Bill Buckner, a longtime baseball star who spoofed his crucial late-career World Series error on Curb Your Enthusiasm, died today. He was 69. Sportswriter Jeremy Schaap tweeted that Buckner’s widow Jody said had been suffering from Lewy body dementia.
Buckner played for five teams during his 22-year career, amassing 2,715 hits, but sadly is best remembered for his error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that led to the New York Mets coming back to beat the Boston Red Sox in the 10th inning. The Mets went on to win Game 7 and the championship. Decades later, Buckner would make a life-saving play as the hero of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.
Buckner’s Red Sox were leading 5-3 going into the bottom of the tenth inning at Shea Stadium on October 25, 1986, and were three outs away from the franchise’s first World Series win since 1918. The Sox got the first two Mets out but then gave up three consecutive singles and a run. With Vin Scully calling the game for NBC, Mookie Wilson then hit a slow grounder toward first base at Buckner, who was nearing the end of his career at 36 and had dodgy knees. The ball skipped through Buckner’s legs, allowing the winning run to score. It is written in baseball lore as one of the sport’s most infamous errors.
It would become his legacy — which was unfair for a player who had won a batting title, had a career .289 average and played in the All-Star Game. While playing left field for the Dodgers in April 1974, he pursued Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run as it sailed over the fence.
Still, he was remembered for The Error. Many fans, especially younger ones at the time who were unfamiliar with his long career, made him a pariah until and after Buckner retired in 1990.
Fast-forward 25 years to Season 8 of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Noted baseball fan Larry David, creator and star of the HBO comedy, co-wrote the 2011 “Mister Softee” episode that featured a memorable guest role for Buckner. In it, David lets a ball get by him during a championship softball game that costs his team the game. He later talks about how he empathizes with Buckner because of how so many people hate him.
David later runs into Buckner and asks how he has dealt with people who still hold that error against him. The ex-player tells him people eventually forgave him — but passersby continue to call him out over it.
The episode ends with David coming across an apartment fire, where Buckner is among the onlookers. A woman cries from a top floor to save her baby. Firefighters put out a trampoline to catch the infant as Larry and the crowd implore her to drop the child. She does, the kid hits the rescue net — and proceeds to bounce off of it and toward the pavement. Buckner leaps into action, sprints over and makes a diving catch to save the kid and, just maybe, get a modicum of redemption. He is carried off on the crowd’s shoulders.
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