WHEN HE broke into the majors with the Dodgers in the early 1970s, Bill Buckner was a promising prospect out of Napa (Calif.) High who could do it all: run, hit for average and power, and play a slick first base. In '75, a serious ankle injury took away his speed; he played hurt for the rest of his career. Before every game, Buckner went through a series of elaborate exercises just to get himself on the field. "One of the guttiest players around today," writer Dick Young remarked in '77. "He plays with a bad ankle, takes an aspirin, and steals a base." Buckner, who died this week at 69, would play until he was 40 years old—22 seasons, for five teams. In 2004, as one of his former clubs, the Red Sox, marched to a World Series win, Buckner could barely watch. "I couldn't even enjoy it. I kept getting pissed off—them showing that play," he told SI. That play, of course, was the ground ball that rolled between his legs, allowing the Mets to win Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. "I don't think that's what sports should be about. I finally got up and said, 'Forget this.'"
Eventually, Sox fans came to understand that Buckner's career was about much more than one play: He was a batting champ, an All-Star, a career .289 hitter who logged 2,715 hits. In 2008, Buckner returned, finally, to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch at Boston's home opener. "[It was] about as emotional as it could get," he said. "I had to forgive the media for what they put me and my family through. I've done that, and I'm just happy."