Today a Japanese friend emailed to report that his favorite team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, had hired Bill Buckner as a special Spring Training assistant to manager Bobby Valentine. He knew Buckner from The Error and wondered if I had any recollections of his time as a Cub.
I replied that I loved Buckner when he played here and have never forgotten the stories of how he would spend hours in the Wrigley Field trainer's room before each game, having his feet and ankles taped so he could hobble out to first base. I also said I regretted the way the national media had so dwelled on the World Series error that it was the only aspect of Buckner's career that many fans ever connected to him.
My friend misunderstood my point and immediately wrote back, apologizing profusely for having denigrated one of my boyhood heroes and for not having known more about him. I explained that his apology was quite unnecessary and that I was really talking about the negative press that has hounded Buckner ever since that fateful night in Shea Stadium.
Anyway, the whole exchange struck me as pretty funny, and I shared it with a co-worker, who I knew to be a former college baseball player and an avid fan. Turns out that my co-worker had a Bill Buckner story of his own:
Mike is from Chicago's western suburbs, and he went to school with the children of former Sox third baseman, Eric Soderholm. In the short time that Buckner was the White Sox' hitting coach, Billy Buck spent a lot of time at Soderholm's house.
One afternoon, another childhood buddy of Mike's happened to be in the Soderholm house at the same time as Buckner. In fact, the two guys found themselves sitting together on the sofa, making small talk and watching ESPN.
At some point, the baseball highlights came on. Mike's friend glanced over at the set just in time to catch a replay of some first baseman booting a routine ground ball and costing his team the winning run. The announcer delivered the killing voiceover. "That was Buckner-esque."
Mike's friend couldn't bring himself to look in Buckner's direction, let alone say anything. Finally, he peeked over. Buckner just looked at the floor, shaking his head.