The Bill Buckner Tragedy

Former Major League Baseball star Bill Buckner died today. He was 69 years old and succumbed to a form of dementia called Lewy Body syndrome.

Buckner’s 22 year baseball career was exemplary: a .289 lifetime batting average, 174 home runs and over 2700 career hits.

Yet Bill Buckner was remembered most for a mistake: a fielding error error that opened the door for the New York Mets to comeback and take the 1986 World Series title.

But the tragedy wasn’t Bill Buckner’s inability to scoop up a slow roller toward first base. Truth be told, almost every single baseball game has its share of errors.

Yes, the fact that the error occurred in the midst of a World Series game magnified Buckner’s mistake. It broke the hearts of millions of Red Sox fans.

But the real tragedy regarding Bill Buckner was that so many people forgot he was a fallible human being.

Wikipedia describes the fallout of his error like this:

Regardless of any of the other perceived shortcomings that led to Boston’s loss in the 1986 World Series, Buckner’s error epitomized the “Curse of the Bambino” in the minds of Red Sox fans, and he soon became the scapegoat for a frustrated fan base. Buckner began receiving death threats and was heckled and booed by some of his own home fans, often with the false belief or implication that his play alone could have instantly won the series for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, he was the focal point of derision froom the fans of opposing teams on the road—especially when he faced the Mets in 1987 and the first time he came to bat at Yankee Stadium during the regular season.“

For me, the bottom line regarding Buckner (and any other athlete who makes a blunder to cause a loss) is that no human being should bear such a burden of having their entire life defined by a singular mistake.

No game matters as much as the well-being of a human soul.

It’s okay to be disappointed when our team loses. It seems a bit over the top to be so crestfallen to the point of torturing a person with guilt and blame.

To do so is to become possessed by a type of myopia that keeps us from seeing what matters most in life.

Many years ago a good friend played an amazing piano solo during a church service. But at one point, she hit one note that was an obvious clunker.

But she was undeterred, and powered through the highly technical piece.

After the service, I saw my friend in the church lobby and made mention of the one sour note that happened in the midst of an otherwise perfect performance.

Her response was humble, but direct. She simply said, “And what of all those notes I got right?”

I instantly realized I was hyper-focused on her one faux pas, causing me to lose sight of all the notes she nailed.

I needed that gentle rebuke to remind me that being over-focused on one failure is a greater failure in itself.

The Bill Buckner tragedy wasn’t about a baseball that rolled through a player’s legs.

No, the tragedy was a lack of human grace, understanding and forgiveness.

Bill Buckner missed a ground ball in a World Series game played by imperfect, fallible humans.

But a group of diehard fans seemed to lose their connection to humanity when they decided to make him the lifelong scapegoat for a Red Sox loss.

That was a way bigger tragedy.

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