The Famous "Buckner Ball" From The 1986 World Se
"The dreams are that you're gonna have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you're gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs. Those things happen, you know. I think a lot of it is just fate."
--Bill Buckner in an October 6, 1986 interview on Boston's WBZ-TV, nineteen days before Game Six.
Fate can be cruel, and nobody understood that better than the fans of the Boston Red Sox, even before their All-Star first baseman committed the most notorious fielding error in baseball history. Since Harry Frazee's unimaginably ill-advised sale of Babe Ruth ceded American League dominance to the Sox' most hated rival in 1920, the "Curse of the Bambino" had hung over New England like a Biblical plague, condemning countless millions of fans to live and die without ever enjoying the view from baseball's highest peak. On the rare occasions that the Sox got close, the suffering only intensified.
In 1946, Pesky's momentary hesitation during the Mad Dash led Boston to the Slaughter. In 1967, the Impossible Dream turned to nightmare. Carlton Fisk's glorious Game Six walk-off was rendered moot a day later in 1975. In each case the Sox lost the Series in seven, stringing hope to the final day before crushing it beneath a spiked boot.
But each of these disappointments would pale in comparison to the events of October 25, 1986. The Red Sox led the Series three games to two. After allowing the Mets to score the tying run in the eighth inning of Game Six, both teams put up zeros in the ninth. But then Dave Henderson led off the tenth with a homer down the left field line. Four batters later, Wade Boggs was singled home by Marty Barrett. The Red Sox found themselves leading five to three going into the bottom of the tenth.
Right-handed reliever Calvin Schiraldi got Wally Backman on a fly ball to left to retire the Mets' lead-off batter, then Hall of Famer Keith Hernandez on a drive to deep center. With the bases empty and leading by two runs, the Red Sox were a single defensive out from ending a sixty-eight year Curse. The electronic scoreboard in right-center field at Shea Stadium briefly flashed the words "Congratulations Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions."
But then Gary Carter singled. Kevin Mitchell, pinch hitting in the pitcher's spot, singled again. Ray Knight made it three in a row, plating Carter and trimming the lead to one. Red Sox manager John McNamara lifted the rattled Schiraldi for the veteran Bob Stanley who battled Mookie Wilson to a two and two count. One strike away.
But on the seventh pitch Stanley threw wild, sending Wilson and the ball to the dirt. Mitchell raced home to tie the game, and Ray Knight scampered to second base. Wilson fouled off the eighth and ninth pitches as the count remained full. Then, on the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Stanley delivered this baseball to the plate.
We all know what happened next. In Red Sox hell, Vin Scully's call plays over the intercom in a continuous loop. "A little roller up along first...behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!
As Shea Stadium erupted from this miraculous stay of execution, right field umpire Ed Montague retrieved the baseball from where it lay in the grass beyond first place and made a small "X" in ballpoint ink near the stitching. He then sought out his friend, Mets traveling secretary Arthur Richman and presented the ball to him. Richman entered the jubilant Mets clubhouse with the ball in hand, where the lucky left fielder inscribed the horsehide "To Arthur, the ball won it for us, Mookie Wilson, 10/25/86." Other Mets rubbed the ball for luck or gratitude. One planted a kiss, leaving behind a brown chewing tobacco stain.
The ball ultimately made its way from Richman's personal collection to private auction, where it sold to actor Charlie Sheen. A few years later Sheen sold the ball to our consignor Seth Swirsky. It is presented within this auction with individual 1992 letters of provenance from Richman, Montague and Wilson, a letter from Red Sox manager John McNamara, and digital images of the ball's more recent travels and appearances including a 2003 "photo op" with Vin Scully and its display at the twenty-year reunion ceremonies for the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.
Another eighteen seasons would pass before the Babe would finally relinquish his suffocating grip and retire the Curse for good at a geriatric eighty-six years of age. But while World Championships in the 2000's may have lessened the sting of that fateful day in Queens for Red Sox nation, the status of the presented sphere as one of the most famous in the game's history remains unchanged. Ultimately it stands as a symbol of that thinnest of lines between glory and agony, and the capricious nature of hope to which every baseball fan clings until it is realized, or extinguished for another year. Letter of provenance from Arthur Richman. Letter of provenance from Mookie Wilson. Letter of provenance from Ed Montague. Full LOA from PSA/DNA (Wilson autograph). Full LOA from James Spence Authentication (Wilson autograph).