Friday, June 12, 2009

#114 -- Bill Buckner

Bill Buckner

This is one of my favorite cards in the set. He's holding the bat in a "coming at you" pose and it intersects neatly with his Topps All-Rookie Team cup of gold. You can see under the hat he's got a full head of black hair, with long sideburns and heck of a set of eyebrows crawling over his eyes. So far we've had Buckner and Andy Etchebarren with the eyebrows. I remember there being more. Has something happened in the last 35 years? Have some of those chemicals Al Gore rails against caused guys to have thinning in their eyebrow hair? Or have some of those chemicals Bud Selig rails against caused eyebrows to thin? I just don't see thick bushy eyebrows on today's player and (except for Eric Byrnes) don't tell me they sit around and tweese or wax them.

Buckner was a good all-around player when he came up. He played first and the corner outfield spots well. He didn't remind anybody of Maury Wills, but he stole 15-30 bases a year. He had doubles power and hit for average. Then he had a horrific ankle injury and that slowed him down. Later in his career, he just didn't move around well. However, he was still a .280-.300 hitter and didn't strike out (although he didn't take a walk, either).

Buckner isn't known for having 2700 career hits, a batting title, holding the record for assists by a first baseman or an All-Star appearance. Nope. He's known for something he supposedly did wrong. We all know what it is and I don't want to go there. That seems to be all we remember. The Sox actually waived him in 1987 while he was hitting .276 with 2 homers and 42 RBI. Yep. Didn't want anything for him, all so they could bring in future Hall of Famer Sam Horn. Acutally, that was probably more of a mercy thing for Billy Buck because Boston fans can be harsh. He went on to hit over .300 for the Angels after they grabbed him up. He struggled in 1988 and 1989 with the Angels and Royals. His 1988 card still shows he had quite the head of hair.

Buckner ended up going back to the Red Sox to finish his career in 1990. He didn't do well and was released in early June. However, before he was released, he hit his last career homer in Fenway Park. Was it an opposite field shot over the Monster? Did he curl one in around Pesky's Pole? Did he pour everything he had and lay into one and hit it out to the Triangle? Nope. This 41 year old with bad ankles managed an inside the park homer. The play-by-play says it went down the right field line, which is the shortest part of the park, but has some tough angles. Claudell Washington was playing right field that day and you have to wonder if he wasn't stricken with a nasty case of something for him to mess around with the ball long enough for Buckner to circle the bases. Or maybe it was like the end of the Bad News Bears movie when the opposing team's pitcher held the ball while Tanner (?) rounded the bases. If I remember right, he was mad at his Marinovich-like father. In any event, Buckner's last homer had to be his most improbable.

Sorry Mets fans (and I know some of you admit to it). I'm not going to show the video.

1972 Feature
June 12, 1972 was a light day on the schedule. There were only 6 games in the big leagues as half the teams had the day off. There was 1 blowout, 1 slugfest and 4 pitchers' duels. Maybe that's why I still appreciate the baseball of the day.

The best of the pitchers' duels would have been Pat Dobson and the Orioles hanging a 1-0 loss on Vida Blue (0-3 now after his dual Cy Young/MVP season). However, I'm going with the slugfest down on Peach Tree Street in Atlanta for my Game of the Day.

This starts out as a pitching duel between Gary Gentry of the Mets and Phil Niekro of the Braves. After 6, the Mets are up 2-1. The only scoring has come on solo homers by John Milner and Wayne Garrett of the Mets and Earl Williams of the Braves.

In the 7th the Mets loaded the bases with 1 out. The play account says Duffy Dyer hit a grounder to Niekro and he forced the runner at the plate. I'd want to know why they weren't able to get Dyer, a catcher, to complete the 1-2-3 double play and get out of the inning. Gentry then stepped up with a 2-run single to left and, after an error, Buddy Harrelson singled in another. The Braves came back with 3 in their half of the 7th on singles by Dusty Baker and Mike Lum.

In the 8th, Buzz Hardin replaced Niekro (who'd been lifted for a pinch-hitter) and he was promptly greeted with a solo homer by Rusty Staub. That was enough and Cecil Upshaw came in and gave up a 1-out homer to Ken Boswell and the Mets were up 7-4.

The Braves then took the lead in the bottom of the 8th off Faith Hill's father-in-law. With nobody out, Rico Carty knocked in a run. Next, two runs scored to tie the game on a wild throw by Met third baseman Wayne Garrett and Darrell Evans made it to third as the go-ahead run, still with nobody out. He wasn't able to score on Earl Williams' grounder to third. He was able to score when centerfielder Tommie Agee couldn't catch Dusty Baker's fly ball (he still got credit for a sac fly). Upshaw then put down the Mets 1-2-3 and that was the end to a wild game.


  1. Billy Buck was an excellent player and it's too bad about the ankle or else I think we might have seen him in the hall of fame.

    I always wished the Dodgers held on to him, but after Rick Monday hit that HR against Montreal in 1981, I can't complain.

  2. Nice write up! It's a shame that Billy Buck's career is remembered for just one play. The best part of his career was with the Cubs in the late '70s and early '80's. He is one of my favorite Cubs of all time.

  3. It was Englebert that rounded the bases while the pitcher held the ball. Wish it was Tanner though, that kid was awesome. "Booger eatin' spazz!"

  4. Engelbert, the fat catcher, hit the ground ball to the pitcher inside the park HR

  5. I always remember Buckner more for trying to scale the fence in vain at Fulton County Stadium to try and nab Hank Aaron's 715th than for 1986. Even if BB fielded that ball cleanly, it's unlikely he'd had gotten the runner at first anyway. He shouldn't have even been in the game at that point anyway, because they usually lifted him for a defensive replacement.

    Besides, Boston had a whole other game they could've won two nights later, so lay off Buckner already, Red Sox Nation...

  6. To Dean Family and LA Mikey, thanks for picking me up on the Bad News Bears facts. I really should watch that game again.

    To Brian, I know what you mean about the thought that Buckner cost them the game. I put it more at Schiraldi and Stanley than Buckner.

    I'm a Cardinal fan and for years I blamed Don Denkinger (along with Darrell Porter) for costing us the 1985 Series. However, upon watching the game again, the Royals still would have probably won the game even if Orta had been called safe. Problem was the lack of a reaction in Game 7 more than anything.

  7. That's a great card...obviously somebody at Topps has a sense of humor since it looks like he's about to whack the little guy on the trophy.

  8. I think the score was tied in game six anyway by the time Buckner missed the ball. The Sox would not have won even if Buckner had made the play. The Sox would have lost in extra innings and then lost the next day.