Buckner Ball Through Legs Gets Redemptive Auction as 1986 Winners Struggle

Bill Buckner is cheered now where he was vilified a quarter century ago, when a ground ball that got through his legs made him despised throughout Red Sox Nation.

Buckner’s error on the slow roller by Mookie Wilson with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning on Oct. 25, 1986, allowed the winning run to score and forced Game 7 of the World Series between Boston and the New York Mets. The Red Sox, who led by two runs in the 10th inning of Game 6 before the Mets rallied, lost the championship in the deciding game two days later.

The so-called Buckner Ball didn’t sell on EBay Inc. (EBAY)’s on- line auction site last night when the bidding failed to reach the $1 million minimum by the 11:37 p.m. New York time closing - - 25 years to the minute after the event that has shown sports fans’ propensity for both hatred and redemption.

“We like extremes, we like to see people in different lights,” sports psychologist John Murray said in a telephone interview. “If we define something as one way and it comes across a different way, we take notice.”

Los Angeles songwriter Seth Swirsky bought the ball for $63,500 in 2000, according to ESPN. David Hunt, president of Exton, Pennsylvania-based Hunt Auctions, said the value now is likely less than a third of what Swirsky was asking.

“If you were going by market value and comparable pieces, in my mind, it’s a two-to-$300,000 baseball,” Hunt said in an interview.

Far From Boston

A career .289 hitter, Buckner was a National League All- Star with the Chicago Cubs in 1981, a year after leading the league in hitting. Following his retirement in 1990, Buckner and his family moved to Boise, Idaho, about 2,700 miles west of Boston.

“I’ve never ever in my life seen such vituperation by a mob of fans as the Red Sox felt after the World Series was lost,” baseball historian and author Peter Golenbock said in a telephone interview. “It was terrible.”

Murray said the American love of redemption often has an ugly underbelly -- a desire to see heroes fail.

“It’s a quest for novelty, we’re built to attend to novelty and things that are different,” Murray said.

Buckner became more of a public figure after the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, snapping an 86-year title drought. He threw out the first pitch at the team’s 2008 home opener in front of a standing ovation and last season managed the Brockton Rox, an independent minor-league team. He and Wilson participate in memorabilia events.

‘Dark Spots’

“I am at a point where I can forgive the media and the fans,” Buckner, 61, said in a telephone interview in New York, where he and Wilson have been making television appearances together to mark the anniversary. “There were some dark spots, especially because I don’t think the crime fit the punishment.”

Buckner wasn’t the only player on the field that night to have battled off-field difficulties or public disfavor. Former Mets Lenny Dykstra, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight “Doc” Gooden, as well as Red Sox All-Stars Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs, are all in different stages of struggle and redemption.

All-Stars in 1984, 1985 and 1986, Strawberry and Gooden each sought medical help with substance abuse during and after their time with the Mets. Gooden, who said he skipped the 1986 championship parade because he was high, pleaded guilty in April to child endangerment, was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to undergo outpatient drug treatment, according to the Associated Press. New Jersey prosecutors said his 5-year-old son was in the backseat of his car without a seatbelt during a crash.

‘Terrible Disease’

“Drug dependency is a terrible disease,” said Golenbock, who spent time with both players during the 1985 season while writing his book “Bats”. “Some people handle the addiction differently than others and Doc has had a very tough time of it.”

Dysktra, who hit two home runs and scored four runs in the World Series, pleaded no contest earlier this year to grand theft charges that he tried to lease cars using phony business and credit information. The 48-year-old former outfielder pleaded not guilty in a separate case to charges that he stole or destroyed more than $400,000 worth of property from his bankrupt estate.

“It’s always difficult when an athlete retires, I don’t care if you retire with $10 million,” Golenbock said. “Lenny unfortunately found something in which he thought he could be a star and he got caught up in his own bulls--t.”

Hall of Fame

Boggs, now 53, overcame publicity about an admitted extramarital affair in 1989 to win a World Series with Strawberry, Gooden and the New York Yankees in 1996. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.

Clemens, who started two games for Boston against the Mets 25 years ago, retired with 11 All-Star appearances and six Cy Young awards. He is awaiting a second trial in U.S. District Court in Washington on charges of lying to Congress about steroid use, after his first ended in a mistrial. Clemens says he is not guilty.

The fans’ relationship with players is different in baseball because the season is 162 games, longer than any other professional American sport, said Donald Honig, author of about 30 books on baseball.

“You read about these players every day, they almost become like a family,” Honig said in a telephone interview.

Image Remains

Honig said he expects the 1986 World Series and its main players to be viewed the same in another quarter century, at the 50th anniversary of Wilson’s ground ball.

“Buckner is never going to outlive that error, but baseball fans will continue to support him,” he said. “They know that he’s been carrying that burden much more than they are.”

Buckner recently appeared in an episode of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” comedy series in which he fails to snag a Wilson autographed baseball tossed in his direction and then redeems himself by catching a baby thrown from a burning building. Buckner said he may not have been able to make light of the error even 10 years ago.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I was OK with what happened a week after the Series, but dealing with the media was tough, and that bothered me for a long time.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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