Closure For Billy Buck?
Former Cub Bill Buckner threw out the first pitch before the Red Sox home opener Tuesday against the Tigers. In a tearful press conference--lot of that going around this week--Buckner said he had finally been able to forgive the media for the brutal treatment he and his family had received following Buckner's fateful error in Game Six of the Sox' 1986 World Series loss to the Mets.
For a whole generation of fans, Buckner's connection to that Mookie Wilson-hit ground ball has obscured the fact that the guy was a terrific baseball player. The onetime Dodger played seven full seasons on the North Side after the Cubs had acquired him and Ivan DeJesus in a January, 1977 trade for Rick Monday.
Buckner played on some terrible Cub teams between '77 and '83, and he played for some terrible managers, including Herman Franks and Lee Elia. In fact, Buckner's first season with the Cubs was the only one in which the club finished .500. But Buckner hit better than .300 four times for the Cubs and won the NL batting title in '80 with a .324 mark. He managed to do that while limping around on chronically sore ankles that required extensive treatment and taping before each and every game.
The Cubs eventually traded Buckner to Boston in May of '84, a deal that opened up an opportunity for young Leon Durham to play first base full-time and brought Dennis Eckersley to Chicago. Durham and Eckersley were key figures in the Cubs' 1984 NL East championship. (Durham, of course, had an unfortunate post-season encounter of his own with a ground ball.)
Buckner was not as productive in Boston has he had been with the Cubs, though he did collect better than 100 RBI in his two full seasons with the Red Sox. Then Mookie Wilson happened to him. And the jokes. And the bitterness.
Buckner, who ended his 22-year career in 1990 with 2715 hits and a .289 lifetime average, was one of my favorite Cubs in the years he played here. And I am happy to see that on Tuesday in Fenway Park, where he received a long standing ovation as he hobbled out to the pitching mound to throw that ceremonial first pitch, Buckner seems to have closed a miserable chapter in an otherwise distinguished Major League career.
For the record, Buckner's numbers in his seven full seasons with the Cubs ('77--'83):
Buckner's contemporaries included the likes of Steve Garvey, Ken Griffey, Eddie Murray, Pete Rose, Robin Yount, and Dave Winfield. And in the years Buckner was a Cub, he had a higher batting average than all of them.
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