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Bill Buckner Is Back In New England And Back In Baseball09:55
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Buckner, right, lines up with the team before a recent game. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Buckner, right, lines up with the team before a recent game. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

"In baseball, it's better to be lucky than good."

Bill Buckner said that, and he should know.

He was very good. He played 22 years in the major leagues. He was great hitter, a gold glove first baseman who came damn close to making it to the Hall of Fame. But of course, 22 years of being good couldn’t erase one moment of being unlucky.

Game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets is one of the most painful memories shared by legions of long-suffering Sox fans — long before their team finally won it all in 2004. In the tenth inning, there were two outs and the the Red Sox were up by two runs and just one strike away from winning their first championship since 1918.

Then the Mets started hitting, Red Sox Pitcher Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch and suddenly the game was tied. Then the Mets’ Mookie Wilson stepped to the plate, and well, we all know what happened.

Buckner, dejected, walks off the field after committing an error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. (AP)
Buckner, dejected, walks off the field after committing an error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. (AP)

Wilson's grounder went through Bill Buckner’s legs, and the Red Sox lost. It was tragic, and many of us still can’t believe it. One mistake. One unlucky moment, and suddenly 22 years of being good didn’t seem to matter any more.

So Buckner left New England and eventually settled in Idaho, where he could live peacefully with his family, fish and hunt — and get away from the relentless reminders about that one error.

But when you’ve got baseball in your blood, it’s hard to let it go. So what do you do if you’re Bill Buckner, living peacefully in the West, and somebody makes you an offer to come back to professional baseball in New England?

You accept, of course!

So, Buckner now the manages the Brockton Rox — a world a way from the Boston Red Sox. The Rox are a semi-pro team of baseball dreamers; young players in their twenties banking on a long-shot chance to get noticed by a major league organization.  Wth Bill Buckner as their manager.

Buckner is a minor celebrity in a minor league park. 25 years ago, he played in front of crowds of 30,000-40,0000 people. On a recent evening in Campinelli Stadium in Brockton, there were about 200 people in the stands, including a man dressed as a kangaroo, the team mascot.

But Buckner was still in the dug-out still musing about baseball and luck.

Bill Buckner, in black, speaks with umpires and the opposing manager before a recent Brockton Rox game. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Bill Buckner, in black, speaks with umpires and the opposing manager before a recent Brockton Rox game. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

"Baseball is a game of averages," Buckner said. "But to have a little luck is not a bad thing." And he should know.

Buckner looks much as he did when wore a Red Sox uniform. His hair is gray, but he’s still got the demeanor of a laid back cowboy. And before you can ask him about 1986 he's happy to tell you about it.

"When I missed the ground ball," he said, "my first thought was, 'Wow, I get to play in the seventh game of the World Series. We'll get 'em tomorrow.'"

Buckner is grateful to Red Sox fans who gave him an  emotional ovation when he returned to Fenway Park for the season opener in 2008.

"I've got nothing bad to say about Red Sox fans," Buckner said.  "They were always good to me."

But it took him a while to forgive some members of the press who he says took "some cheap shots after that notorious error in 1986."

Guest:

  • Bill Buckner, manager , Brockton Rox

Getting to a Brockton Rox game can be a great way to spend a summer evening outside with the family. That got us thinking.

We've done the Cape and the Gloucester beaches and shopping in Kittery. And that's fine. But there have to be other, less crowded, summer outdoor activities in New England.

We’re looking for New England’s hidden gems. What’s yours?

Submit your off-the-beaten-path ideas here, on Facebook, or on Twitter @RadioBoston.

This segment aired on July 11, 2011.

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