Today is the anniversary of one of the most memorable moments in baseball history: Mookie Wilson’s ground ball through Bill Buckner’s legs to cap an amazing rally in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
This moment has been replayed so many times, with Buckner as the focal point. We’re glad to see he can make light of it on a show like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on which he recently guest-starred.
However, there are some things about Buckner’s career, both good and bad, that are often forgotten as a result.
We’ve done a lot of research on this subject (and many others related to that game), and thought it would be worthwhile to share 10 things about Buckner that you might not know.
1. Bill Buckner made his major league debut for the Dodgers on Sept. 21, 1969. He pinch-hit in the ninth inning and popped out.
What was prominent about that game? The Giants beat the Dodgers that day, 4-3 in walkoff fashion. The game ended on a ground ball to shortstop Maury Wills. And it went through his legs for a game-ending error. How’s that for career foreshadowing?
2. The next spring, Buckner broke his jaw and was knocked unconscious during an outfield collision in spring training, emblematic of the intensity with which Buckner would play throughout his career. Who was on the other end of the accident? It was his then-teammate, Bobby Valentine. The two remain good friends to this day.
3. As a young player, Buckner was viewed as having great potential. "This is a boy who can become a batting champion,” Hall of Famer Ted Williams told the Los Angeles Times in the early 1970s. That would prove prophetic. Buckner won a batting title in 1980.
Buckner was also a little on the cocky side. At one appearance as a member of the Dodgers, he was quoted by the Times as saying “The Dodgers may now have Frank Robinson and Tommy John, but they wouldn't have a chance at a pennant if they trade me."
4. Buckner was a footnote to another moment in history. He was the Dodgers left fielder who climbed the fence to try to catch Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run on April 8, 1974.
5. Buckner was a good hitter. He hit .300 or better seven times and finished his 22-season career with 2,715 hits. His best attribute was his ability to make contact. His season high for strikeouts was 39, and he was the toughest hitter to strike out in his league in four different seasons, including 1986.
In fact, Buckner ranks second among players who debuted in the Division Play Era (since 1969) in most plate appearances per strikeout. He struck out every 22.2 plate appearances (a rate better than Joe DiMaggio), only surpassed in that era by Tony Gwynn’s 23.6.
6. Buckner was a good hitter and a good baseball player in many ways, but he did have a few flaws in his offensive game. His single-season high for walks was 40, in 1986, and his career on-base percentage of .321 was only 32 points higher than his batting average. His highest career ranking in the offensive statistical categories, according to his page on Baseball-Reference.com, is 30th -- in ground-ball double plays.
7. When Buckner was traded to the Red Sox for Dennis Eckersley, a friend of Eckersley’s was quoted in the Boston media as saying: “Nothing against Bill Buckner, but (this trade) stinks."
Eckersley’s friend? Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley, who would be on the mound when Mookie Wilson’s ground ball went through Buckner’s legs.
8. Buckner was one of the Red Sox's best hitters down the stretch in 1986. In a 27-game span from Aug. 21 to Sept. 19, he hit .368 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs. He ended up finishing second on the team with 102 RBIs.
9. Just for Buckner to be out on the field for the 1986 World Series was impressive, virtually a medical miracle. He was playing with a severely injured Achilles, an ankle injury that had plagued him since 1975.
Wrote Ray Sons of the Chicago Sun-Times, “Watching Bill Buckner try to play in this World Series makes one wince. He said before the Series began that someone would have to shoot him to keep him out of it. If he were a racehorse, someone would. Every game, the No. 3 man in the Red Sox batting order extends his Series record for most innings played without ankles. The pain and frustration are written all over his face. The question must be asked: Should he be out there at all?”
10. The unfortunate thing for Buckner was that despite his willingness to play hurt, his World Series performance was not up to his usual standards. Buckner hit .188 with just one RBI in 33 plate appearances in the World Series. He was 1-for-17 with men on base, 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Baseball-Reference.com uses the metric Win Probability Added to evaluate on a play-by-play basis how much a player contributed to his team’s winning or losing the game. Coming through or failing in a key moment is worth more by this metric than hitting a home run in a blowout.
Buckner had the worst Win Probability Added of any hitter in the 1986 World Series (-.468), and that doesn’t even take into account his fate in the field.
In Game 7, Buckner had a chance to add to a 3-0 Red Sox lead with two men on and two out when he came to bat in the second inning. He hit a fly ball to left center on which the center fielder raced over about a dozen steps to make the catch. The man who caught the ball is still linked with Buckner 25 years later, Mookie Wilson.