I was in 10th grade when the Mets and Red Sox played in the 1986 World Serious. It was the first and last time that I ever rooted for the Sox. They were the American League team, I figured, but the real reason I pulled for them--even after they beat my second-favorite team, Reggie Jackson's California Angels--was because I knew more Met fans than Sox fans, had more of a daily battle cooking with them than any Sox fans.
I had always liked Bill Buckner. We had WGN and so I watched a lot of Cubs games after school during my middle school years. Buckner was a grinder, much like my hero, Don Mattingly. In the mid-80s, Tom Boswell wrote a piece on Mattingly and mused that "He's Wade Boggs with power. Eddie Murray with hustle. George Brett but younger and in a home run park with Rickey Henderson on base and Dave Winfield on deck."
None of these parallels charm Mattingly much. "I appreciate it...but it doesn't help me on the field. So let it go. I'd compare myself more to Bill Buckner. He's consistent, hard-nosed, good in the clutch. I love the way he plays. If it's biting it takes, then it's biting; if it's scratching, then scratch...I'll take a ground ball off the chest, get my uniform dirty."
Of course, Bucker isn't best remembered for being a very good player, he's remembered in a single image--that of a feeble old man letting a slow ground ball dribble through his legs. It is an unfair way to remember the man but sometimes that's what happens in sports. Awful moments coexist along with the wonderful ones. Bad things can happen to anyone. But I sure don't know anyone who ever blamed Buckner for them losing that game.
Still, when Billy Bucks threw out the first pitch on Opening Day in Fenway earlier this week, my initial reaction was, That's nice. Followed shortly by a more cynical one, Jeez, took 'em long enough--funny how they reached out to him now that they are a winning club. But I was off on my thinking. Red Sox fans have in fact given Buckner love for a long time. He received a standing ovation on Opening Day in 1987, and another one in 1990 when he had another brief stint with the tam. Check out this piece The Hub Hails its Hobbling Hero, by Peter Gammons from the SI Vault (November 10, 1986).
As much as I like to moan about Sox fans, they can be pretty great. Remember the ovation they gave Joe Torre back in '99?
Okay, enough love. I can't let one beautifully pitched ballgame--and I won't be surprised if Wang's performance last night turns out to be the finest of the season for a Yankee starting pitcher--get me all mushy. Especially with Mussina v. Beckett on tap this afternoon. I don't know about you, but I can't stand Yankee-Sox games that are broadcast on Saturday afternoon on Fox. I think the Yanks have an okay record against Boston on Fox Saturdays but it feels as if they don't. These are the blowout games, the ones that last four hours.
Who knows, maybe we'll be in for a surprise? Stranger things have happened...but I wouldn't count on it.