I want to preface this by saying that I don’t think Bill Buckner will ever be a Hall of Famer, even though is career was longer and more productive than many current Hall of Famers. His .289 lifetime batting average, for instance, is higher than that of Eddie Murray, Ryne Sandberg, and Carl Yastrzemski. But the truth is, he never won any MVP awards or World Series rings. And there’s also the matter of that ground ball in New York…
And so, with Buckner’s status as a non-Hall of Famer established, I’m going to open a hypothetical debate about which cap he would wear if he were accorded this honor. I maintain–1986 World Series or not–that Buckner would wear a Chicago Cubs cap upon his never-going-to-happen induction. On behalf of all Chicago Cubs fans, I’m claiming Bill Buckner as one of ours.
The Hall of Fame hasn’t been good to the Cubs over the past few years. I’m leaving Ron Santo’s lifetime snub out of this, but it will be a bittersweet day for all Cubs fans when Santo finally gets his due next summer. The induction of Bruce Sutter in 2006 was the first slap at Cubs fans, since he pitched more seasons, won more games, and recorded more saves with the Cubs than he did with the Cardinals. He won the World Series with the Cardinals in 1982, but he won his only Cy Young Award with the Cubs in 1979. The two cancel each other out, in my mind. It’s still hard to accept that a Cubs star like Sutter could be enshrined in Cooperstown wearing a Cardinals cap.
But Andre Dawson’s induction in 2010 hurt even worse. Dawson played more seasons in Montreal than he did in Chicago, but he also prolonged his career in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the Cubs, and would not have made the Hall of Fame without the six seasons he played on the North side. And Cubs fans, myself included, revered Dawson like no other player. The Expos franchise had folded up and gone away by 2010, so the handful of Expos fans who cared to notice his induction was dwarfed by the large contingent of Cubs fans who were insulted by the Hall of Fame’s decision to show “the Hawk” wearing an Expos hat.
Which brings us to Bill Buckner. He played more seasons in Chicago than in Boston. He played as many seasons with the Cubs as with the LA Dodgers (eight in both cases) and he had more hits with the Cubs than any other team. He also won his only batting title with the Cubs in 1981. It’s a combination of that one terrible moment in the World Series, and the usual overbearing Boston behavior, that has made Buckner a Red Sox player in the public’s mind. In truth–by any measurement someone might wish to put forward–he’s a Cub more than anything else.
I can almost hear Boston fans, among others, saying “OK. You can have Buckner. Why are you fighting for him, anyway?” The reason is that he’s just been hired as a hitting instructor in the minor leagues by the Cubs organization. Even if he’s not a face of the franchise, like Ernie Banks or Billy Williams, it’s still a homecoming of sorts. I wish that he hadn’t been traded away at the start of the 1984 season, to clear the way for Leon Durham and his costly error during the playoffs against the Padres. But Durham was younger, and hit for more power than Buckner did, and the decision looked like a good one all season long, until Tim Flannery hit the ground ball that opened up the floodgates for San Diego.
So welcome back, Billy Buck. Teach young Trevor Gretzky, and young Shawon Dunston, Jr. and all the other prospects who are coming under your tutelage. Show them how to hit a curve ball, how to work the count, how to get on base and help the team. The organization was smart to bring you back into the fold after all these years.