Bill Buckner

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William Joseph Buckner
(Billy Buck)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Bill Buckner played in the majors in four decades and was one of baseball's better hitters of the late 1970s and early 1980s but is unfortunately best remembered for making an infamous error in the 1986 World Series.

Buckner broke into the majors at the age of 19, with the Los Angeles Dodgers at a time when they had a large crop of great young ballplayers. On that same 1969 team were Bobby Valentine (age 19), Steve Garvey (age 20), Bill Russell (age 20), Willie Crawford (age 22), and Don Sutton (age 24), among others.

Buckner spent his first eight seasons in L.A., playing in 140+ games three times. He hit .319 in 1972, .314 in 1974 (with 31 stolen bases), and .301 in 1976 (with 28 stolen bases). Other than in 1973, he was used primarily as an outfielder. He had 20 at-bats in the 1974 World Series, hitting .250.

Buckner was traded prior to the 1977 season to the Chicago Cubs, where he became primarily a first baseman. He played with the Cubs for more than eight seasons and hit over .300 four times, including a league-leading .324 in 1980. Although he hit .311 with 35 doubles in 1981, the Cubs that year were the butt of many jokes for their poor performance.

The Cubs went on to win the division in 1984, but Buckner was traded to the Boston Red Sox early in the season. He played two full years with Boston, driving in 100+ runs each time. However, his tenure with the Red Sox will be forever remembered for famously letting Mookie Wilson's groundball trickle through his legs in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Like Fred Merkle, Buckner was a good ballplayer unfairly remembered for a single error.

Buckner set a record for a major league first baseman with 184 assists in 1985. The record stood for 24 years until broken by Albert Pujols.

Buckner closed out his career with the California Angels, Kansas City Royals, and a brief stint at age 40 with the Red Sox again.

In his 22 years, Buckner accumulated 2,715 hits but appeared in the All-Star Game only once, in 1981. His highest finish in the MVP voting was tenth (which he did two times). He was in the top ten in batting six times, and was twice third in the league in RBI. He led the league in doubles twice, and singles once. He was not a big walker, usually getting 25-30 in a season. He was a moderate home run hitter, with his highest total being 18. He was a line-drive hitter, whose power manifested itself chiefly in doubles hit to gaps in the outfield. Eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1996, he received 2% of the vote and was dropped from the ballot.

Buckner after retirement

After his playing days, Buckner was a Chicago White Sox coach in 1996 and 1997. In 2011, he returned to the Boston area as manager of the independent Brockton Rox of the Can-Am Association. In 2012, he was hired by the Chicago Cubs to be the hitting coach for the Boise Hawks, a role he returned to in 2013.

Buckner suffered from the disease of Lewy Body Dementia, and passed away at the age of 69 on the morning of May 27, 2019. He was survived by his wife, Jody, and three children, Brittany, Christen and Bobby, who played baseball at the collegiate level.

Two of Buckner's brothers played minor league baseball. Jim Buckner played outfield from 1972 to 1981, and Bob Buckner played infield from 1966 to 1970 and scouted for the Chicago Cubs from 1977 to 1979. His cousin Matt Carson played in the majors and his cousin Clayton Carson coached in college.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 1971 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
  • NL All-Star (1981)
  • NL Batting Average Leader (1980)
  • NL At Bats Leader (1982)
  • NL Singles Leader (1982)
  • 2-time NL Doubles Leader (1981 & 1983)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 3 (1982, 1985 & 1986)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 2 (1982 & 1985)

Year-By-Year Minor League Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs
2011 Brockton Rox Can-Am Association 51-42 4th Independent Leagues Lost in 1st round

Further Reading[edit]

  • Bill Buckner (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, April 1981, pp. 76-78. [1]
  • Jeff English: "Bill Buckner", in Bill Nowlin and Leslie Heaphy, ed.: The 1986 Boston Red Sox: There Was More Than Game 6, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016. pp. 34-43. ISBN 978-1-943816-19-4
  • Steve Gardner: "Bill Buckner, a batting champion infamous for World Series gaffe, dies at 69", USA Today, May 27, 2019. [2]
  • Bob Nightengale: "One play should not define Bill Buckner. The former MLB All-Star epitomized class", USA Today, May 27, 2019. [3]

Related Sites[edit]