The year was 1986. I was an 11 year old youth soccer playing Boston Red Sox fan. I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch something very historic. Instead, a man named Bill Buckner made me cry. I did not realize at the time that it was not at all his fault. I was 11, how was an eleven year old boy supposed to know that a man with 6 broken bones in his ankle should have already been subbed for defensively, right John McNamara? Or that a catcher is supposed to keep the ball in front of him at all costs, ESPECIALLY in extra innings, especially during the World Series, right Rich Gedman? Or that a guy named Bob Stanley was the last man who should have ever touched the ball in that situation? Or that Mike Greenwell should not have pinch hit before DON BAYLOR!?!?! No, I learned these things later, as my love for baseball grew, and my father explained reality to me. The historic highlight was just the end of a series of mistakes and Bill Buckner had the misfortune of being at the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time. It was also explained to me later that he was good for 100 RBI every year like the sun rising in the east. It was then that I realized what that number meant in baseball. Over 20 years, and one Mitchell report later 100 RBI’s is still as important as it was that night. The next day it meant a little less apparently.
So that moment was a turning point for me, when sports stopped being only fun and became very real, and when statistics became more than just numbers in the newspaper. I became a Buckner apologist and was proud of my defense of that man. The pain of that moment as it was continuously replayed changed. It went from the loss of a World Series to the unfair vilification of a man who helped get the Red Sox to the World Series.
Then 2004 came around and my first thought after the Red Sox won was of my grandfather who had died in 1998. The second was for Bill Buckner and the lifting of the curse that was upon him. Nothing can ever replace those 18 years of humiliation but at least it was over. That incident could become something else, and not his defining moment.
Today I’m 32 and Bill Buckner made me cry again. Not the anguished cry-myself-to-sleep-tears of 1986, but the wet eyed “I’m a man and I’m not going to cry over this” tears. Everyone heard there would be a special guest today, opening day at Fenway Park, to throw out the first pitch. And most people realized, “DUH! It’s going to be Buckner.” But that didn’t take away from the moment at all. He cried as he walked to the mound. And watching him throw the ball to Dwight Evans, then shake Johnny Pesky’s hand will be one of those moments I never forget. It was bigger than the World Series celebration that today was. Bigger than the "Curse of the Bambino". It was a chance for people to apologize, forgive and attempt to fix a past wrong. He got what we all want, a moment to shine. He got his long deserved standing ovation at Fenway and nothing can ever take that away from him or those who’ve defended him all these years. The ball between his legs is sports history, and 100 years from now it will still be shown, but now it’s just a piece of film and not the defining moment of a man who man who hit for .289, with 2715 hits, and 1208 RBI’s over a 20 year career.
If you love baseball try not to cry at the video. This is not about the Red Sox, or Boston, but rather one man and his redemption. The link is to the MLB.com article but I could not get a direct link to the video working, just click on video link within the article.