Boston forgave him; why can’t baseball writers do the same? (Credit)
“Little roller up along first. Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!”
Vin Scully’s broadcast of Mookie Wilson’s 10th inning ground ball in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series sends chills through the hearts of Red Sox Nation. Buckner, a journeyman baseball player, gained immortality because a ground ball went through his legs. In the hearts and minds of baseball fans, Buckner’s error lost the World Series for the Red Sox.
Never mind that Buckner, a veteran ballplayer with bad knees, might not have beat Wilson to the bag even if he fielded the ball.
Never mind that the Red Sox committed tactical mistakes leading up to the Wilson grounder.
Never mind that the Mets victory in Game 6 tied the World Series at three games apiece – the Red Sox still had a chance to win the series with a victory in Game 7. Alas, they did not.
But one error, despite its fame, does not define a career. Buckner may even be worthy of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Outrageous? Statistics say otherwise.
Using a four-point paradigm of hits, doubles, RBI, and batting average, Buckner’s statistics compare nicely to some other Hall of Famers. The four points are based on hitting ability (number of hits), hitting power (number of doubles), clutch hitting (RBI), and consistency (career batting average).
Bill Buckner played 2,517 games between 1969 and 1990 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, California Angels, and Kansas City Royals. A first baseman and left fielder, Buckner racked up 2,715 hits, 498 doubles, 1,208 RBI, and held a .289 batting average.
Bill Mazeroski, second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates, played 2,163 games from 1956-1972. His career numbers against Buckner’s:
Phil Rizzuto, shortstop for the New York Yankees, played 1,661 games from 1941-1956. His career numbers against Buckner’s:
Johnny Evers of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double play fame played for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Chicago White Sox in a career spanning 1902 to 1917 with one-game stints in 1922 and 1929. His career numbers against Buckner’s:
Lawrence Peter Berra, a.k.a. Yogi, played catcher for the New York Yankees from 1946-1963 and returned to the major leagues in 1965 with the New York Mets. He played four games in the ’65 season and 2120 games in his major league tenure. His career numbers against Buckner’s:
To be fair, offensive output in the traditional categories is not the only benchmark for Cooperstown.
Mazeroski earned eight Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess.
Rizzuto was a master of the bunt, often used sacrificially to advance runners.
Evers made his name on defense in the most hallowed of double play combinations.
Berra won the American League Most Valuable Player award three times, played on the American League All-Star team fifteen times, and exemplified the importance of defense in the catcher position.
Still, Buckner’s performance during a career lasting more than 20 years deserves further scrutiny by the baseball writers making the ultimate call on the worthiness of a player getting inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Based on statistics, Buckner’s entry is viable.
Statistics, after all, are stubborn things.
By: David Krell, Baseball Historian