Bill Buckner and Baseball’s Hall of Fame

Bill Buckner
& 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.

Bill Buckner Baseball Card Photo

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%
2 Wade Boggs 3B 18 9180 3010 1412 745 14 0.965 33%
3 Rod Carew 2B / 1B 19 9315 3053 1018 1028 10 0.985 33%
4 Joe DiMaggio CF 13 6821 2214 790 369 21 0.978 32%
5 Paul Molitor 1B / DH 21 10835 3319 1094 1244 10 0.970 31%
6 Hank Aaron RF 23 12364 3771 1402 1383 10 0.982 30%
7 George Brett 3B / 1B 21 10349 3154 1096 908 13 0.970 30%
8 Al Kaline RF 22 10116 3007 1277 1020 11 0.987 30%
9 Bill Buckner OF/1B 22 9397 2715 450 453 22 0.991 29%
10 Eddie Murray 1B 21 11336 3255 1333 1516 8 0.993 29%
11 Robin Yount SS 20 11008 3142 966 1350 9 0.972 29%
12 Carl Yastrzemski LF / 1B 23 11988 3419 1845 1393 10 0.988 29%
13 Ryne Sandberg 2B 16 8385 2386 761 1260 7 0.989 28%
14 Dave Winfield RF 22 11003 3110 1216 1686 7 0.982 28%
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%
17 Mike Schmidt 3B 18 8352 2234 1507 1883 5 0.961 27%
18 Johnny Bench C 17 7658 2048 891 1278 7 0.987 27%
19 Gary Carter C 19 7971 2092 848 997 9 0.991 26%
20 Harmon Killebrew 1B 22 8147 2086 1559 1699 6 0.981 26%
  Avg   20 9465 2774 1166 1243 10 0.981 29%
  Player Position Yrs AB H BB SO AB+BB : SO FLDG % H : AB
A Barry Bonds RF 20 9140 2742 2311 1434 8 0.984 30%

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:

  Player Fielding %
  John Olerud .995
  Keith Hernandez .994
  Steve Garvey .994
  Bill Buckner .991
  George Soctt .988
  Carl Yastrzemski .988
  Willie Stargell .985
  Rod Carew .985
  Harmon Killebrew .981
  George Brett .970
  Paul Molitor .970

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

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8 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I believe Bill has been so overlooked as far as HOF. I grew up in Chicago in the 70’s and without a doubt was the hardest out I have ever seen. I’m surprised players of his era have not echoed this sentiment. Had it not been for the errror, which can ultimately be blamed on various other Red Sox players who prolonged that game, he would have to be considered. As a Cub fan I have seen Sandberg be inducted, Santo and Dawson be given serious consideration, but not one mention of Buckner. We must start a campaign to have him be given his due!

  2. Norman W. Nonnweiler · Edit

    The Baseball Hall of Shame

    I’m tired of hearing about steroids in baseball without seeing anything done. It’s a tragedy that so many players are so silent on the issue. Screw the players union. Even those who didn’t use steroids are responsible if the hold the knowledge of those who did. I still love the game but it has lost a lot of my respect. If people don’t start coming clean, baseball has no respectability. Tell me why ERAs skyrocketed in the 1990s. Why were the batting averages higher with more runs being scored. The average ERA in the 1970s was 3.65 in the National League. The ERA for the last ten years is about 4.36. Tell me that that is not a huge difference. Are they better batters, worse pitchers, or are the stats juiced. I don’t care if it was to deal with an injury or to deal with pain. The players cheated. No, it wasn’t in the rule books but was it fair to those who didn’t cheat? Each and every game a juiced player played in is suspect. How many outcomes were decided by juiced players? Hundreds, thousands? These guys cheated in every game they played in and to me that’s worse than Pete Rose and the Black Sox. It is not fair to those who played the game with integrity and it’s not fair to the fans. I’m disgusted. Like I said, Injuries or pain is not an excuse. To me it would set a great example to these guys if a guy like Bill Buckner were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Although he played with a limp because of his ankles for most of his career, he still was the active player with the most career hits towards the end of his career. He struck out only one in twenty one at bats. Only Tony Gwynn beats that in the last thirty years. He doesn’t quite have what you would call Hall of Fame numbers but if you look closely you’ll see he was one of the best of his era and he did it with a limp. Bill played the game with heart and that’s more important to me than mere stats. Bill didn’t cheat. He made an error late in his career. He dealt with the pain the right way and he still had a good career. How many players have had twenty two year careers like Bill and he did it with an injury. Ban the cheaters and induct Bill. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this more than Bill. I know there are others in the past too that deserve another shot. I plead with the Baseball Writers to have a heart. Set an example. Fair play is more important than mere stats. Players should be judged against people of their own era and I think if you look back, silently Bill Buckner was one of the best of his era and he did it with a limp. Steroid users affected each and every game they played in. That’s worse than Pete Rose or the Black Sox. No one deserves vindication more than Bill. Again, he didn’t cheat. He made an error and I think we should forgive him that. I remember an extra inning Cub game where he made a diving catch to save the game. When hitting was its toughest in the National League, Bill was the toughest hitter. You couldn’t strike him out.

    Thank you,
    Norman W. Nonnweiler

  3. Norman W. Nonnweiler · Edit

    Bill deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. If you agree, here is Commissioner Selig’s address:

    Honorable Alan H. Selig
    Commissioner of Major League Baseball
    245 Park Ave, 31st Floor
    New York, NY 10167
    Honorable Alan H. Selig
    Commissioner of Major League Baseball
    777 E. Wisconsin Ave.
    Suite 2010
    Milwaukee, WI 53202

    Norman W. Nonnweiler

  4. Could you please let me know if Bill Buckner’s number was ever a number 6? I believe it was with the Dodgers, and then with the Red Sox. Thank you very much for your time and careful consideration.

    1. Bill Buckner MLB Teams and Jersey Numbers
      Los Angeles Dodgers, 1969-1976
      Bill Buckner began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He wore jersey number #22

      Chicago Cubs, 1977-1984
      Wore #22

      Boston Red Sox, 1984-1987
      With the Red Sox, Bill Buckner wore the numbers 16 and 6, respectively.

      California Angels, 1987-1988
      Buckner wore jersey number #6 with the California Angels

      Kansas City Royals, 1988-1989
      Buckner wore jersey number #14 with the Kansas City Royals

      Boston Red Sox, 1990
      In his last season in the majors, Buckner wore #22, the first jersey number he wore with the Los Angeles Dodgers to begin his career.

  5. I to believe Bill should be considered for the Hall Of Fame.

    Now, What about another great Yankee 1st Baseman. Bill “Moose” Skowron. Maybe they should get both Bill’s in at the same time.



  6. As a fan, I watched Bill Buckner, one of the best pure hitters of all time, for most of his career. It is ridiculous that Bill is not already in the Hall of Fame. 22 years of play and a hit to strike out ratio 2-3 times better than nearly all inductees since Bill became eligible.
    Bill’s exceptional talent as a hitter and fielder (.991%) is without question. Add the fact that he played on two gimpy knees, and you have the ultimate “gutsy” ballplayer.

    He was, without question, one of the toughest outs in the history of the game.

    His notorious error should in no way define him, his career, his talent, and his HOF eligibility.

    It’s time for the Baseball Writers to Man Up and give a great baseball player his due. Sure, some small-minded New Englanders might stupidly object, but those of us who know and understand the truth should stand up for Bill and tell them to put their ridiculous objections where the sun doesn’t shine.

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