Bill Buckner, a star hitter who became known for one of the most infamous plays in baseball history, has died. He was 69. Buckner's family said in a statement that he died Monday after a long battle with dementia, the AP reports. "Bill fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life," the statement said. He won an NL batting title, was an All-Star, and had 2,715 hits in 22 seasons. But it was a ball that went through the first baseman's legs on a cool October night in New York in 1986 that defined his career. With Boston one strike away from its first World Series title since 1918, per ESPN, the Mets' Mookie Wilson hit a slow roller up the first base line. Buckner moved to his left, reached down for the ball—and missed it. The Mets won the game and, two nights later, the World Series. The Red Sox didn't win a championship until 2004.
Buckner's teammates said they didn't blame the loss on him; the team had already blown a two-run lead in that inning. But many people did. "When that ball went through Bill Buckner's legs, hundreds of thousands of people did not just view that as an error," Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said, "they viewed that as something he had done to them personally." Buckner retired in 1990 and stayed in Massachusetts until the taunts drove the family to move to a ranch in Idaho. He declined to join a ceremony at Fenway Park for the 1986 team's 20-year anniversary. The hostility toward him slowly cooled, and Buckner attended the 2008 home opener to be honored with other Boston sports greats. But that play never really left him. “I don't quite get it," he said in 2003. He tried to find the positive: “Everybody still remembers me. They say, 'Yeah, he was the guy that made the error, but he was a pretty good player.'" For the rest of his life, Bob Nightengale writes in USA Today, Buckner would discuss the play whenever he was asked, took full responsibility for it, and "never passed the blame."
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