Bill Buckner, a veteran of 22 Major League Baseball seasons who is widely remembered for one agonizing moment in a World Series game, died Monday at the age of 69 in his hometown of Vallejo, California.
Prior to his death, Buckner had been battling Lewy body dementia.
Buckner had significant ties to the Pacific Northwest, playing on the fabled Spokane Indians teams affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers (and managed by Tommy Lasorda) and spending years in Boise after his retirement from baseball.
Despite his status as one of baseball’s great contact hitters – including a National League batting title and 1,994 singles that place him in the top 50 in major league history – it was his error while playing first base for the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets that ends up on highlight shows each October.
Buckner’s miscue on a grounder by New York’s Mookie Wilson allowed the Mets to win Game 6 in extra innings and ultimately the World Series. It proved to be another frustrating chapter in Boston’s decades-long inability to capture baseball’s biggest prize.
While that 10th-inning error would shadow his career, history has often overlooked Buckner’s prowess at the plate. Among the highlights:
Buckner compiled 2,715 hits, putting him within shouting range of the 3,000-hit mark that often defines a Hall of Fame career. His hits total ranks second only to recently retired Carlos Beltran among former Spokane Indians who played in the major leagues.
While playing for the Chicago Cubs in 1980, Buckner led the National League with a .324 batting average. He also led the National League in doubles twice – in 1981 and 1983.
Buckner was an All-Star selection in the 1981 strike-shortened season. His 131 hits that year were the second most in the National League.
Buckner struck out just 453 times in 9,937 career at-bats.
Buckner spent parts of two seasons playing for the Spokane Indians in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. In 1969, he hit .316 in 36 games after being promoted from Double-A Albuquerque. In 111 games in 1970, Buckner hit .335 for Spokane before he was promoted to the Dodgers. He played mostly in the outfield in Spokane.
With Spokane, Buckner made up part of the 1970 Pacific Coast League championship team that’s generally considered one of the best minor league teams of all time – also featuring Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Bobby Valentine.
Valentine tweeted about his friend and former teammate Sunday:
“As I clear my head and hold back the tears I know I will always remember Billy Buck as a great hitter and a better friend. He deserved better. Thank god for his family. I’ll miss u Buck!”
In an interview later in his life with the Boston Globe, Buckner revealed how he dealt with being tied to one of baseball’s biggest blunders.
“People’s lives, health, family are much more important,” Buckner said. “You’ve got to enjoy the good when you’ve got it. But life is not all good things. You’ve got to rebound.”
Moving to Boise after his playing days ended in 1990, Buckner was a regular sight at Boise State University athletic events. His son, Bobby Buckner, played baseball at Boise High. Some of the practice facilities at Boise High are named for him, according to the Idaho Statesman.
In 2012 and 2013, Buckner was the hitting coach for the Boise Hawks of the Northwest League. The Spokane Indians honored Buckner in 2012 when he returned to town with the Hawks.
Contributing: Former Spokesman-Review sports staffer Jim Price, Spokesman-Review news services
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