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Didja Ever Notice: Hall of Famer

Bill Buckner is in the Hall of Fame. For that matter, so is Bill Buckner, the pitcher, with whom the research librarians in the Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, made sure I wasn't looking for when I asked for the Buckner file.

Every major league player has a file in the Hall of Fame Library, filled with newspaper/magazine clippings, photos, correspondence, signature samples, and all sorts of other goodies. These are of great value to folks such as myself. You have to wear white gloves when handling the contents.

When I went to Cooperstown about a week or so ago, near the end of my visit, I stopped in the library. There was only one file I wanted to see, and it took me an hour to sift through everything in the folder.

Its contents were fascinating to me. And two nuggets in particular stood out.

On April 4, 1981, the New York Daily News headline read "Mets may acquire Cubs' Buckner."

Jack Lang quoted a source that the Mets were talking to the Cubs about trading Joel Youngblood and a young pitcher to the Cubs for Buckner.

But alas, nothing further developed from this.

Buckner was traded by the Cubs to the Red Sox in 1984 for pitcher Dennis Eckersley, and some folks in Boston were not happy about the deal.

Said one friend of Eck's to the local media: "Nothing against Bill Buckner, but (this trade) stinks."

You know who said that?

Bob Stanley.

Here are some of the other highlights of what I learned:

* In spring training, 1970, Buckner broke his jaw and was knocked unconscious during an outfield collision in spring training. The man on the other end of the accident? Bobby Valentine.

* The Sporting News, November 10, 1970: Bill Buckner was nicknamed "Mad Dog" because he went nuts every time he made an out.

"I think I can hit .300 in the majors," Buckner said. "I know I'm a better batter right now than some who have been playing there."

Ted Williams agreed. A story from the LA Times tells how Ted Williams watched Buckner in spring training 1972 and said "This is a boy who can become a batting champion."

At one winter banquet in 1971, the LA Times quoted him as saying "The Dodgers may now have Frank Robinson and Tommy John, but they wouldn't have a chance at a pennant if they trade me."

* Prior to the 1974 World Series, which Buckner's Dodgers lost in five games to the Athletics, Buckner provided extra motivation for his opponents, when (according to a reference in The Sporting News) he said that only three A's players could make the Dodgers team.

In 1976, Buckner was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner describing the Reds pitching staff.

"Their relief pitchers are pretty good, but their starters are second division."

The Reds went on to win the World Series.

Buckner was known for rankling folks with his comments, but when you criticize your manager for hitting you second behind speedster Davey Lopes (August 14, 1976, LA Times), by saying "It's a waste of a good hitter," what do you expect?

Said Cubs manager, Herman Franks in the Chicago Tribune later in Buckner's career: "All he cares about is Bill Buckner."

* A Chicago Tribune feature from 1978 told how Buckner would get in shape by running 1 1/2 miles up a fire trail into the Santa Monica Mountains (he'd later run the 100-yard dash in 11 seconds flat in the Superstars competition on ABC). He also used ballet exercises to help his fitness. Another piece from 1982 told how Buckner got help from a hypnotist to get him through a slump.

* An August 16, 1980 Tribune piece noted that Buckner was trying to perfect the one-hand snap catch (a la Rickey Henderson)

* Bill Buckner didn't like the grass at Wrigley Field, and let that be known in 1981:

"The grass is so long, I could feed my whole herd of cattle," he said. "I figure it must be another economy move. They're going to let the infield grass grow until its time to bring in a combine. After all, hay is going for $100 a ton these days."

The Cubs groundskeeper, who headed a crew that Buckner referred to as "lazy" a year earlier, said Buckner was welcome to cut the grass himself.

* Buckner had some connections to other members of the 1986 Mets. In 1974, he was fined for throwing his glove to protest an April 9 home run by then-Braves second baseman Davey Johnson. Buckner thought the ball was foul.

In 1980, his race for the NL batting crown with Keith Hernandez went to the last day of the season (Buckner won). There's also a reference in a story from July, 1982, to a "tussle" Buckner had with Expos catcher Gary Carter.

* A 1977 feature referenced that Buckner once lost a hit for using an illegally grooved bat.

* Buckner's brother Jim played in the minor leagues as an outfielder for 10 years, and played briefly for the Mets Triple-A team in Tidewater and their Double-A squad in Jackson.

* Among the other teams to whom Buckner was rumored to be dealt: The Yankees, Phillies, and Giants. Buckner didn't like being traded. After being dealt by the Dodgers to the Cubs, he said: "I feel like a piece of meat. They use you for what they can and get rid of you the same way."

* Jim Murray wrote some wonderful Buckner pieces for the LA Times. Among his use of language:

"To interview the Cub, Billy Buckner, you have to get ready for it like running the Olympic mile. What is needed is a new pair of Addidas, enlarged lungs, a lower pulse rate, and a finishing kick."

I'll close with an excerpt from a poem called The Walk of Life written for The Buffalo Head Society (a Red Sox fan group) by Jack McCarthy.

"If we were honest, you name would be spoken
only after the lights were out
and then only between two persons
who had achiceved the deepest intimacy
who knew they could turn to one another
in the darkness
when the fear was on them
one of them might gently brush
the shoulder of the other
and the other one might
swim up from the depths of sleep and whisper
'What is it my darling?'
and the one might sigh,
'Bill Buckner,'
and the other might caress the one and whisper

Shh, it's all right
Sleep will come,
when you're not looking...


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