Bill Buckner, one of Major League Baseball’s most under-appreciated players in his prime, died Monday in Boise at 69.
Buckner, who played in 2,517 games from 1969 to 1990 for five teams, enjoyed post-retirement life in Boise, where he was a fixture in the local sports scene, even serving as the Boise Hawks’ hitting coach in 2012 and 2013.
Buckner died after a long battle with Lewy body dementia, his family said in a statement, The Associated Press reported. The disease causes Alzheimer’s-like symptoms along with movement and other problems.
Buckner was married and had three children, including Bobby Buckner, who played baseball at Boise High and collegiately in Texas. He funded practice facilities for Boise High at Fort Boise, which now bear his name.
“He taught me humility, dignity, grace and patience,” Boise State baseball coach Gary Van Tol, who was the Hawks’ head coach in 2013 when Buckner was on the staff, said in a statement. “He had a following wherever we went. People waited for him before we arrived to the stadium and stayed around well after the game to shake his hand, get his autograph or take a picture. He always made time for others. He impacted so many people in the game of baseball including all of us in Boise, where he called home.”
Buckner was an All-Star in 1981 and won the National League batting title in 1980. He made a 10th inning error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, playing for the Red Sox. It allowed the Mets to score the winning run, and then New York won Game 7, stretching Boston’s World Series drought to 68 years at the time. Buckner was 2-for-4 at the plate in the Game 7 loss.
“We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years,” Mookie Wilson, who hit the ball that went through Buckner’s legs, said in a statement. “I felt badly for some of the things he went through. Bill was a great, great baseball player, whose legacy should not be defined by one play.”
In 2008, Buckner threw out the opening pitch for Boston’s home opener, a game in which the Red Sox unveiled their 2007 World Series championship banner. He also made a much-loved cameo in a 2011 episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” where he caught a falling baby from a burning building.
Buckner was an owner of car dealerships around the Boise area in the 2000s. He also was a supporter of Boise State athletics, owning football season tickets, and was often seen at basketball games.
In his major league career, Buckner batted .289, had 2,715 hits, drove in 1,208 runs and scored 1,077 runs. He hit 174 home runs and had 183 stolen bases. He played for the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Royals and Angels. New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner wrote that on Sunday, Buckner’s last full day of life, 16 MLB players struck out at least three times. He never did that once. During his career, he never struck out more than 40 times in a season.
“The former MLB All-Star epitomized class and should forever be a role model in handling adversity,” wrote USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.
Below is Van Tol’s full statement.
“I was deeply saddened to hear the news this morning of Bill’s passing. My heartfelt prayers go out to his wife Jody, and their three beautiful children, Brittany, Christen and Bobby.
I had the privilege of working with Buck during my time with the Chicago Cubs. Billy was my hitting coach with the Boise Hawks in 2013. To have someone like Bill Buckner in the trenches with me during my first year managing, was truly special and a season I will never forget. We had some special discussions about the game of baseball, hitting, analytics, launch angles, defensive shifts, his career and life’s journey. More than once he took me under his wing and reminded me how difficult the game was to play and if you listed to the game closely enough, it would tell you what decisions to make and how to put players in the right position to succeed. He kept it simple. The game was about scoring more runs than your opponent and doing whatever it took to get on base and manufacture runs. He was not a fan of striking out. He was at his best in the cages during early work, building players swings and helping hitters prepare for their next at bat depending the situation and score of the game.
But more importantly he taught me humility, dignity, grace and patience. He had a following wherever we went. People waited for him before we arrived to the stadium and stayed around well after the game to shake his hand, get his autograph or take a picture. He always made time for others. He impacted so many people in the game of baseball including all of us in Boise, where he called home. He will be missed. But his legacy will always be remembered. A devoted Christian, his strong faith was always present. He’s his now with his Savior and no doubt, already in the batting cage building someone’s swing. Rest in Peace my friend. I was blessed to have known you.”