To celebrate a second World Championship in four years, the Boston Red Sox summoned Beantown’s heroes to Fenway Park: Bill Russell, Bobby Orr and Tedy Bruschi. They also summoned the goat.
Not the Chicago Cubs’ Billy Goat who curses them. “The Goat” who became synonymous with the Red Sox’ Curse of the Bambino. The living embodiment of the Babe Ruth trade.
The Boston Red Sox public-address announcer proclaimed that throwing out the first pitch was a man crucial to the Red Sox’ 1986 American League Championship and a man who will always be welcome in Boston. He failed to mention that this man carries the blame for the loss of the 1986 World Series and that his name might as well be an expletive in Boston.
That man, Bill Buckner, emerged from left field.
I know nothing about the mental state of Bill Buckner and have never spoken to him. It seems like a fair assumption, though, that every morning between October 1986 and April 7, 2008, Bucker woke up and faced the reality that his name was taboo for all Red Sox fans. His name was next to “choking” in the dictionary.
But as he walked across Fenway to a standing ovation, which seemed to affirm the PA announcer’s statement that Buckner would always be welcome in Boston, something changed. Boston cheered for Buckner. He was given his due for his distinguished career. But more than that, he was granted something else by the 30-odd-thousand members of Red Sox Nation present at the home opener.
Filled with emotion as he made his way to the mound, Buckner waved to the cheering crowd. He saw the specter that had haunted his existence for 21 years slowly fade. Buckner’s soul, constantly punctured by the knowledge that all of Boston hated him, finally became whole.
But as his soul healed, the city underwent a similar process. Boston never forgot the heartbreak of Bucky (Bleepin’) Dent’s home run and Bill Buckner’s error; these memories are as much a part of the city as Faneuil Hall. They might as well be painted on Landsdowne Street.
Every championship the Yankees won reminded Boston of how Buckner threw away a shot at glory. Every year that the Red Sox collapsed, Boston blamed Buckner for taking the Series ring off its collective finger. Buckner became Babe Ruth in living form, the phantom of Boston’s opera who lived under Fenway Park.
But after winning two championships and reversing the curse, Boston decided that Buckner had suffered enough. It decided to forgive, if not necessarily forget. As its drought ended and it entered a new season as 2007 World Champions, Buckner morphed from scapegoat to just another name and another story in the rich litany of Red Sox triumphs and heartbreaks.
Buckner’s tears and Fenway’s applause joined to unify a nation: Red Sox Nation. The fans spread across America who had suffered through the Buckner incident, together with those who recently joined the bandwagon, united to adopt Bill Buckner as a member. He became a citizen of the Nation instead of the Nation’s public enemy No. 1.
Buckner, Boston and the Nation joined together in a collective sigh of relief. The dark times in Red Sox history were gone, and its heroes and goats could be remembered together as parts of the team’s epic story. Buckner’s name no longer brought pain to millions.
Bill Buckner screwed up 20 years ago.
To err is human. And to forgive is divine.
For a few minutes, Boston reached toward divinity as it freed Bill Buckner’s soul from its tortured state.
Buckner raised his hand in appreciation, wiped a few tears from his eyes, wound up and delivered a strike. He did a little celebratory dance, jubilantly basking in the glory of his pitch and in the newfound acceptance he found in his former stomping grounds.
Then Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound, and Red Sox Nation moved on. From the first-pitch ceremony and from an era clouded by the memory of Buckner’s blunder.
Collin Gutman is a sophomore in Pierson College.