Mookie Wilson Remembers Bill Buckner, A Rival-Turned-Friend

Bill Buckner of the Red Sox
Brian Snyder-Pool / Getty Images

Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner were two players who were linked by baseball history in an especially unique way. In the tenth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, it was Wilson who hit the ball that went through Buckner’s legs at first base, giving the New York Mets a dramatic victory and keeping them alive to play (and win) Game 7 two days later. Buckner’s team, the Boston Red Sox, had been one strike away from winning their first World Series since 1918, but it was not to be, and Boston fans would have to wait nearly 20 more years, until 2004, to end their long drought.

Buckner passed away on Sunday after suffering from Lewy Body Dementia; he was 69-years-old, per ESPN. And among those from throughout baseball giving condolences was none other than Mookie Wilson.

“I was saddened to hear about Bill’s death,” Wilson said Sunday, per sportswriter Mike Vaccaro on Twitter.

“We had developed a friendship that lasted well over 30 years. I felt badly for some of the things he went through. Bill was a great great baseball player whose legacy should not be defined by one play.”

Buckner and Wilson, following the 1986 World Series, became unlikely friends, appearing together occasionally at memorabilia shows and other events and sometimes both putting their signature on baseballs as well as photos of the infamous play.

In the years after the play, Buckner was often vilified, especially by Red Sox fans. But the Red Sox organization eventually brought him back into the fold, especially after the team started winning championships, and baseball historians have successfully pushed for the rehabilitation of Buckner’s legacy.

Even though he had left Massachusetts following his retirement in 1990 and lived on a ranch in Idaho for much of the ensuing years, Buckner returned to Fenway on opening day in 2008 to a standing ovation, per Dan O’Mara on Twitter.

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Buckner also guest-starred as himself on a 2012 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, parodying the famous play by successfully making a catch of a baby that had fallen from a building.

On the occasion of his passing, Buckner was also remembered by another 1986 Met, first baseman Keith Hernandez.

“This is not right,” Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster, said on Twitter.

“My former major leaguers and teammates are slowly moving off into the sunset. I am really upset about Bill Buckner’s passing. He’s another guy I wished I could have played with, not just against. He was a terrific hitter as well as a human being. Tears.”