LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) – Bill Buckner, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers at the age of 19, and later became known for arguably the most infamous play in baseball history, died Monday at the age of 69.
Buckner passed away after a long battle with Lewy body dementia, his family said in a statement. The disease causes Alzheimer’s-like symptoms along with movement and other problems.
“The Dodgers are saddened to hear about the passing of Bill Buckner, who died this morning after battling a long illness,” the Dodgers tweeted Monday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Buckner family.”
Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda of the Dodgers called Buckner “one of the best competitors I have ever seen.”
Buckner was drafted by the Dodgers in 1968 and made his Major League debut one year later at the age of 19. He played for the Dodgers for eight seasons before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1976.
He became a batting champ with the Cubs in 1980. He had a career .289 average and totaled over 100 RBIs in three seasons, twice with Boston. Buckner finished with 174 home runs and 1,208 RBIs and he was a fast outfielder, once stealing 31 bases.
Buckner enjoyed his most productive seasons in Chicago from 1977-84, batting over .300 four times and leading the league in doubles in 1981 and 1983.
He was traded again to the Boston Red Sox in 1984, leading two years later to the moment that, unfortunately for Buckner, would come to define his career.
“He deserved better,” former Dodgers teammate Bobby Valentine tweeted.
Trying for their first crown since 1918, the Boston Red Sox led the New York Mets 5-3 going into the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6 at Shea Stadium. The Mets tied it with two outs, then Wilson hit a roller up the first base line that got past a gimpy Buckner, a misplay that let Ray Knight rush home from second base with the winning run.
The Red Sox lost 8-5 in Game 7, and their World Series drought continued until they won the championship in 2004.
In the aftermath of Boston’s near-miss, Buckner became a target of fans in New England and beyond, his mistake shown over and over on highlight reels.
“You can look at that Series and point fingers in a whole bunch of different directions,” Buckner said a decade ago. “We did the best we could to win there and it just didn’t happen and I didn’t feel like I deserved” so much blame.
In later years his treatment by fans came to be seen as too harsh, and he was welcomed back to throw out the first pitch at Boston’s Fenway Park in 2008.
Buckner drew loud cheers as he walked from the Green Monster in left field to the mound, and made his ceremonial toss to former teammate Dwight Evans.
Buckner said the moment was “probably about as emotional as it could get.”
“I really had to forgive,” he said later that day, “not the fans of Boston per se, but I would have to say, in my heart, I had to forgive the media for what they put me and my family through. So I’ve done that. I’m over that. And I’m just happy that I just try to think of the positive. The happy things.”
A curious thing happened over time, too: He became pals with Wilson.
“I was saddened to hear about Bill’s death,” Wilson said in a statement. “We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years. 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.”
But sure enough, several years ago when he made a guest appearance on the TV show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the main gag involved star Larry David tossing a ball autographed by Wilson toward Buckner, who lets it get past him and out the window.
After Boston, Buckner played briefly with the Angels and the Kansas City Royals. He finished with 2,715 hits and a .289 batting average over a 22- year career.
Buckner lived in Boise, Idaho, after he finished playing. He was the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs’ minor league affiliate in Boise in 2012-13 and owned three car dealerships and several commercial properties in Idaho.
An old-school player with a mustache, Buckner was eager to swing — he had 9,397 career at-bats and never struck out 40 times in a season and never walked more than 40 times in a year.
“Life is a lot of hard knocks,” Buckner said to USA Monday in 2016. “There are a lot worse things happening than losing a baseball game or making an error, so it puts things in perspective. You learn forgiveness, patience — all the things you have to do to survive.”
He is survived by his wife, Jodi, two daughters and one son.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.)