Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Forgiveness, America has long been a country that has been big on it. Yesterday the fans of the Boston Red Sox forgave somebody. Somebody who they didn't really need to forgive, somebody who had already forgiven, though not forgotten, them. In the process they purged themselves of some of their own guilt for the horribly shabby treatment they gave a man who by all accounts was a class act, Bill Buckner.
Bill Buckner, the N.L. batting champion in 1980, an All Star in 1981, a consistent contact hitter who four times led the league in fewest strikeouts per at-bat was doomed, struck by lightning, destined for a lifetime on the highlight reel of ignominy by a fielding error at a crucial moment in the 1986 World Series. Buckner's gaffe was so pivotal, so remembered, such a signature play that it is resurrected during every fall classic, and is always brought up (unfairly) on the list of all-time sports choke jobs. The error was the final blow in a potential World Series clinching Game Six. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th Buckner missed a ground ball hit by Mookie Wilson allowing Nancy Lopez's husband, Ray Knight to score the game winning run for the Mets. What is often forgotten or omitted is the Red Sox bullpen tanked first. Calvin Schiraldi allowed three straight singles, Bob Stanley wild pitched in a run, and allowed Knight to advance into scoring position. All this was before Buckner's error, it was already one of the most dramatic World Series games ever. Mookie Wilson never gets credit for fouling off a zillion pitches, but the power of the television image, and the modern media monolith made Buckner a goat, an epic goat, in a sports crazy city.
We can say it wasn't his fault. It wasn't. We can say he handled it like a class act. He did. We can say he was a good player besides. He was. None of it changes the facts, that an unfortunate set of circumstances, in his chosen sport, made this man such a well known object of public ridicule and hatred that he and his family received numerous death threats, and eventually moved to the relative isolation of Idaho.
Yesterday at Fenway Park during the celebration of the 2007 World Series championship, the Red Sox second in four years, the emotion flowed freely. The Red Sox introduced many former greats, no one got a louder ovation than Buckner. In the space of three minutes, the Red Sox fans tried their darndest to make up for 20 years of boorish, awful behavior. Buckner was moved to misty, near teariness. Buckner, after facing such vitriolic hatred, had long stayed away from Boston and Fenway. Would this have happened without the 2004 and 2007 titles? Quien sabe? Did it make up for the past treatment of Buckner and family? No, but, it was a good thing to do, a kind thing. It was a nice moment for the man and the fan.