December 14 – Happy Birthday Billy Buckner
I remember it was a Saturday night and I was watching the game at home in our family room with my eight-year-old son, Matthew John. The televised broadcast had started late but I had told Matt and his Mom that he could stay up with me to watch it. Wouldn’t you know, the score was tied 3-3 after nine innings and midnight was quickly approaching. My son was the only one of our four children who was an early riser. He’d wake up at between 6AM and 7AM without the assistance of a nagging parent or buzzing alarm clock, regardless of what time he went to bed the night before. If we were going to New York City to see a ball game or flying down to Disney World and needed to get an early start, Matt usually was the one who woke me up at 4AM the morning of the trip to tell me I had to get moving. But usually, the kid was in bed and sleeping by 9PM every night.
So during the commercial break between the ninth and tenth inning, I was telling my oldest boy he needed to get upstairs and go to bed. But I was doing it very quietly and without any urgency in my voice because if the truth be known, I loved watching baseball games with my son Matt because he enjoyed them so much. On top of that, the game we were watching that night had the makings of becoming a classic.
When the visiting team scored two runs in the top half of the tenth, I thought it was over and began having a real tough time keeping both my eyes open. I reminded Matt we had to get up for Church in the morning but he really wanted to see the end of that game, so I again relented. Sure enough, after two fly ball outs began the bottom of the tenth, the home team started a rally. Three straight singles and a wild pitch later, the score was tied and the two of us were sitting there in our family room staring at each other in absolute amazement. I will never ever forget the look on my son’s face when moments later, the baseball squiggled through the worn out legs of today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant. We were both Yankee fans so we really had no skin in this game, but being able to watch this magnificent contest and doing so together, remains one of the all-time great memories America’s national past time has brought to my life.
At the same time, I remember feeling instantly bad for Billy Buckner. He did not deserve the vilification he incurred following that miscue. The guy had been a baseball warrior for fifteen big league seasons before Mookie Wilson hit that ground ball toward him that night. He had absolutely over-produced during his two-plus seasons in Boston, driving in more than 100 runs in both 1985 and ’86. When he finally retired as a player, he had accumulated over 2,700 big league hits, scored close to 1,100 times and driven in over 1,200 runs. What I remember most about him today as I write this post, is how hard and how well he played the game over a long period of time. A career cannot and should not be judged by a single moment and no one proved that point better than the gallant Billy Buckner.