The Red Sox Expiate Bill Buckner
In a striking and perhaps unexpected move, the Boston Red Sox formally expiated the much-maligned Bill Buckner by inviting him to Fenway Park to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day. The symbolic invitation for Buckner to appear in Fenway, on the day that the Sox recognized the second World Series title of their budding dynasty no less, signals a new era for New England fans. Buckner appearing at Fenway effectively ended the culture of victimhood that for almost a century has been integral to following the Sox.
Boston needed Buckner to serve as a symbol of utter futility, of a supernatural curse, and as an instance of evil triumphing in the world in an unexplainable way. No play in baseball history is as familiar as the slow-rolling ball that dribbled through Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series. The Red Sox were one strike away from ending their title drought. Keith Hernandez had already taken off his jock strap and booked a flight home. It was a done deal. Then, a Boston meltdown, which included a few cheap singles, some ill-fated managerial decisions, and a wild pitch, culminated in Buckner’s famous era.
That’s why bringing Buckner back to Fenway–for the first time since 1997–ushers in a somewhat elegaic feeling. As a fan on the Boston Red Sox, I must refashion my stance to the team, considering myself as loyal to a legitimate corporate powerhouse, replete with its own cable TV network, iconic ballpark, and high-profile free agents. Getting into Fenway now is no small feat, and rooting for the Red Sox is the “in” thing to do.
Buckner’s appearance at Fenway makes the transition from victimhood to dynasty official: we don’t need him any more. The Red Sox nation is inhabiting the same terrain that once belonged to the Yankees.