The men on opposite sides of an infamous World Series gaffe have chosen to embrace their past
This is an article from the July 8, 2013 issue
Everybody knows how it went. Bottom of the 10th, two outs, man on second, game tied at five. Mets centerfielder Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball that went under the glove and through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. New York won the game and, two days later, the World Series. The Curse of the Bambino lived on.
After 27 years, Wilson and Buckner have in many ways moved beyond that moment. But when they realized they couldn't truly put the past behind them, they embraced it.
Wilson, who retired in 1991, earned a bachelor's degree in behavioral science at New York's Mercy College in '96. He had been working as a truck driver since '99 and started his own trucking company in 2007.
He lives in Eastover, S.C., but has twice coached first base for the Mets (1997--2002 and '11)—jobs that bookended his two stints spent managing New York's farm teams. He now works as an assistant three days a month during the season, rotating among the minor league clubs, with players who are too young to remember him. "I've played with a lot of their fathers," he says with a laugh.
Being on the losing end of the events of Oct. 25, 1986, has been more difficult for Buckner. The attention over the years has ranged from the tolerable (his son's Little League teammate asking how he dealt with the pit in his stomach) to the abhorrent (the reporter who called his house to ask Buckner's wife, Jody, if he had ever contemplated suicide).
After Buckner retired in 1990, he moved with his family to Boise, Idaho. The man who once wanted to be a veterinarian is an avid outdoorsman, but like Wilson, Buckner has also returned to the sport he loves, serving as the Blue Jays' minor league hitting coordinator from '92 to '95 and as the White Sox' hitting coach from '96 to '97. He managed the independent Brockton (Mass.) Rox in 2011, then joined the Cubs' Class A Boise Hawks as their hitting coach. In February his 25-year-old son, Bobby, signed with Chicago as an undrafted free agent outfielder out of Texas A&M--Corpus Christi, but he blew out his knee in spring training.
He and Wilson remained casual acquaintances until 1989 when, before a game between Buckner's Royals and Wilson's Blue Jays, Buckner broke the ice by jokingly asking Wilson if he would hit him some grounders. In '99 the memorabilia company Steiner Sports asked if they'd be interested in going on the road. They've done a few card shows together, but more often do private events.
Wilson is quick to jump to Buckner's defense if questioners at the events get out of line, but both men admit they're not quite ready to do a show in Boston. After nearly 15 years, they have learned to find joy in their connection. "The relationship we have discovered is worth every moment that we were put together, every moment we didn't quite know what to say to each other," Wilson says. "In the end, good friends are hard to find, and he's truly a good friend."