Of all the screw ups, errors, epic fails, and just plain f**k ups in all of sports, one of the most remembered is Bill Buckner’s error at first base that gave Game 6 of the 1986 World Series to the New York Mets instead of the Boston Red Sox. I don’t need to bore you with the details of the entire bottom of the 9th because, if you’re interested or don’t already know every batter and pitch, you can watch the video that recounts it. However, what I’d like to examine is the one unfortunate play for which Buckner has been unfairly blamed for the past 25 years.
It seems simple. Mookie Wilson hits a slow roller up the first baseline. Buckner gets to the line and in position. The ball rolls through his legs. Ray Knight scores. Mets win. But it’s not that simple. Wilson, a left-handed batter, was already three steps closer to first base than a right-handed batter. As you can see at 2:01 of the video, Wilson gets a great jump out of the batter’s box. Wilson was an avid base stealer, swiping 58 in his best year, just a few before the ’86 season and averaging 27 a season for his career. He was damn fast. Buckner gets to the ball about 12 feet behind first base. Calvin Shiraldi, the tall and lumbering Red Sox pitcher, was not the fastest man at covering first base as is normal for that play. Now it’s not so simple anymore.
For those of you like me who have watched thousands of baseball games, watch Buckner’s motion. Imagine the normal motion of an infielder scooping up the ball, cocking his arm back, and tossing to first base. It’s not an easy play, but it was made more difficult by Wilson’s speed and Schiraldi’s lack of speed. When I watch that video and imagine those things, I don’t see the possibility for Buckner to have thrown out Wilson even if he had cleanly fielded the ball. Buckner drops down for the ball at about 2:03 in this video. At 2:04, Wilson is touching first base. I know that it’s possible for the actual video to be 2:03:00 when Buckner stabs at the ball and 2:04:59 for Wilson to touch first base, making it two seconds instead of one. Regardless, Wilson would have been safe, and Buckner needs this alleged error to be dismissed. Instead, fans have used it to define what is otherwise a fabulous career.