Bill Buckner, 64, recently announced that he is leaving the Cubs once again, this time likely for good.
Buckner has decided to retire from baseball after two years as the hitting coach for the Cubs’ short-season Class A Boise Hawks. Gordon Wittenmyer had a really nice piece about his work with the young Cubs prospects and his decision to walk away.
There was some talk I had reported on in the fall that Buckner could get the major league hitting gig, a job that eventually went to Bill Mueller.
“Just too much time away,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “My wife has put up with it for 30-something years…I will miss it. “I enjoyed working with the kids. Some of them I worked with the last couple years are getting at-bats in spring training. That’s fun to watch.” Said Buckner.
Buckner was my first favorite Cub. He gave me my first dose of watching “my guy” leave town. It was a lesson I had to learn: don't get too attached to one player, especially when it is for the better of the team. I wrote about this last year.
The subject always reminds me of the famous Seinfeld episode where Jerry realizes that he ultimately “cheers for laundry.”
Most sports fans learn at one time or another that you have to cut ties and move on, even if it is a player you love. The last time I remember feeling down about a player moving on was Buckner back in 1984. He was a hard-nosed, dirty-uniformed, gimpy, smart, left-handed hitting (like me). And that mustache!
I remember vividly being upset at reading that Buckner was involved in trade rumors back in the offseason of 1983. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then-GM Dallas Green was in a hurry to move Buckner, it turns out.
Green apparently thought Buckner was a pain in the ass in the clubhouse, and the team wanted to move the young and promising Leon Durham back to his natural position.
There was the hot and heavy pursuit of Steve Garvey by the Cubs that would have moved Buckner even before then. Buckner was also heavily rumored to be going to New York for Willie Randolph, or to San Francisco in a package for Bill Laskey and Chili Davis.
All smart trades at the time, but I wanted no part of it. I wanted the “Mr. Cub” at the time to stay put. I was young but Buckner was the kind of player I had already learned to gravitate towards.
When the 1984 season began and Buckner held up his inclusion in the Gary Matthews/Bobby Dernier Phillies trade, team management was less than thrilled. Durham was the opening-day first baseman and my favorite Cub had to play sparingly in left field.
I’ll never forget sitting behind him in the bleachers; it just didn’t look right.
I was not surprised when Buckner was finally dealt to Boston for Dennis Eckersley, but I was still upset. A family friend consoled me with a good scouting report on Eckersley.
It immediately cheered me up, and besides, the Cubs were winning. Eckersley was a huge component of that team winning a division. It was a lesson learned and one I never forgot. Plus, Ryne Sandberg, coincidentally, was becoming my new favorite anyway.
I always did root for Buckner in Boston and it still sucks how his legacy has ultimately been written. At least he will always have that great “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode.
Kris Bryant had some things to say about his former hitting coach:
“I had a great time [with Buckner],” Bryant said, whose takeaways included, “his preparation before games. He wouldn’t come up to you and tell you to come out there. But he was always there, ready to flip you balls or put the ball on the tee. He was just willing to help. It was a great resource to have there in Boise, and I was thankful that I got the opportunity to play under him.
“And he’s an awesome guy. He’s really funny. He’s a good guy to be around.”
To paraphrase Robert Smigel: Thanks for “Bucknering” us.
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