PAWTUCKET – Bill Buckner wasn’t a good guy.
“Great guy,” was how PawSox hitting coach Rich Gedman put it on Tuesday, one day after Buckner died following a lengthy battle with Lewy Body Dementia.
Gedman and Buckner overlapped as Red Sox teammates for parts of five seasons, most of them coming in succession during the 1980s. One of those campaigns remembered for its tough-to-swallow ending. Boston baseball fans of a certain age need not be reminded about Buckner failing to come up with a ground ball at first base that ended Game 6 of the 1986 World Series in crushing fashion.
The gaffe proved very costly, but as Gedman – Red Sox catcher for parts of 11 seasons – spoke while sitting at his desk inside the PawSox clubhouse, the idea of fitting Buckner for goat horns and placing the blame squarely at his feet is pure nonsense.
“Nobody should have to endure what he had to endure after what happened. I can’t even imagine,” said Gedman. “Being part of the [’86 Red Sox], personally I felt terrible. That was the same inning the ball got past me as well.
“How Billy was viewed, it never changed as far as the players. It just changed as far as the fans of Boston,” Gedman added.
Gedman described Buckner “as a warrior on the field. His desire to play the game and be a great competitor, not just a good one … having a guy like him on your team inspires you. He loved this game so much to endure that amount of pain and preparation he had to go through just to get on the field … at the very least I owed it to him to go out and play.”
Buckner had aches and pains in his knees that proved tough to shake. Despite the limitations, he still managed to lead the 1985 Red Sox in stolen bases (18) and drove in over 100 runs that same year.
“He had a chance to hit .300 heading into his final at-bat [of 1985]. He was hitting .270 in August,” Gedman noted. “You can’t make up that much ground after 500 at-bats.
“He was special and I’m not just saying that because he’s gone,” Gedman added. “He had a wonderful family. All the nice accolades you can say about a person, you can say them about Billy. We got along very well. He watched out for me when I was just a puppy dog.”
When Gedman heard that Buckner had been slowed by symptoms that were commonly associated with dementia, “it was definitely tragic. Not so much for what Billy was going through because I don’t know if he knew. For his family to watch such a vibrant man who was always in impeccable shape, what a shame to have something like this happen to him.”
Buckner played 22 seasons in the majors and remained involved in baseball after retiring through coaching.
“He certainly gave back,” said Gedman.
A few years ago, Gedman, Buckner and former Red Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak went out to dinner with each one’s wife joining them. Over the years, Gedman’s wife Sherry kept in contact with Buckner’s wife Jody.
“He was a much better friend to me than I was to him,” said Gedman. “He was certainly an inspiration to all of us who played.”
EXTRA BASES: Mother Nature nixed plans for a Tuesday doubleheader at McCoy. On Wednesday, Pawtucket and Lehigh Valley are scheduled for a single-admission twin bill that gets underway at 4 p.m. … Josh Smith (1-2, 6.10) starts Game 1 for the PawSox with Kyle Hart scheduled to go in the nightcap. Hart was added to Pawtucket’s roster on Tuesday after posting a 2.91 ERA in nine starts for Double-A Portland. … Pawtucket will need to make a roster move to add Colton Brewer after the Red Sox optioned the reliever with a 5.32 ERA on Sunday. … The first 5,000 fans coming to McCoy Stadium this Friday when the PawSox play Syracuse at 6:05 p.m. will receive a collector’s edition Baseball Card Set honoring our World Champion Red Sox. Also on Friday, New England Patriots 2019 first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry will be appearing at McCoy. The wide receiver from Arizona State will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, then take photos with fans at the fan center on the main concourse from 6:45–7:45 p.m.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03