& The Hall of Fame
“I see great things in baseball. It is our game. The American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” – Walt Whitman
Bill Buckner was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2nd round of the 1968 amateur draft. His major league debut came on September 21, 1969 with the Dodgers and his last game was with the Boston Red Sox on May 30, 1990, a span of 22 major league baseball seasons.
Just How Good a Hitter was Bill Buckner?
Over those 22 baseball seasons, Bill Buckner played in 2,517 baseball games. His career batting average was .289 with 2,715 hits which included 498 doubles, 49 triples and 174 home runs meaning that 27% or more than ¼ of his hits total were for extra bases. In 1980, he won the batting title – a .324 average – while with the Chicago Cubs
Throughout his career, Bill Buckner was in the top 10 in his league for most hits for 7 years, in the top 10 for doubles for 7 years, top 10 for RBI for 4 years and in the top 10 for singles for 6 years. Most importantly, he was one of the toughest outs in the game recording 10 years where he placed in the top 5 for greatest at-bat to strikeout ratio. In all, he finished his major league baseball career with 9,397 at-bats while striking out only 453 times, a ratio of 1 strikeout per every 21 at-bats.
The strikeout per at-bat ratio increases to 22 if you count the number of walks he was awarded. He walked 450 times so if you add Buckner’s walk total to his total 9,397 at-bats, his on-base to strikeout ratio (at-bats + walks : SOs) increases from 21 to 22.
Compare Career Statistics of Bill Buckner to Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth
Let’s compare Bill Buckner’s career ability to hit the baseball and get on base with two of the greatest living professional baseball players of all time, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. Once you compare the numbers, you may be persuaded that Bill Buckner was a special ball player and deserving of Hall of Fame consideration.
Comparing him to Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, Bill Buckner ‘s on base:strikeout ratio was 2-3X that of Aaron and Ruth. Buckner had almost 3,000 less plate appearances than Aaron and walked 1,000 less times, as well.
|Bill Buckner||22 yrs||ab 9397||h 2715||bb 450||so 453||AB+BB : SO = 22|
|Hank Aaron||23 yrs||ab 12364||h 3771||bb 1402||so 1383||AB+BB : SO = 10|
|Babe Ruth||22 yrs||ab 8398||h 2873||bb 2062||so 1330||AB+BB : SO = 8|
Also a telling statistic, he committed only 128 errors in 22 seasons, less than 6 errors per season.
Compare Bill Buckner’s Hitting Statistics to Current Baseball Hall of Fame Members
I’ve compared Bill Buckner’s career baseball statistics to those of 19 Hall of Fame members and he stands tall.
- On-base : Strikeout ratio (AB:SO) Buckner is 1st with 22. DiMaggio posted a 21 and the closest to them both is Wade Boggs at 14. Babe Ruth posted an 8;
- Total career hits – Buckner places 12th out of 20 members ahead of Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Bench, Harmon Killebrew, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, Gary Carter and Ryne Sandberg;
- Longevity – Buckner played 22 seasons. Twelve Hall of Fame members on the list played less than 22 seasons. Joe DiMaggio played 13 seasons. Carlton Fisk topped the list at 24 seasons;
- Walks – Buckner had the fewest walks of the group: 450 bases-on-balls meaning most of his on-base statistics are a result of the base hit;
- Total Career Strikeouts – only DiMaggio struck out fewer times: 369 vs. Buckner’s 453. However, Buckner played 9 more seasons. If DiMaggio played 22 seasons, he was slated to strike out 625 times, still a great achievement yet 172 more strikeouts than Buckner;
- Fielding Percentage – Bill Buckner had the highest fielding percentage (.991) in this list except for Eddie Murray (.993), a fellow first baseman;
- Hits : At-Bats (H:AB) – Buckner got a hit once every 3 at-bats along with 7 other Hall of Famers on the list, including Eddie Murray and Carl Yastrzemski. Those above 30% included Ruth (34%), Boggs and Carew (33%), DiMaggio (32%), and Molitor (31%).
|Player||Position||Yrs||AB||H||BB||SO||AB+BB : SO||FLDG %||H : AB|
|1||Babe Ruth||OF / P||22||8398||2873||2062||1330||8||0.968||34%|
|3||Rod Carew||2B / 1B||19||9315||3053||1018||1028||10||0.985||33%|
|5||Paul Molitor||1B / DH||21||10835||3319||1094||1244||10||0.970||31%|
|7||George Brett||3B / 1B||21||10349||3154||1096||908||13||0.970||30%|
|12||Carl Yastrzemski||LF / 1B||23||11988||3419||1845||1393||10||0.988||29%|
|15||Willie Stargell||LF / 1B||21||7927||2232||937||1936||5||0.985||28%|
|16||Carlton Fisk||C / 1B||24||8756||2356||849||1386||7||0.987||27%|
|Player||Position||Yrs||AB||H||BB||SO||AB+BB : SO||FLDG %||H : AB|
Compare Buckner’s Hitting Statistics to Baseball’s Best Contact Hitters: Wade Boggs and Rod Carew
Buckner’s on-base ratio (AB+BB:SO) stands tall at 22. Boggs scored a 14 and Carew a 10. Buckner, on two bad knees, aggregated a fielding percentage (.991) greater than Boggs (.965, mostly at 3B) and Carew (.985).
Oh, ironically, Buckner could field his position aptly, as well. He had the 2nd highest fielding percentage in the group to Eddie Murray. Bonds’ fielding percentage (.984) is above average yet far below Buckner’s (.991).
Compare Buckner’s Fielding Percentage to Other Respected and Great First Basemen:
Summing up Bill Buckner’s Hitting and Fielding Milestones
He had longevity (22 seasons) playing 2 seasons longer than the average Hall of Famer (20 seasons).
Bill Buckner proves to be one of the greatest contact hitters of all time. He had 2,715 hits, about average in the group, but did it with less at-bats than the average Hall of Famer.
He had the fewest amount of walks, the fewest amount of strikeouts (assuming DiMaggio plays 22 seasons), the highest on-base : strikeout ratio and got a hit every 3 at-bats.
Barry Bonds, an active Major League player and a sure Hall of Famer gets a hit every 3 at-bats also. Ok, so Bonds is walked a lot. So, let’s look at Bonds’ on-base : strikeout ratio which includes walks in ones’ ability to get on base. Bonds scores and 8, still 3x lower than Buckner’s 22.
My intention here is to quantify for myself what my baseball instincts have been telling me all these years. Is Bill Buckner greater than the Hall of Famers mentioned here? Not important. Important is the question of belonging: does Bill Buckner belong in the Hall of Fame? You decide.
Most important, however, is recognizing Bill Buckner for the great player he was. Herein lay no doubt.
I remember watching Bill Buckner periodically throughout his career, then quite frequently when he played for my hometown team, the Boston Red Sox. I remember thinking throughout his stay in Boston that he had to be one of the toughest outs in baseball and that I would choose him to bat if I, as manager, needed a hit. If there were 2 outs and a runner on 2nd or 3rd, I wanted Bill Buckner batting. I didn’t want Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench or Mike Schmidt. Not even Carl Yastrzemski. The aforementioned were all great players. I would pay to see Reggie Jackson bat whether he hit a home run or struck out. But, I knew that there was noone comparable to Bill Buckner’s ability to make contact with the baseball. That was my intuitive, un-empirical judgment.
Now, the comparative numbers above back up my judgment, at least against 20 of baseball’s greatest ballplayers. What’s more, Bill Buckner persevered in the latter part of his career with two damaged knees, both requiring ice pack applications after each game. It got so bad that the knees that made him look fleet of foot and allowed him to steal 31 bases for the Dodgers in 1974 in latter years made him waddle the base paths like a football lineman in retirement years.
I played first base growing up and continued right through college. I also spent 7 years as a general manager in professional minor league baseball. Playing first base does not demand the agility of a third baseman or shortstop. It does, though, require exceptional skill. Only a few excel. Bill Buckner, a converted outfielder, performed quite well and had a high fielding percentage that underscores his skill. One error on a cold October night does not aptly typify his career.
If it is even justified to forgive, then we should have forgiven Bill Buckner long ago. However, I don’t have anything for which to forgive him. Baseball fans, especially those in Boston, and baseball commentators, those at ESPN for example, continue to disparage his name and his accomplishments by focusing on one error instead of a career of wonderful achievement. Is it not time to recognize Bill Buckner for all that he contributed and judge him accordingly? We would ask to be treated equitably. Remember the mistakes we’ve made in our lifetimes and wonder our reaction had we been judged so unfairly. One trait, value or behavior does not define us. Rather, it is in the aggregate that we define ourselves and are/should be defined .
Baseball is a game, a passionate game of entertainment that we love because it adds life to hot summer nights and warmth to cold October moons. But, it is a game. To Bill Buckner, it was a game and a job. He made money and he performed his job admirably, better than most baseball players of his and my generation.
His error was not one of character nor of judgment, in the way you define values. It was a physical and mental error. He did not steal. He did not kill. He did not spit in one’s eye or remonstrate lewdly against a segment of the public. A total fielding percentage of .991, close to 3,000 hits, a .321 on-base percentage and one of the best contact hitters in the game. And this is the best we can do? This is what we offer him?
We are a country torn asunder by our weakest link. Most any group is. If we fail to forgive, we fail to honor ourselves and we thus stain the foundation of our souls and our national pasttime.
Somehow, I think Bill Buckner is fine with his life. The laugh is on us. But, we have a chance to rescue ourselves. You see, it’s not for him but for ourselves that we forgive and celebrate.
“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball”
– Jacques Barzun, writer