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Bill Buckner, Red Sox Scapegoat Later Embraced By Fans, Dies


Being remembered for a mistake is hard. Being the living symbol of 86 years of futility is just about impossible. That is what Bill Buckner was to Boston Red Sox fans for two decades.

Buckner died today at the age of 69. He was an All-Star player, won the National League batting title in 1980. He had a very good 22-season career, might have been remembered as a great career, if not for one moment. 1986 - the World Series between the Red Sox and the New York Mets.

Late in Game 6, the Red Sox had a two-run lead. They were one strike away from winning their first world championship since 1918. But the Mets tied the game in the 10th inning with a runner on second base. A hit would give them the win and force a Game 7. Turns out all it actually took was the most famous error in baseball history.


VIN SCULLY: Little roller up along first, behind the bag. It gets through Buckner. Here comes Knight. And the Mets win it.

KELLY: That little roller went right though Bill Buckner's legs. The Mets won, and then they went on to win the World Series the next night. Buckner's error turned the first baseman into a scapegoat. "Buckner Boots Big Grounder" was the next day's headline in the Boston Herald. Fans piled on. The media piled on. One reporter allegedly called Buckner's wife to ask if Buckner was contemplating suicide. And Buckner received death threats.

The public scorn was so intense that after he retired, he moved his family to Idaho. Few people there cared who Buckner was or what role he'd played in the 1986 World Series. It wasn't until 2004 that Buckner and Boston were on their way to making peace.


JOE BUCK: Back to Foulke. Red Sox fans have longed to hear it. The Boston Red Sox are world champions.

KELLY: It started with the Red Sox finally winning their first World Series in 86 years' time. And, of course, sweet victory heal all wounds. Still, it took another four years for Buckner to come home to Fenway Park.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Won't you please welcome him back to Boston and let him know that he is welcome always? No. 6, Bill Buckner.


KELLY: Fans there giving Buckner a two-minute ovation. Later, when he was asked if he'd had second thoughts about returning to Fenway, Bill Buckner struggled to hold back tears.


BILL BUCKNER: I really had to forgive the - not the fans of Boston, just per se, but I would say - I would have to say, in my heart, I had to forgive the media, you know, for what, you know, they put me and my family through. So you know, I've done that. I'm over that.

KELLY: In the next day's Boston Herald, the headline was, "All Is Forgiven."

Bill Buckner died today, surrounded by family, after a long battle with dementia. He was 69 years old.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say that the Mets went on to win the World Series one night after Bill Buckner’s error. In fact, the decisive seventh game was played two nights later.]

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 28, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this story, we incorrectly say that the Mets went on to win the World Series the night after Bill Buckner's error. In fact, the decisive seventh game was played two nights later because of a rainout.
Gabe O'Connor