Most people from my parent’s generation can tell you exactly where they were the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Exactly where, when the United States’ 35th president was shot at 12:29 p.m. Dallas time on Nov. 22, 1963.
Among similar events that I experienced with my fellow Generation Xers while growing up, I can tell you that I was:
• Riding the school bus home from elementary school when I first heard John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981;
• Sitting down in the junior high cafeteria when I first learned of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on Jan 28, 1986; and
• Working the Hardee’s cash register when my supervisor told me on Aug. 2, 1990, that the U.S. entered the The Persian Gulf War
The cultural, political and historical significance of such events is immeasurable.
But for me, none of these can quite compare to what happened on Oct. 25, 1986. All I can say is, “Just ask me where I was when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs during the legendary Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.”
OK. I get it. So the series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets doesn’t exactly have life-and-death and national security implications. But if we’re talking about legendary events that have helped to define generations, we’d be remiss to entirely exclude professional sports. Especially our National Pastime. Here’s how the ESPN Classic series Battle Lines sets up this infamous game:
“The Boston Red Sox are trying to rid themselves of the Curse of the Bambino. They have not won a World Series since trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season … Boston is one out away from winning its first Series since 1918, holding a two-run lead with two outs and nobody on base in the 10th inning in Game 6.”
8th grade party of the century
When it all started, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect Saturday night. I was in the eighth grade in 1986 and I had the good fortune of being among those boys cool enough to be invited to Donnie’s birthday party/sleepover.
I guess you could have considered it a slumber party, if we were girls! But come on. We were guys in the eighth grade. This was a birthday party.
But there were three things on tap that made this a party for the ages: A World Series game on the TV, a special junior high dance at the adult-chaperoned teen hangout “Guido’s,” and (are you ready for this?) this was the night Daylight Savings Time ended and we fell back. Think about it: We got an entire extra hour to enjoy the unending supplies of pop, chips, Rice Krispie treats, rented movies, pick-up basketball games, pool games and Atari games.
Somebody stop me!
The 14 of us invited to the sleepover arrived at Donnie’s around 3. I wonder now why none of our parents offered to help Donnie’s parents manage 14 junior high boys. Wait. No I don’t.
We started with several games of basketball out in the driveway, carefully picking teams and always making sure our junior high team’s starting point guard Donnie and 6’-3” starting forward Darin serve as captains. Guess we all knew if they were on the same team, the other team didn’t have a chance. More basketball. Some Atari. And Donnie’s mom calling us to have some Sloppy Joe’s for dinner before she and his dad piled us all into two separate vans around 7 so that we, and they, could enjoy our time away at Guido’s.
The game at Guido’s
In almost a speakeasy sort of fashion, Guido’s opened its doors on the weekends to give high schoolers safe alternatives to drinking, driving and finding other ways to get into trouble. A group of high school parents managed this teen hangout that mirrored many adult bar-like establishments, complete with tables and chairs, a bar completely stocked with Pepsi products, a dance floor and DJ, and a pair of projection TVs tuned into MTV back when it still featured music videos.
I don’t remember what the theme was at Guido’s this night. Probably Hawaiian or something like that. But it didn’t matter. A group of us guys attending Donnie’s party was on a mission to get the TV channel changed off of MTV for tonight. Game 6 of the Series was on.
After some sweet talking a couple of the parents (I think the dad also wanted to see the game), much to the dismay of the prepubescent girls wanting to scream over the likes of Prince, Bon Jovi and George Michael (if only they knew then), the potential series-clinching game for the Boston Red Sox was projected on the Guido’s screen.
This isn’t to say we were glued to the TV the whole night. You know, like when the Galaga game opened up, someone challenged you to darts or a slow song presented the opportunity to dance close to a cute girl, the game could wait. Not that we necessarily were diehard Red Sox or Mets fans in the middle of east central Iowa. But in being baseball fans and knowing the legacy that was the Curse of the Bambino, we all felt this Game 6 had the potential of making history (if only we knew then).
When the dance ended, we piled back into the pair of vans and left Guido’s with the promise of a 3-2 Boston lead after seven innings. By the time we got back to Donnie’s, the game was tied 3-3 at the end of the eighth. While many of the guys went back downstairs to play pool, Moon Patrol and eat chips, Darin, Donnie and I grabbed another Mountain Dew and the entire pan of Rice Krispie treats and were locked in for extra innings. According to Baseball Almanac, here’s how the events unfolded:
After (Dave) Henderson led off the top of the tenth with a home run against Rick Aguilera breaking the 3-3 tie, Boston increased its lead to 5-3 as Wade Boggs doubled and Marty Barrett singled him home. Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi (who yielded the tying run in the eighth) retired the Mets’ first two batters in the tenth (Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez), moving Boston to within one out of the World Series title. (Gary) Carter prolonged the anxious fans tension with a clutch single and Kevin Mitchell followed with another base hit. Schiraldi regained his composure and managed a no-ball, two-strike count on New York’s Ray Knight, but the third baseman made contact on his next offering, scoring Carter and moving Mitchell to third. Anticipating a disaster, Bob Stanley was called in and matched Mookie Wilson in a ten-pitch duel that left fans on both sides hanging on the edge of their seats. Wilson fouled off a 2-1 pitch, then sent two more out of bounds. As the pressure continued to build, Stanley’s seventh pitch went wild, and Mitchell raced home with the game-tying run with Knight advancing to second. With a full count of 3-2, Wilson finally connected fair on the tenth toss sending a short grounder along the baseline toward first baseman Bill Buckner. …”
Unforgettable moment in time
Dumbstruck. We couldn’t move. What the hell just happened? You had the game won and you let the ball go through your legs? Unfreaking believable!
Darin, Donnie and I sat staring at the TV. I felt horrible for Buckner because I had been a fan of his when he played for the Chicago Cubs in the late 1970s and early 80s. He even won the National League batting title in 1980.
When the game broke for a commercial, we shook our heads in disgusted disbelief and went downstairs to get in on the Atari bonanza.
Even with the added hour I managed to stay up the entire night. Part of me wants to say I was having that much fun, but I think I really was trying to make myself feel better for Boston’s and Buckner’s loss.
The only thing that could redeem Buckner and his most unfortunate of errors would be for Boston to come back and win Game 7. They lost 8-5 and so stands Buckner’s tainted legacy.
This still makes me feel ill because the game never should have come to that. After all, why doesn’t anyone remember that it was pitcher Bob Stanley who threw the wild pitch that allowed the Mets to tie the game and move Knight into scoring position? Or, that it was Schiraldi who blew Boston’s lead in the bottom of the eighth inning?
When all is said and done, it comforted me to read in an online Wikipedia report that Buckner received a four-minute standing ovation when he threw out the first pitch to former teammate Dwight Evans at Boston’s home opener as they posted the Red Sox’ 2007 World Series Championship banner.
We make memories each day of our lives. But sometimes there are situations beyond our control that elevate regular occasions to unforgettable moments.
Donnie’s 14th birthday in 1986 is one I’ll never forget. In an indirect unfortunate way, neither will Bill Buckner.