The Lightning recently beat the Flames to win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for the NHL, only Tampa Bay and Calgary fans cared. TV ratings for the Cup series were terrible. I love hockey, but it’s never been a TV sport, and never will be. And because of it, NHL franchises with their lopsided salaries are in serious trouble. On average, TV revenue makes MLB, NFL and NBA players mega-millionaires without jeopardizing those respective franchises. That’s not the case with the NHL.
Story of the Week
The catalyst to this article was Bill Simmons, a fine sportswriter. He wrote an article about a guy who has lived with a memory. After reading his article, I decided to do my own on the subject, and set the record perfectly straight.
There have been athletes who would like to be able to erase one horrible moment in history. That list is incredibly long. But no athlete has been more maligned for his moment under the black cloud than has Bill Buckner.
Mookie Wilson grounds to first, a creaky Buckner hobbles over, reaches down but not far enough. The error is now 1986 October folklore, and the beat goes on. Red Sox fans won’t let him forget. Buckner moved his family to Idaho a few years ago to get away from it all.
People have forgotten this guy’s career; 22 seasons, 2,715 hits, a .289 lifetime batting average, a batting title, and, ironically, a stellar .992 fielding average. They’ve forgotten how he gritted out 153 games on ravaged ankles in that same 1986, knocking in 102 runs. Or how, three outs from extinction in Anaheim, he started the Boston ninth inning with a single before Dave Henderson belted that series-saving homer.
It is assumed Bill Buckner squandered the ’86 World Series himself. He didn’t! Hobbled and wearing high-tops to support his wobbly ankles, he played that infamous Game 6. Buckner was left in the game defensively in that 10th. inning; that was manager John McNamara’s decision. And Buckner didn’t allow three two-out singles; that was closer Calvin Schiraldi. And Buckner didn’t toss a game-tying wild pitch to Mookie Wilson; that was Bob Stanley. And Buckner wasn’t the one who couldn’t block that pitch; that was catcher Rich Gedman. It's interesting that bitter Red Sox fans don't talk about any of this.
Only after all of this did the spotlight find Buckner. Yes, Billy committed the error on Mookie’s lazy grounder. And it is questionable that Buckner would have beaten Wilson to the bag had he caught the ball. We’ll never know. We do know that was only Game 6, and Boston still had Game 7 to play and beat the Mets, but couldn’t hold a 3-0 lead after 5½ innings of that final contest. In that Game 7, the Mets scored three in the 6th., three in the 7th., and two in the 8th. off six Boston pitchers; Buckner wasn’t one of them. It's interesting that bitter Red Sox fans don't talk about any of this.
So let the record clearly show that Buckner had tons of help in screwing up the 1986 World Series for Boston. And without him in 1986, the Red Sox would have been watching the Series on television. If athletes make a mistake on a bright enough stage, they don’t stop paying for it. Bill Buckner was the Boston scapegoat of 1986. He was also one tremendous baseball player!
Last Week’s Trivia
Being awarded the NHL All-Star Game MVP honor is quite ominous. It is not unusual for the game’s MVP to miss the All-Star Game the following year. The game’s 2000 MVP, Pavel Bure of the Panthers, is the last award-winner to participate in the classic the following year.
Trivia Question of the Week
Canadian-born Eric Gagne, the great Dodgers relief pitcher, won the Cy Young in 2003. He’s just the second Canadian to win the award. Who was the first Canadian-born pitcher to win it? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.