Some Background Information About the Mookie Wilson Grounder to Bill Buckner in October 1986
We all know about Buckner and game 6 of the 1986 World Series. But on October 14, 1986, a profile of Buckner by Ross Newhan noted that in 1985 he had “set a big league record for assists by a first baseman with 184.”
But, Newhan also noted the long-term impact from “April 18, 1975, when he slid into second base in a Dodger Stadium game against the San Francisco Giants and suffered a severe strain to the left ankle.”
Buckner said without the injury, “I’d have stolen 50 bases a year and won more than just one batting title. I’d have 200 to 300 more hits and could be certain of getting 3,000.
“Considering that everything else has been fine, I could have counted on playing until I was 42 or 43, so it will probably shorten my career by a few years. . . .
“I came up to the Dodgers as a guy who would choke up and punch the ball to left field. Once I hurt the ankle I had to become more of a power and RBI man with the capability of pulling the ball.
“On the other hand, not too many guys have played as long as I have or been as productive. And in some ways it has made me a better hitter.
“I mean, if you can’t run, you better be able to hit.”
Buckner had aggravated the ankle injury in a stolen base attempt near the end of the regular season, went 2-21 in the last five games of the season, then went 3-22 in the first five games of the ALCS vs. the Angels. He summarized: “It’s just not there. Ever since I hurt my back and ankle a couple of weeks ago, I really haven’t gotten going.”
Newhan wrote that since the 1975 ankle injury Buckner had “undergone three operations and will have a fourth for removal of the spurs when this postseason tournament ends.
“He uses ice daily and has used acupuncture, ointments and just about every other remedy in a struggle to cope with the pain.
“This season, he has had four cortisone injections in the ankle. He also has had two in his left elbow and two more in his left knee.
“That’s a total of eight, a career record.”
At the end of the 1986 spring training, the Chicago Sun-Times had noted that Buckner “has been slowed this spring by a hamstring injury, but he’s still putting in extra hours before games running sprints and taking extra infield practice.”
In spring training, Buckner said: “I run the hill [outside the ballpark in Winter Haven] to strengthen my ankle and my whole leg, but the ankle doesn’t bother me anymore. Now it’s a bone spur in my left foot.
“It went away in the winter, and I didn’t want surgery. I’m leery of surgery because I had such a bad time last time. But this spring when the pain came back, I had it X-rayed and had a cortisone shot, and I was excited by how good it felt.”
During the 1986 playoffs, Boston manager John McNamara said: “Buck reminds me of a rodeo cowboy limping off to his pickup truck, throwing his saddle in the back and driving off to his next performance. He gives you 100% of whatever he’s got. He’s one of the finest competitors I’ve ever been around.”
There are a couple more things to add about Buckner. Late in the 1986 season, he said: “If I could have had a good first half this year I’d have driven in 130 runs. The last two months have probably been the best two months of my career.”
Billy Buck was probably right (check his 1986 game-by-game log). Here’s the text of a UPI article on September 16, 1986, reporting on him having been named A.L. player of the week:
Boston’s Bill Buckner, who hit .438 with a 1.031 slugging percentage last week, was named the American League’s Player of the Week.
Buckner pounded six home runs and a double while going 14 for 32 with 33 total bases. He scored 11 times and drove in 13 runs, including two game-winning RBI. Including three walks, Buckner had a .486 on-base percentage.
Buckner was the only player named on [all] the ballots despite other outstanding performances. New York’s Don Mattingly hit .520 for the week and teammate Dan Pasqua .545. Milwaukee’s Ted Higuera went 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA.
Finally, a while ago I noticed that Buckner had 183 steals in his career, including 31 in 1974 and 28 in 1976 with the Dodgers, and then 18 in 1985 with Boston, just a year before that infamous image of him failing to bend his creaky knees to get to that Mookie Wilson grounder. It doesn’t change the overwhelming image of him having the grounder go through his legs, but here are his steals totals for the five years before that awful play at Shea: