Now that the long-suffering Boston Red Sox have won a championship, the memory of Bill Buckner allowing Mookie Wilson’s easy grounder to slip through his legs can be, if not forgotten, at least less apocalyptic. Now that a championship has found its way to the BoSox, Buckner can be remembered for the stellar hitter that he was and not a statue of infamy in the Fred Merkle/Fred Snodgrass mold.
Buckner received regular playing time at the Major league level in 1971 with the Dodgers, already showcasing the traits that would last him through his career: contact-hitting and low strikeout totals. Bill fanned just 18 times in 108 games as a rookie. But the Dodgers had quite a core of talented youths, so Buckner had to rotate around the diamond to see action. In 1972, Bill rotated between first base and the outfield corners, hitting .319 in the process.
With Wes Parker aging, Bill began to see plenty of playing time at first base in 1973 and was the most difficult first baseman to strikeout that season. When the Dodgers realized that Steve Garvey couldn’t play third base, he was moved to first base thus moving Bill to left field. His .314 BA was better than any other Major league left fielder in ’74. He also stole 31 bases and helped guide the Dodgers to the postseason. Bill clubbed a homerun in the World Series but it wasn’t enough to defeat the Oakland A’s.
Still in left field in 1976, Bill led all left fielders with 193 hits. He was able to return to his natural position in 1977, due to a trade that sent him to the Cubs. He was the toughest first baseman to strikeout in the Major Leagues in ’77. He hit .323 in ’78 – best among NL first basemen – while fanning just 17 times in 446 at-bats.
A line-drive hitter with occasional pop, Bill was better suited for lashing doubles to the corners and gaps than smacking the ball over the fence. He totaled 34 doubles for the Cubs in 1979. In 1980, Bill won the NL batting title with a .324 BA. His 41 doubles tied for second in the NL and he had the distinction of being the toughest strikeout victim in baseball that year. For his great season, Bill netted a handful of MVP votes.
After Bill’s batting title season, the Cubs fell to the cellar in ’81. Bill did his part, tying for the league lead in doubles while driving home 22% of the Cubs runs. Hall of famers Mike Schmidt (20%) and Gary Carter (17%) drove in a fewer percentage of runs for their team than Bucky. Bill drove in 105 runs in 1982 – third in the NL – while finishing second in base hits with 201.
Bill led the NL in two-baggers in ’83, smacking out 38 doubles and was rewarded for his solid extra-base hitting by getting traded to the Red Sox in ’84. The trade netted the Cubs backup infielder Mike Brumley and future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. Bill took his penchant for doubles to the AL finishing second in that department in 1985.
It was 1986 when Bill helped guide the Red Sox to the World Series by driving in 102 runs. What BoSox fans failed to realize for a number of years was, that without Buckner, they never would have made the postseason, let alone the World Series. But when he allowed Wilson’s grounder to bound passed him, he became one of baseball’s biggest goats. The stigma of the error forced the Sox to release Buckner and his .273 batting average during the ’87 season. He played two more years with the Angels and Royals before making a return trip to Boston to end his career in 1990.
Bill has 2,715 career base hits. This total dwarfs the numbers of many Hall of fame first basemen. His career hits total is higher than Hall of Fame initial sackers Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew, Johnny Mize, Jimmie Foxx, Bill Terry, Jim Bottomley, George Kelly, Frank Chance, Roger Connor and Dan Brouthers.
G 2,517/R 1,077/H 2,715/2B 498/HR 174/RBI 1,208/BB 450/SO 453/SB 183/BA .289/SA .408