I’ve long maintained that the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 is both the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to Major League Baseball, as there was really nowhere for the league to go but down thanks to what transpired that year.
After all, we’re talking about a story that would’ve been too absurd for Hollywood if it hadn’t actually happened in real life.
As you likely know, the tale revolved around a team that hadn’t won the World Series in 86 years and was haunted by the supposed “Curse of the Bambino,” which stemmed from the decision to sell the rights to Babe Ruth’s contract to the Yankees in 1918.
It also transpired a year after the Yankees broke the hearts of their bitter rivals after Aaron Boone hit a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the ALCS, and it appeared New York was going to get the upper hand yet again after pulling out to a 3-0 lead in that same series the following year.
However, the Red Sox managed to pull off an unprecedented comeback to come out on top in the ALCS before officially vanquishing the demons that had tormented them for close to a century by beating the Cardinals in the World Series to secure baseball’s biggest prize.
Boston had plenty of other chances to do exactly that over the course of their painfully lengthy drought—including the World Series in 1986, which featured one of the most infamous blunders of all time courtesy of the man who was at the center of a seemingly straightforward trade with ramifications that are impossible to ignore.
How the Red Sox trading for Bill Buckner led to one of the biggest disasters in the history of the franchise
This story begins on May 25, 1984, which is when the Red Sox agreed to trade pitcher Dennis Eckersley and utility man Mike Brumley to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for first baseman Bill Buckner.
It wasn’t exactly a blockbuster move. Eckersley had been a two-time All-Star with the Red Sox but had experienced a drop-off in his velocity, and while Buckner was a former National League batting champion who’d played in the All-Star Game in 1981, he wasn’t exactly a superstar and was close to entering the twilight of his career.
With that said, he was a solid contributor in his first couple of seasons in Boston and helped them win the AL East by 5.5 games in 1986 following a regular season campaign where he batted .267, hit 18 home runs, and posted 102 RBI.
He wasn’t perfect on defense, but he also wasn’t a major liability; the 15 errors he committed in 1986 were more than most people at his position but still not a particularly egregious number.
With that said, it was pretty clear Buckner wasn’t clicking on all cylinders when the Red Sox faced off against the Mets in the World Series, where the Boston found themselves with the chance to put things away after taking a 3-2 lead into Game 6 at Shea Stadium.
He’d posted a .174 batting average over the course of the first five games and saw that number drop to .143 after going 0-5 in Game Six.
Prior to that contest, Red Sox manager John McNamara had also repeatedly decided to send in Dave Stapleton to replace Bucker at first base late in a game due to an ankle issue that had limited Bucker’s ability to move around on defense.
However, he declined to make that adjustment after the Red Sox pulled out to a 5-3 lead in the top of the 10th inning of the deciding game, and Bucker and his teammates took to the field with a chance to bring a championship back to Boston for the first time in 68 years.
It seemed like that was a practically inevitable conclusion after Red Sox closer Bob Stanley recorded two quick outs before the Mets staged a rally to tie the contest.
Ray Knight was on second base when Mookie Wilson hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to first that seemed destined to send the game to the 11th inning, but Buckner was unable to field it before New York scored the walk-off run.
Now, it’s obviously absurd to place all of the blame on Buckner when you consider the Red Sox had the chance to put things away heading into the inning, the game still would have been tied if he hadn’t committed the error, and Boston still had the opportunity to win Game 7.
As a result, it may not be fair that he was painted as the scapegoat after the Mets walked away with a title, but it’s still hard to ignore the ramifications of the trade that ultimately led to that infamous moment.