was one of many talented players in the Dodger organization in
the late 1960s, joining Bill Russell, Ron Cey, Willie Crawford,
Don Sutton, Von Joshua, Charlie Hough, Bobby Valentine, Joe Ferguson,
Tom Paciorek and Doyle Alexander, in an amazing crop of young
ballplayers who emerged from LA's farm system in that era. In
1968 alone, the Dodgers inked 55 amateur players, four of whom
were Buckner, Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, and Ron Cey.
Buckner was an outfielder,
but the Dodgers tried him at first base as well, working to fit
him into their crowded lineup. Garvey and Russell were also splitting
time between the outfield, third base and shortstop. In his eight
seasons under Walter Alston as a Dodger, Buckner had three seasons
as a regular, splitting time with Garvey at first, and finally
planting himself in the outfield in 1976. But when the Dodgers
were able to get Rick Monday from the Cubs in January, 1977, they
sent Buckner to Chicago in the deal, which also included shortstop
Ivan DeJesus. Monday joined Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker in the
Dodger outfield under new skipper Tommy Lasorda, and Buckner was
converted to first base full-time by the Cubs.
Buckner blossomed in
Chicago, as he was finally given a chance to play on a regular
basis. The left-handed hitter batted .323 his first season, and
later hit .324, .311 and .306 in the Windy City, but was unable
to help the Cubs climb in the standings. Buckner, sporting a thick
mustache that became his trademark, won the National League batting
title in 1980, edging Keith Hernandez and Garry Templeton.
With Chicago in 1977,
Buckner suffered the first of many ankle injuries which plagued
him during his career. He had once been a strong baserunner, swiping
31 bases in a season for the Dodgers, but after 1976 he never
stole more than 18 bases, and his range in the field was vastly
limited. Buckner routinely grounded into 16-20 double plays a
season, and except for 50 games in 1980, he never played much
in the outfield. Cub broadcaster Lou Boudreau once said of Buckner:
"He looks like he's walking on eggs and can't take another
Despite his gimpiness,
Buckner stayed among a pack of 10-12 hitters in the NL batting
race for most of the 1980 season. On September 1, he was at .312,
13 points in back of George Hendrick. On September 11, after three
hits against Montreal, Buckner inched ahead of Garry Templeton,
.324-.323, while Cesar Cedeno, Keith Hernandez, and Hendrick trailed
close behind. On the 27th, Templeton vaulted ahead by three points,
and the St. Louis shortstop held a five-point lead on the 23rd.
On September 26, less than two points separated Templeton, Hernandez,
and Buckner. On October 1, Templeton led Hernandez and Buckner
by three points with four games to go. The next day, Buckner banged
out three hits and two days later he colected three more to take
the lead for good. He finished at .324, three points ahead of
In May of 1984 Buckner
was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Dennis Eckersley in
a deal which helped the Cubs win the National League East. Buckner
enjoyed two full seasons with the BoSox, driving in 100 runs in
both '85 and '86, due in large part because he had several RBI
opportunities batting behind Wade Boggs. In 1986, for example,
Buckner batted just .276 with men on base, and .242 with a .340
slugging percentage with men in scoring position, but still amassed
102 RBI because Boggs was on base more than 300 times in front
of him. In the 1986 post-season Buckner batted a weak .200, with
four RBI in 14 games, and just one extra-base hit. In spite of
his poor performance, Boston manager John McNamara left him at
first base in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game Six of the
World Series with a two-run lead. Defensive specialist Dave Stapleton
was left on the bench, and watched in horror as a ground ball
skipped through Buckner's legs and down the right field line,
allowing the Met's Ray Knight to score the game-winning run. The
Red Sox never recovered, losing a three-run lead in Game Seven
and continuing their cursed Fall Classic tradition. Buckner's
name became synonimous with the team's failure, and due in part
to that, and the fact that he was deteriorating as an everyday
player, he was released by the Sox on July 23, 1987, to make room
for prospect Sam Horn.
Buckner spent 1987,
1988, and 1989 with the California Angels and then the Kansas
City Royals, seeing little playing time as his skills eroded.
In 1990, the Red Sox signed him as a free agent. He played 22
games as a first baseman and pinch-hitter, with his only highlight
an inside-the-park home run in Fenway Park. The sight of Buckner
legging out the homer was brutal irony to Red Sox faithful, who
could not forget the infamous play from the 1986 World Series.
Buckner retired before the '90 season concluded, having registered
2,715 hits, 498 doubles, 174 home runs, 183 steals, 1,077 runs
scored, 1,208 RBI, and a .289 lifetime batting average.
1970-1976: outfielder, mostly right field, with a few games at
first base; 1977-1990: first base, with a few games in the outfield
and at DH. Buckner was reluctant, but happy to consider moving
at various times in his career, if it would help his team. In
1980, while he was among league leaders in hitting, the Cubs pondered
switching Buckner to the outfield so they could get Cliff Johnson
into the lineup. "I'd rather not," Buckner said, "but
if it will help the club, I'll do it. (My ankle injury) still
bothers me sometimes." With Dave Kingman on the disabled
list, Buckner did end up moving to left field for a time, but
hurt himself shortly afterword when he dove for a ball. He missed
a few games and was back at first once Kingman was healthy.
On May 17, 1979, in a famous slugfest at Wrigley Field that included
three homers by Dave Kingman and two by Mike Schmidt, Buckner
belted a grand slam and drove in seven runs. The Cubs still lost
to the Phillies, 23-22 in ten innings.
#38 (1969), #22 (1970-1984 Cubs, 1990 Red Sox), #16 (1984 Red
Sox), #6 (1985-1988 Angels), $14 (1988-1989 Royals)
Buckner's brother, Jim, played in the Atlanta Braves' minor league
Transaction Data (courtesy
June 7, 1968: Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2nd round
of the 1968 amateur draft; January 11, 1977: Traded by the Los
Angeles Dodgers with Jeff Albert (minors) and Ivan DeJesus to
the Chicago Cubs for Rick Monday and Mike Garman; May 25, 1984:
Traded by the Chicago Cubs to the Boston Red Sox for Dennis Eckersley
and Mike Brumley; July 23, 1987: Released by the Boston Red Sox;
July 28, 1987: Signed as a Free Agent with the California Angels;
May 9, 1988: Released by the California Angels; May 13, 1988:
Signed as a Free Agent with the Kansas City Royals; November 4,
1988: Granted Free Agency; December 6, 1988: Signed as a Free
Agent with the Kansas City Royals; November 13, 1989: Granted
Free Agency; February 15, 1990: Signed as a Free Agent with the
Boston Red Sox; June 5, 1990: Released by the Boston Red Sox.
Buckner set career marks with 161 games played, 201 hits, and
105 RBI. Later he topped them with the Red Sox, but in '82 he
batted .306 and had a respectable .441 slugging mark. He had 34
doubles and 15 home runs, and stole 15 bases in 20 tries.
From 1971 to 1980, Buckner hit over .300 in every even-numbered
year and hit below .300 in every odd-numbered year.
Collected his 2,000th career hit with Boston in 1984. Interesting
to note that had Buckner had the fortune of being drafted by an
expansion team, he may have inched very close to the 3,000-hit
mark. As it was he banged out more than 2,700 in his career, but
if he hadn't been stuck in the talent-rich Dodger organization,
he might have gotten a chance to play everyday at the age of 20,
which might have netted him the 285 hits he needed to reach 3,000.
16 games (1981)
When Buckner finally got semi-regular playing time with the Dodgers
in 1971, he was replacing an ad hoc group of right fielders, namely
Willie Crawford, BIll Russell (who was converted into an infielder),
and Andy Kosco.
Buckner's last fullt-ime job was as the Royals' DH in 1988. In
'89, the team went with Danny Tartabull in that role, among others.
Strength as a Player
Batting for a high average and making contact. In 1980, when Buckner
won the NL batting crown, he didn't strike out until his 112th
at-bat of the season. Twice, in 1978 and 1979, he was the toughest
batter in the National League to strike out. Ironically, depite
his penchant for bat control, Buckner was one of the most notorious
bat throwers of his era. Several times each season, the bat would
fly out of his hands as he swung. Opposing pitchers grew used
to ducking his errant bats.
Weakness as a Player
Patience and power. Buckner's offensive value was contained almost
exclusively in his batting average.