields batted balls with a 99.2% success rate should have caught the ball. Even if it didn’t bounce. Cripes. You’ve got it all right there.

“You blew the Series!” they decided. They threatened Buckner, cursed him, tormented him. It got so bad that he moved permanently to a ranch in Idaho.
I mean, he did. He did help blow the World Series…on a very easy play. It’s true. Listen, I think I like Buckner. He seems like a nice guy. He actually had a better career than a lot of people realize. 2700 hits, 1200 RBI, etc. But he did  NOT WIN that World Series.
Also, he secluded himself in Idaho? Are we sure he’s not the Unabomber? Cause that’s the main reason we gave him the 2004 Sportsman of the Year award, you know, because he’s not killing people. We should look into this. Just to be sure.

He hunted. He fished. He bought pieces of a few car dealerships. He tried to go on with his life.

Sounds lovely.

But the world wouldn’t have it. It wanted to ask about how that One Ground Ball turned his legs into wickets and extended the Curse.

Valid question, actually.

This is a guy who hit .289 lifetime. This is a guy who played 22 seasons. This is a guy who set the alltime record for most assists by a first baseman (184), in 1985.

Hey, let’s think of some stats that are more irrelevant than Buckner’s record, shall we?

  • Most looked at first strikes in a season.
  • Most times a catcher checked down to the first base umpire after a check swing
  • That’s it.

“We would’ve got nowhere near the World Series without Billy,” says his old teammate Oil Can Boyd. “He’s had 18 years of hell for nothin’.”

I’m glad Reilly dug ol’ Oil Can out of the crackhouse to add some good, credible opinions to this case. But yes, Oil Can was actually right, Buckner had a lot to do with getting them to the World Series. He played very well that year. He ALSO let an easy grounder through his legs that would have helped end the World Series had he caught it. So…

We're fairly certain this isn't Bill Buckner

And lest ye forget: Buckner’s Boot wouldn’t exist had Red Soxmanager John McNamara made his usual late-inning defensive switch, replacing Buckner with the more nimble Dave Stapleton. And Buckner’s Boot didn’t come until after Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi had given up three straight singles and McNamara had brought in Bob Stanley to try to get that last out.

We covered that before, Rick. Weren’t you paying attention? And maybe McNamara should have brought in Stapleton, but that was a really, really easy play. Buckner should have made it.

Buckner’s Boot didn’t blow the three-run lead that the Sox had in Game 7, either.

Again, absolutely right. But if makes that play: Well, there’s a decent chance there wouldn’t have been a game 7.

But you’d never know it. Buckner’s name went on the list with Typhoid Mary and Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.

Score it e-life. It’s the single most unfair thing to happen to an athlete since Vinko Bogataj’s fall during a ski jump became “the agony of defeat” for Wide World of Sports.

“I got the raw end of the deal, and I’ll always get the raw end of the deal,” Buckner says.

This isn’t totally something that happened to Buckner. The fact is that he booted an easy grounder.

Yet somehow he’s shown the patience of Hillary Clinton. He’s never once gone triple Bobby Knight on anybody. “I’ve wanted to punch people quite a few times,” he says, “but I just figured that’d be more trouble.”

In fact Buckner could barely watch the 2004 World Series on TV. “I was trying to watch it with my buddies, but I couldn’t even enjoy it,” he says. “I kept getting pissed off–them showing that play. I don’t think that’s what sports should be about. I finally got up and said, ‘Forget this.’”

But when the Sox finally won their first title in 86 years, suddenly it was Bill Buckner Amnesty Day. Overnight, Buckner was being remembered for his fine career instead of that One Ground Ball. There was this massive flood of forgiveness that reached him in Idaho: Won’t You Come Home, Bill Buckner?

I mean, this isn’t the worst thing in the world, right? At least he’s not hated anymore. The fact is, if you miss an easy ground ball that could have won your long-suffering team and fan-base a World Series, well, you’re not going to be loved. That’s just the way it is.

And Buckner’s basic reply was: Won’t You Go to Hell, Boston, Mass.?

All is not forgiven. Buckner still has to forgive the fans.

“I’m glad the Sox won and all,” he says, “and I hope people will stop bugging me now, but they won’t. It never changes.”

I guess I understand. Must be hard for the guy. What is this article about again?

So let’s give the poor man a lifetime Sportsman of the Year award.

Oh right. I forgot, giving Bill Buckner the 2004 Sportsman of the Year Award. Yeah, well, that was a stupid idea.

He’s urned it.

He didn’t. Certainly not in 2004, and certainly not for a lifetime award. Yeah, he got 2715 hits, but that was over a 22-year career. His career OBP was .321, and his career OPS was .729. That’s like good for 1400th all-time or something like that, tied with Tony Graffanino, and just below such luminaries Junior Felix and Mitch Webster. Shit, Junior Felix should get like a Sportsman of Century Award for being better than Bill Buckner. There’s been a lot of people hated by their team’s fans for a lot less than Buckner. Again, let’s not lose sight of the fact that he could have easily won the first World Series for the Red Sox in 78 years. That’s pretty bad. Everyone in Pittsburgh hated Terry Bradshaw even while he was winning Super Bowls for the Steelers. That’s unfair. When you blow a World Series, well, that’s kind of fair. Sorry, Bill. Please don’t put a bomb in my mailbox

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One Comment leave one →
  1. becca permalink
    March 8, 2010 1:28 am

    There were two outs, two run lead. He gets the ball, it’s over. So…

    No, actually. Boston had a 2-run lead heading into the bottom of the tenth. Schiraldi, one of the Boston relievers, comes in for the save to win the Series. He gets the first two outs no problem. But he can’t get the third out. He gives up a run-scoring single to Ray Knight when he has him down 0-2, and the tying run remains on third. Boston’s manager brings in another reliever, Stanley, who promptly throws a wild pitch that scores the tying run and puts the winning run on 2B. The ball goes through Buckner’s legs, game over.

    So really, Boston fans should blame Schiraldi and Stanley more than Buckner, and the sane ones do.

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