Bill Buckner at a recent autograph signing
Game Six of the 1986 World Series was twenty five years ago this evening. It will always be known as the Bill Buckner Game, which is unfair to a player who had such a long, distinguished career.
One of the talking heads in Ken Burns’s Baseball documentary said that baseball is a place where memory gathers. That observation applies even to bad memories, I guess, because nowhere is it truer than in my recollection of where I was that night. In fall 1986 I was in my first semester of college and very much a Major Undecided. I was also mired in a tenuous living situation the details of which are painful to think about even today. Watching the Red Sox down the stretch, followed by the historic Championship Series against the Angels, and then the Red Sox first World Series appearance in eleven years was what kept us going.
My grandfather died that September. Throughout his prolonged illness my father feigned indifference to the entire baseball season, and post-season. A few years later his friends told me and my brother that he was in fact watching every game, turning down dinner invitations and leaving the office promptly on game days to get home in time for the first pitch. He never knew that we knew that, but we had a good natured laugh behind his back. He was only three years older than I am today.
Does baseball still mean something to me? Of course it does. But not to the same degree. This past September the Red Sox had the largest collapse in baseball history. It rankled me, but filled me with bemusement at the same time. Especially amusing was the finger pointing that lasted for weeks after that final, exclamation point of a loss in the season finale to the last place team in the division. I am glad I am not the same guy I was a quarter of a century ago, who was still trying to figure out so many things. At the same time part of me wishes I could return to that night when baseball meant the world to us, and every pitch mattered so much.