On December 14th, Bill Buckner turns 60 years old.
In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the beginning of a story of how Buckner broke my heart in the ’86 World Series. In fact, the opposite is true – I grew up in Lakewood, NY rooting for the New York Mets, so I was thrilled when the ball went through Buckner’s legs. I have only been following the Red Sox since joining the PawSox radio team in 2006.
But I do have a Buckner story. A pretty good one in fact.
On August 4, 1992 I played golf with Buckner and former major league manager Nick Leyva. At the time, Leyva was managing the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs and I got to know him while working as a TV sports anchor in town. Buckner was a roving hitting instructor for the Blue Jays back then, and was in Syracuse to work with Toronto’s minor leaguers.
After we finished our round of golf, I hustled into the TV station to begin preparing my 6:00 pm sportscast when an interesting story crossed the AP wire: “Buckner Ball Sold At Auction.”
Sure enough, earlier that day actor Charlie Sheen paid $93,500 dollars to purchase the ball that rolled through Buckner’s legs in the ’86 World Series. For six years, the ball that he bought had been in the possession of the Mets’ traveling secretary Arthur Richmond who had obtained it from right field umpire Ed Montague after the game. Richmond took it into the Mets clubhouse and asked Mookie Wilson to sign it. He wrote, “To Arthur: The ball that won it. Mookie Wilson. 10/25/86″
After seeing how much Sheen had paid for the ball, I figured it would be great to get Buckner’s reaction for my sportscast, so I hopped into a car with photographer Dan Roach and we raced to MacArthur Stadium to see if Buckner would be willing to talk about it. He was a little hesitant at first, but agreed to do the interview.
Once the camera was rolling, I asked my first question:
Me: Bill, today actor Charlie Sheen paid more than $90,000 dollars for the ball that went through your legs in the World Series. What’s your reaction?
Bill: Well, I’m happy he thinks he has a valuable piece of baseball history but he has the wrong ball.
Me: He does? Who has the actual one?
Bill: I do. One of the Mets gave it to me after the game and I have it in a safety deposit box.
Me: But the Mets traveling secretary says he got it from one of the umpires.
Bill: Well, maybe they were playing a prank on him, but I have the ball.
Me: So you’re saying Charlie Sheen wasted nearly a hundred grand on the wrong ball?
We zipped back to the TV studio and ran the interview in its entirety. Soon, the phone began to ring from other media outlets who wanted to know Buckner’s story word-for-word.
That’s when Dan my photographer realized we were sitting on a gold mine and began making phone calls. He quickly sold the footage to the likes of ESPN, CNN, and Entertainment Tonight and we split the money with our TV station.
It was a juicy story for about 24 hours until it became clear that Buckner was lying – he just wanted to plant a seed of doubt in Sheen’s mind.
Sheen had purchased the correct ball, but the actor no longer has it. In 2000, he sold it to songwriter and memorabilia collector Seth Swirsky for $63,944. Swirsky has a web page dedicated to his prized possession – you can see it here.
After Boston ended its World Series draught in 2004, it was common for Red Sox fans to say that they could finally forgive Bill Buckner.
As for me, I can’t thank him enough for one of the most memorable interviews of my career.
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Most of us don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, but you can make your feelings known about one person who will enter the hallowed halls in Cooperstown next summer: The 2010 winner of the Ford Frick Award.
That’s the award given each year to a broadcaster who has made major contributions to the game of baseball. Although they are technically not “Hall of Famers,” the honoree each year has his name added to a plaque in Cooperstown and – if living – gives a speech during Hall of Fame induction weekend.
It’s probably the most prestigious honor a sports broadcaster can receive, and previous winners include such legends as Mel Allen, Red Barber, Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy, and Marty Brennaman.
The recipient each year is chosen by the living Ford Frick Award winners and five historians, but we get to help decide who is on the ballot.
Between now and December 31st, fans have the opportunity to select from more than 200 eligible broadcasters, and the top three selections will appear on the final, 10-name ballot for the 2010 award.
You’ll find the ballot here: http://www.facebook.com/baseballhall?v=app_20678178440#
Some of the interesting names for Red Sox fans to consider are current Boston announcers Joe Castiglione, Dave O’Brien, and Jerry Remy.
My partner on PawSox telecasts on Cox Sports, Bob Montgomery, appears on the ballot along with his former partners in the Red Sox booth – Ned Martin and Sean McDonough.
Former Pawtucket/current New York Mets announcer Gary Cohen is also among the candidates.
There are several legendary broadcasters who have not won the Ford Frick Award yet including Jon Miller, Tim McCarver, Bill King, Joe Nuxhall, George Grande, Dick Enberg, and Al Michaels, but my vote goes to the late Tom Cheek, who was the voice of the Toronto Blue Jays from their inception in 1977 until he became ill in 2004. I’m a bit biased because Tom and his broadcasting partner Jerry Howarth were extremely helpful to me when I was first starting out in the business, but I do believe that Tom was one of the all-time greats and had a big impact in spreading baseball’s popularity in Canada.
So go ahead and be a Hall of Fame voter.
In this case, you don’t have to take steroids into consideration.