Today, May 27, 2019, former Chicago Cubs first baseman and all-star Bill Buckner passed away at the age of 69.
William Joseph Buckner was born on December 14, 1949, in Vallejo, CA. He was drafted in the second round of the 1968 MLB amateur draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He made his big league debut on September 21st, 1969 against the San Francisco Giants, coming on as a pinch hitter with two on and two out in the top of the ninth inning with the score tied 3-3 against Gaylord Perry (insert eye emoji). That would be his only at-bat of the 1969 season, and he’d go on to play until 1990 when he appeared in his final MLB game as a member of the Boston Red Sox. His final game came on May 30th, 1990, against the Texas Rangers, where he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth with the score tied 3-3 (so close to the perfect poetic symmetry that baseball lore does best). He was a good to really good talent throughout his career, but sadly he’s most commonly associated with one solitary play (more on that to come).
Buckner’s career triple slash was .289/.321/.408 with 174 HR, 1,208 RBI, 1.077 R, and 183 SB. It’s easy to argue that his time with the Cubs was the best stretch of his career. His stint on the North Side of Chicago began in 1977 when he was traded by the Dodgers along with Jeff Albert and Ivan de Jesus for Rick Monday and Mike Garman. During Buckner’s Cubs tenure (1977-1984), his slash line was .300/.332/.439 with 81 HR, 516 RBI, 448 R, and 56 SB. It also saw him score his only career all-star appearance in 1981, and he scored MVP votes in four of those seasons, finishing tenth in both 1981 and 1982.
Supplanted at first base by Leon Durham to start 1984, Billy Buck was traded to the Boston Red Sox for “utility man” Mike Brumley (career WAR of -2.4 is impressive) and SP(!) Dennis Eckersley. With Buckner out of Chicago, he was not a part of the 1984 NLCS meltdown, but perhaps it served as a harbinger of things to come. Buckner’s time with the Red Sox and his entire career is encapsulated in one highlight (I told ya we’d get here). As much as I didn’t want to include it, I’ve gotta do it.
It was reported today that Bill Buckner suffered from and ultimately lost his battle to Lewy Body Dementia. That diagnosis may sound similar to you Chicago fans and comedy fans around the world, as it was the same brain disease that took Chicago Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita and all-world performer Robin Williams away far too soon. 69 is too young, and it hits all the harder with someone who is a great example for all like Buckner. Rather than let that error define him, he owned it. He wasn’t afraid to talk about it, and he even had some fun with it. That’s why I want to close out on this clip. In 2011, Buckner appeared as a satirical representation of himself on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. During an episode in the eighth season, Billy and the grounder are consistently the butts of the jokes. The karmic justice is strong, as the man most famous for a miss makes the catch of a lifetime. Rest in peace, Bill Buckner.
Featured Photo: Northwest Herald. All stats and dates referenced courtesy of Baseball-reference.com