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Thinking out loud: Remembering Bill Buckner

John Rooke
May 31, 2019 - 11:15 pm

Thinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to Becky Ball?

  • “Immortality and eternal life? The only sure shot at that was the memories of those you left behind – (to) your friends and family...” ― Brian Keene, Dead Sea

 

  • This past week was a tough one, with a number of notable deaths from within the sports world.  I may not have known them all personally, but I still knew them.  Just as you may have known them.  Some names you’ll recognize, others you might not.    

 

  • But all have probably contributed in some way to feeding your own passions.  I know they did mine.

 

  • Bill Buckner was a very good player – a potential Hall of Famer with more career hits than Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio – who is remembered mostly for a bad play. That's a tough epitaph to have to write.  It’s unfair, even if it is accurate.

 

  • But while he handled that bit of infamy as well as anyone could, in subsequent years his 'forgiveness' of Boston fans and media was even more remarkable. It was classy.  The same can’t be said for those in and outside of the media who blamed him for ‘losing the World Series.’

 

  • After growing up largely as a fan of other teams, I began following the Sox (for the most part) in '86 thanks to the devotion I saw in many Boston fans after they were crushed by Buckner's error in Game Six of the World Series against the Mets.  The emotion was telling.  The heartbreak was real.  The anger?  Palpable.  I wanted to invest in that emotion. 

 

  • But Billy Buck was not the sole reason they lost.But he was the reason I became a fan.  He was, however, a major part of the reason I began to root for the Red Sox in the first place.

 

  • Bart Starr is one of those names that if you’re of a certain age, stands alone as a semi-mythical figure.  Even his name “Bart Starr” evoked a larger-than-life presence in young, impressionable minds of that era.  In a day and age before today’s modernized NFL, Starr was simply ‘the man.’ 

 

  • He was TB12 long before Tom Brady was even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes.  He was the lead operator of the dynastic machine that the Green Bay Packers had become in the 1960’s, coached by the one and only Vince Lombardi.  He led the league in passing three times, when it wasn’t fashionable to do so; he was an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl MVP, too.

 

  • Starr played for Green Bay for 16 years, and all who knew him have suggested he will be remembered mostly for the way he treated people, not just for his five NFL Championships or two Super Bowl (I & II) wins.  It was his respect for others, and his humble demeanor, that helped chisel his legacy.

 

  • And when we were kids, my little brother wore Starr’s #15 jersey around just to make me mad, since I was a Dallas fan at the time of the infamous Ice Bowl, the NFL Championship game of 1967, where Starr scored the winning TD on a QB sneak on top of the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field to beat my beloved Cowboys.  Damn.

 

  • Tragedy hit closer to home last weekend, with the news of Auburn play-by-play broadcaster Rod Bramblett and his wife Paula passing away from injuries sustained in an auto accident, struck from behind by a 16-year-old driver.  The driver survived.

 

  • Bramblett, you may recall, had the memorable call of Auburn’s Chris Davis returning a missed Alabama field goal for a 109-yard touchdown in 2013, to win that Iron Bowl rivalry game.

 

  • So many fans, followers, boosters and alumni rely upon the descriptive words of excitement, encouragement, truth and (hopefully) honesty from their radio play-by-play voices.  Auburn fans are undoubtedly stunned by the news.  He had just called the Tigers’ appearance in the Final Four two months ago.  I did not know Bramblett personally, but certainly knew of him. 

 

  • As a 30+ year radio voice, I believe I have a pretty good feel for the relationship a “team” announcer has with his audience, or perhaps should have.  You’re a reporter first, sure, but also a friend, a fellow fan, an expert, an opinion-maker, a shoulder to lean on, a voice of reason and a beacon for your listeners and the school or organization you represent. 

 

  • People know you, even if they don’t really know you.  It comes with the territory.  My heart aches for the Auburn community and for the two children Rod and Paula leave behind. 

 

  • Show of hands here – who didn’t like the movie “Remember the Titans?”  Anyone, really?  Based on a true story, the movie taught us lessons about a troublesome time in the segregated South back in the early ‘70’s.  Bill Yoast, one of the T.C. Williams’ football coaches, passed away last week at the age of 94.

 

  • Coach Yoast, who was white, was forced to relinquish his head coaching position when the school district integrated and brought in Herman Boone (who was black) to run the show.  They won a Virginia state title in their first season together.  It was a great (and true) story, filled with personalities and tales of victory as well as tragedy.  An impressionable and memorable sports movie, if there ever was one, released nearly 20 years ago.

 

  • Longtime Dallas Morning News baseball reporter Gerry Fraley also passed away last week, at 64.  I didn’t know Gerry well, but certainly knew his work at the DMN covering the Texas Rangers and MLB.  He also covered other sports, but his baseball work was notable for more than 35 years.

 

  • Fraley’s wit was strikingly quick, which served his writing talents – and his audience – so well for more than four decades.  So well, in fact, that a former President (George W. Bush) and an ex-commissioner (Bud Selig) had quotes about Fraley included in his obituary.

 

  • Tweet of the Week I, from @MikeLupica: “I was sitting with the great Gerry Fraley, gone now at 64, the night the Rangers beat the Yankees in the ALCS to advance to the Series. A-Rod was the last out, a strikeout. Gerry turned and said, "The Rangers always hoped Alex would put them in the World Series. He finally did."

 

  • You probably don’t know him, but the college basketball coaching community certainly does.  Howard Moore is an assistant at Wisconsin, working on Greg Gard’s staff, and is highly regarded in the profession.  Moore and his family were involved in a wrong-way, head-on collision last Saturday, which killed his wife Jennifer and daughter Jaidyn.  He and his son Jerell survived.

 

  • Some things happen every day that leave us speechless.  The news of Bramblett’s death and of the tragedy that hit the Moore family, in particular, came like punches to the gut.  But they reaffirm my belief that we should live every day, or at least try to live every day, to its’ fullest. 

 

  • It’s a cliché, really.  But that trite, well-worn-and-travelled belief has reaffirmed its’ true meaning to me this week.

 

  • ICYMI, the Big East Conference celebrated its’ 40th anniversary this week.  40 years ago, May 29th, 1979, the league announced its formation from the Duffy & Shanley offices in Providence that would forever change the landscape of college athletics – in the northeast as well as around the country.  That’s not hyperbole…that’s fact.

 

  • And while there have been many great moments along the way, there have been some not-so-great as well, also showing the business side (aka ‘greed’) involved in today’s athletic game.  Of the original seven members, Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown and Seton Hall remain. 

 

  • You can make the argument PC has never been better, athletically-speaking.  Just sayin’.

 

  • The very moment football was added as an entity in 1991 was the moment things irreversibly changed for the Big East to lead us where we are today.  Mike Tranghese knows it, the school presidents from that time until now all know it.  But the Big East today is back in a very, very good place.

 

  • Alpha Diallo’s decision to return to PC for his senior season was not unexpected, of course.  He knows what he needs to do to get where he wants to go beyond his collegiate eligibility.  He also knows he’ll be the focal point for a Providence team expected to contend in next season’s Big East.

 

  • But I don’t think Diallo’s return makes the Friars a favorite – in fact, this guess probably has them in the 5-6-7 range in the preseason polls.  The league is that L-O-A-D-E-D.

 

  • Myles Powell is a likely preseason Player of the Year at Seton Hall, if not Marquette’s Markus Howard.  Powell is returning.   Xavier has Naji Marshall, Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs and Tyrique Jones all returning.  Creighton’s Martin Krampelj has decided to remain in the draft, as he is already 24 years old.

 

  • Post NBA Draft-eligibility decisions, here’s an updated peek into the pecking order at the start of summer:  Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Providence, Creighton, Xavier, Butler, St. John’s, DePaul.  Eight teams have legit shots at the NCAA’s.  But this can change again before the fall.

 

  • Speaking of St. John’s, former Friar assistant Steve DeMeo was added to Mike Anderson’s staff this week.  DeMeo last coached at PC under Tim Welsh in 2007-08, and won a national junior college championship as head coach at NW Florida in 2015.

 

  • The Gavitt Games matchup for the Friars gets them into a remodeled Welsh-Ryan Arena on Northwestern’s campus, for their first-ever visit on November 13th.  The renovations took 20 months at a cost of $110 million – all privately funded – and actually downsized seating capacity to 7039, from 8117.  Those new digs didn’t help much last season, as the Wildcats were 13-19, and only 4-14 in the Big Ten.

 

  • Other Gavitt Games’ matchups, to be played in mid-November, feature Villanova at Ohio State, Creighton at Michigan and Purdue at Marquette for a 2nd time in three years.  But the all-eyeball game will be held in Newark, NJ as potential national #1 Michigan State plays at Seton Hall.

 

  • Rhody and David Cox picked up a nice commitment from four-star, 6-5 guard Elijah Wood, who decommitted from Tulane after Mike Dunleavy was fired.  Wood was ranked as the #9 combo guard in the country by 247sports.

 

  • Three Friar track athletes have advanced into the NCAA outdoor championships June 5-8 in Austin, TX.  Senior Millie Paladino will go in the 1500-meter finals, junior Abbey Wheeler will compete in the 5000-meter finals.  Senior Brianna Ilarda also advances in the 3000-meter steeplechase.

 

  • Bryant senior pitcher Steve Theetge was named the New England Pitcher of the Year, but the Bulldogs were upended by Central Connecticut in a winner-take-all NEC title game. 

 

  • UConn made it a pretty solid baseball season in the Nutmeg State by advancing to the NCAA regionals in Oklahoma City this weekend after an AAC championship loss to Cincinnati.  Relief pitcher Jake Wallace from Methuen, MA is a candidate for National Pitcher of the Year.

 

  • Not for nuthin’, but former Brown lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany won a natty at Virginia last weekend, as the Cavaliers beat Yale for the Division I crown. 

 

  • Did you hear about the story of the Division III conference that kicked out a league member because they were too good?  The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference gave the boot to the University of St. Thomas, a founding member of the league 99 years ago, largely because the Tommies have won the men’s and women’s all-sports titles for 11 straight years. 

 

  • They’ve also previously been dominant in football, blowing out conference opponents by more than 50 points nine times in the past two seasons.  In my best Slim Pickens/Blazing Saddles voice, “what in the wide, wide world of sports is goin’ on here?”

 

  • The obvious Providence influences on the Stanley Cup Finals – other than the Bruins’ AHL affiliate being in Rhode Island – St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington played 28 games for the P-Bruins last season, on loan from the Blues because they shared an AHL affiliate with Vegas and needed a spot for him to play.  Whoa.

 

  • Binnington now has 13 playoff wins this season, the second-most wins in goal by a playoff rookie in NHL history.  He credits Bruins’ goalie development coach, former Maine star Mike Dunham, for much of his improvement.  If St. Louis wins the Cup, Binnington will surpass Patrick Roy’s mark of 15 rookie victories between the pipes.  Double whoa.

 

  • Adding to the 14 former P-Bruins on the Boston roster (and the one on the St. Louis side, too) NBC Sports PR published its’ top TV markets this week and after St. Louis and Boston (obviously), Providence came in with the 3rd highest-rated audience numbers nationally.  Yeah, playoff hockey is cool.  Cooler when you know the players.

 

  • Other than being completely out-played by the Blues in the 2nd and 3rd periods – and overtime – Wednesday night, I’m hearing we shouldn’t panic over the Bruins’ plight?  And just what IS that plight?  No one remembers how you won.  They only remember THAT you won. 

 

  • You just had an eight-game playoff winning streak snapped.  As long as you play the game, you should be fine.  Forechecking was horrible in Game Two.  But remember to show up and play the game, which is something the Red Sox pitching staff frequently forgets to do.

 

  • Early line on a musical guest for the Patriots’ banner-raising ceremony in September?  Lil’ Nas X.  No, I don’t know his music or even who he is.  But I know TB12 invited him after he performed for the City Hall Plaza masses before Game One of the Stanley Cup. 

 

  • His response to Brady on social media?  “sign me tf up.”  Guess that means he’ll be here?

 

  • Ben Watson was as ‘stand-up’ as a suspended player can be, when explaining his upcoming four-game NFL sit-out to start the year.  But this has a chance to become a real plus for the team, rather than a minus, considering his age (38) and the young guys on the roster who can use the work in the interim. 

 

  • Those Patriots, always turning chicken bleep into chicken salad.

 

  • The Red Sox, for all of their better play (overall) of late, still know how to blow it with the best of ‘em after witnessing the 9th inning meltdown during the six-hour, rain-addled game with Cleveland Tuesday.  Pitching allowed 14 more runs to cross the plate the next night, too.

 

  • The team should give every person left in the stands for that final inning fiasco Tuesday an extra ticket and beg them to come back to another game.  It was everything that is wrong with this team – and this sport – in a nutshell.  Pick your poison.

 

  • And I was just getting ready to give props to David Price for his performance, even coming back out to the mound after an hour delay, following his ‘sick-out’ performance last week.  But did he win?  Nope.  Hey, we’re a results-oriented society.

 

  • Got some great news this week from friend and former on-air partner Steve Hyder – he’s scheduled for a kidney transplant next month, after finding out his goddaughter Liz is a match.  There’s still a GoFundMe page up, and a fundraiser at O’Brien’s Pub in Newport on June 11th to help with medical expenses.

 

  • Tweet of the Week II, from @SBNation: “In honor of the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee, what word got you eliminated in elementary school?”

 

  • I actually won the only elementary school spelling bee I took part in, in 4th grade, with e-c-o-n-o-m-i-c-a-l.  But a classmate tied me for the honor, so we were named co-champs rather than having a spell-off.  That’s when young Miss Ball as I recall, suggested we settle this championship with an eraser fight when our teacher, Miss Werner, left the room. 

 

  • So we did.  She was fast (and my mom always told me to watch out for fast women), but I was accurate – at least, more than she was.

 

  • Peter from Pawtucket posted on Facebook this week, about Bill Buckner: “John McNamara could have saved Buck if he’d just replaced him with Dave Stapleton for defensive purposes. Buck was the easy target, but it was the manager’s error in putting him out there.”

 

  • Peter:  That is a common theme I’ve heard for several years, whenever it comes to criticism of Buckner and ‘the play.’ And it’s not wrong.  But it was also the simplest of plays that anyone could have blown – even defensive replacements.  It was just a fluke.  It was a miracle.  And it was meant to be.  I imagine that’s how Buckner himself was able to find peace with it over time.

 

  • Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

 

Don’t forget to tune into Providence’s 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am for Cordischi and Coit!  Call in at 401-737-1287 or text at 37937.