Bill Buckner, the 1980 National League batting champion who registered more than 2,700 hits during a career that touched four decades, died Monday after a battle with dementia. He was 69.
Buckner debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers at age 19 in 1969, became an All-Star, won a batting title with the Chicago Cubs, and committed the infamous error at first base for the Boston Red Sox during the 1986 World Series.
“After battling the disease of Lewy Body Dementia, Bill Buckner passed away early the morning of May 27th surrounded by his family,” his family said in a statement. “Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life. Our hearts are broken but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Buckner batted better than .300 in seven seasons, including a National League-leading .324 clip in 1980. The left-handed batter also led the NL in doubles in his All-Star season of 1981 (35) and 1983 (38) and retired after the 1990 season with a .289 lifetime average and 2,715 hits, 174 homers, 498 doubles, 1,077 runs and 1,208 RBIs in 2,517 games.
Despite those numbers, Buckner was forever linked to his defensive gaffe in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets.
Seeking their first title since 1918, the Red Sox were up 3-2 in the series and leading 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning. After the Mets scored two runs to tie it, a ground ball by Mookie Wilson passed through Buckner’s legs and allowed Ray Knight to score the winning run. New York went on to win Game 7, and the error became the defining moment of Buckner’s career.
“We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years,” Wilson said, via the Mets. “I felt badly for some of the things he went through. Bill was a great, great baseball player whose legacy should not be defined by one play.”
Buckner returned to Boston’s Fenway Park for the 2008 home opener, after the Red Sox had won their second World Series in four years. He received a two-minute standing ovation before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
“I thought (that) was kind of a healing moment, it seemed, for a lot of people and maybe for him, I hope,” Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox skipper in 2008, said on MLB.com. “You have to be up here to understand how people take things that happen. I thought that was a really cool moment.”
Red Sox owner John Henry remembered Buckner in a statement.
“We are proud that Bill Buckner wore a Red Sox jersey during the course of a terrific career,” Henry said through the club. .”..His life was defined by perseverance, resilience and an insatiable will to win. Those are the traits for which he will be most remembered. We join the baseball world in sending our condolences and our love to (wife Jody) and the entire Buckner family.”
Buckner played for the Dodgers (1969-76), Cubs (1977-84), Red Sox (1984-87, 1990), California Angels (1987-88) and Kansas City Royals (1988-89).
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Bill Buckner, a great ballplayer and beloved member of the Cubs family,” Cubs executive chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “After his playing days, Bill served as a valuable member of our player development staff and was a fan favorite during his appearances at Cubs Conventions.”
Former Dodgers teammate and longtime major league manager Bobby Valentine expressed his grief on social media. “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,” Valentine tweeted.
Buckner, who retired to Boise, Idaho, is survived by his wife and three children: Brittany, Christen and Bobby.
–Field Level Media