Buckner’s Bolero

By Dan “Chas” McCloskey

Not to try and create any competition for the Chinchillas as the musical darlings of this site, but a couple of obscure musicians–one of whom has toured as a sideman with R.E.M.–recently released their second set of tunes celebrating our national pastime.

Less than three years ago, Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey teamed up for Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, Volume One of their Baseball Project series. This spring, they return with Volume Two: High and Inside, another collection of baseball-themed rock anthems.

I picked it up last week, and the story behind one particular song instantly grabbed my attention.

Bill Buckner returns to professional baseball, and to the Boston area, this season as the manager of the Brockton Rox, of the independent Can-Am League. So, it was perfect timing for McCaughey to write this tribute to an undeserving scapegoat in this year that will mark the 25th anniversary of his ill-fated error.

I thought I’d take you on a little stroll down memory lane with my commentary on the lyrics of one of High and Inside‘s better songs, “Buckner’s Bolero.”

First, let me tell you that, despite the fact I’m a Yankees fan, I rooted for the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series, mainly because I used to be the typical New Yorker who loves one team and hates the other.

If the Sox and Mets were to engage in a rematch of that Fall Classic—slim chance this year, thanks to the boys from Queens—I would be pulling for the Mets. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t still cringe a little when I recount what fans of New York’s second team simply refer to as “Game Six.”

If Bobby Ojeda hadn’t raged at Sullivan and Yawkey,
and hadn’t been traded to the Mets for Calvin Schiraldi.

I’m not sure what Ojeda did, other than not pitch as well as the team hoped, to warrant getting shipped out of town by the Red Sox, but both he and Schiraldi played significant roles in Game Six. Ojeda was the starting pitcher for the Mets, giving up two runs over six innings before departing in a tie game. Schiraldi’s role, of course, was a little more notable.

If Oil Can Boyd hadn’t been such a nut case,
and Jim Rice had twice taken an easy extra base.

With the Red Sox leading the series 2-0, Boyd took the mound for game three and gave up four runs in the first inning, en route to a 7-1 Mets victory. Personally, I don’t recall the second-guessing of Rice’s base running, but I’m not surprised, considering how one-dimensional a player he was.

If the Red Sox had had a better playoff fourth starter.
Instead Nipper served up a big fat slider to Carter.

Gary Carter’s two-run homer off Al Nipper in the third inning of game four gave the Mets a 2-0 lead, on their way to a 6-2 victory.

What would Seaver have done, if not for his bum knee?
Would he have taken the ball and exacted revenge on his old team?

Seaver turned 42 the month after the completion of the ’86 World Series, but his 3.80 ERA in 104 innings would have provided the Sox a much better option than Nipper (159 IP, 5.38 ERA).

If Gooden had pitched like the real Doctor K,
or Donnie Moore hadn’t had that nightmare day
that stuck with him ’till he couldn’t take anymore,
and turned his own kitchen into a killing floor.

Now, we’re getting into “what ifs” that would have resulted in Game Six never happening. Dwight Gooden gave up 8 earned runs on 17 hits in 9 innings in losing two of the series’ first five games. Moore served up the crucial homer to Dave Henderson in what could have been the ALCS clincher for the California Angels over the Red Sox. Tragically, less than three years later, Moore committed suicide.

And John McNamara, what the hell was he thinking?
Was it him, not the party boy Mets, doing all the drinking?
If he’d hit Baylor for Buckner and yanked the first baseman,
for his by-the-book late inning defensive replacement,
that ball would’ve been snagged, if it’d ever been hit,
and Mookie’s last name wouldn’t now be “86.”

Yeah, we’ve heard about this little piece of second-guessing a few times before. McNamara should’ve replaced Buckner with Dave Stapleton, of course, but Buckner had good hands and the ball was hit right to him. However, there were plenty of other reasons to second-guess McNamara, but I’m not going into them.

Bob Stanley picked a pretty bad time to uncork a wild pitch,
and I’m sure he’s still thinking that you could have blocked it Rich.
Then the tying run might not have been tallied by Mitch.
If one play killed the Sox, can you please tell me which?

I remember wondering why this pitch wasn’t actually ruled a passed ball. After all, it was at least a foot off the ground when it reached catcher Rich Gedman, and he was able to get his glove on the ball. In hindsight, the pitch clearly crossed Gedman up, so Stanley obviously didn’t throw the pitch he was expecting. But, Stanley would be right if he wondered why Rich wasn’t able to block it.

I guess everything happens for some sort of reason,
and there must be a tragic end to every long season.
If even one man doesn’t do one thing he does,
we’d all know Bill Buckner for just what he was.
A pretty tough out for the Dodgers, Red Sox and Cubs.
Ten thousand at bats and close to three thousand hits.
And he stole plenty of bases before his legs quit.
As tough to walk as he was to strike out,
but there’s only one play that ever gets talked about.

Bill Buckner was a good enough player to survive for a long time in the majors, but anyone overemphasizing the fact that he accumulated over 2,700 hits in his career is over-rating him. He had a .289 lifetime batting average, but, as McCaughey sings, he almost never walked, he didn’t have much power and, not surprisingly, at best he was an average fielder at the two least important positions on the field. Still, he doesn’t deserve to be remembered for that one fateful moment. But, McCaughey has another theory…

Now some kind of fame lies in being a scapegoat.
And, if not that, then you’re just an historical footnote.
And your 22 years playing ball might be forgotten.
Maybe Bill Buckner was lucky his luck was so rotten.

I’d never thought about it that way.

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