Forgiveness and Bill Buckner

by Larry Hehn on September 25, 2011

baseball face plantEvery Sunday in August, September and October I’ll be tweaking and sharing some of my favorite blog posts from the early days of Christian in the Rough – when the proverbial trees were falling in the forest but there was no one around to hear them.

It’s my pleasure to share them here again…for the first time.

Bill Buckner was a Major League baseball player for more than 20 years. He won the National League batting title in 1980. Over his career he amassed 2,715 hits and boasted a solid .289 batting average. Buckner rarely struck out, four times leading the league in most at bats per strikeout, four times finishing second in that category. He earned a very respectable fielding percentage of .991, meaning he committed an average of just one fielding error for every 101 opportunities.

But that’s not what most baseball fans remember about Bill Buckner.

Let’s go back to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and Buckner’s Boston Red Sox. Boston was on the verge of winning their first championship in decades. Ahead by two runs in the bottom of the tenth inning, they quickly recorded two outs against the Mets. Boston’s Marty Barrett was announced on television as the player of the game.

And then the wheels fell off.

Boston yielded a single to Gary Carter. Then a single to Kevin Mitchell. Then a single to Ray Knight, scoring Carter. Then a pitch to batter Mookie Wilson scooted past catcher Rich Gedman, allowing Mitchell to score the tying run, and advancing Ray Knight to second base. In the blink of an eye, the score was tied.

A few pitches later, Wilson hit a routine ground ball toward Buckner that should have been the final out of the inning. It should have sent the game into the 11th inning as a 5-5 tie. Except it rolled under Buckner’s glove and into right field. Ray Knight ran around from second base to score the winning run.

In Game 7, Boston squandered another lead and lost the series, four games to three.

Even though there were many blunders that led to their loss in game six, and despite a blown chance to redeem themselves in game seven, Buckner’s unlikely error became the lasting symbol of Boston’s World Series loss, and of decades of baseball futility in the city.

Bill Buckner became a household name – not for his impressive career statistics or his admirable character, but for one unfortunate World Series gaffe.

Advance to April 2008. More than 20 years after that fateful error, and almost 18 years after retiring from baseball, Bill Buckner returned to Fenway Park in Boston to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the season. Unsure of how the fans would receive him, I can only imagine how relieved he was to receive a five-minute standing ovation from a gracious and forgiving full house of Boston fans.

As Buckner left the field that day, it was announced:

“Ladies and gentlemen, one of the greatest players to wear the Boston uniform, and one of the finest men to be part of our alumni. Thank you again, Bill Buckner.”

There are probably still some Boston fans who blame Buckner for the 1986 loss, and who have not forgiven him. But really, how petty is that? Should the memory of one error nullify an otherwise excellent career?

How much more liberating it is to forgive and be forgiven!

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32

Who do you need to forgive?

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