Buckner Returns At Emotional Ring Ceremony

The star of the Red Sox' World Series ring ceremony Tuesday was the man who once symbolized the franchise's star-crossed ways.

Bill Buckner emerged from the Green Monster to the delight of a sellout crowd of 36,567 and made his way to the pitcher's mound, where he shrugged off the tears welling in his eyes and threw the ceremonial first pitch to former teammate Dwight Evans to cap a memorable celebration honoring the 2007 world champions.

"Probably about as emotional as it could get," Buckner told reporters afterward. "A lot of thoughts going through my mind. I wish I didn't have to walk all the way from left field, too many things [to think about]. But just good thoughts, which is a nice thing."

It took a long time for Buckner to erase from his mind the not-so-good thoughts he once harbored about Boston. Buckner—fairly or unfairly—has forever been linked to the Sox' seismic loss to the Mets in Game Six of the 1986 World Series. A hobbled Buckner allowed Mookie Wilson's grounder to skip between his legs as Ray Knight scored the winning run to cap the Mets' shocking comeback from the edge of elimination and force a decisive Game Seven, which of course the Mets won two nights later.

Of course, it wasn't Buckner who allowed the Mets to crawl back from a two-run deficit with two outs and nobody on. Nor was it Buckner who uncorked a wild pitch, nor was it Buckner who decided he should be at first base for the final inning. Manager John McNamara regularly replaced Buckner—who could barely bend over due to ankle injuries—with Dave Stapleton in the late innings of playoff games, but McNamara wanted Buckner to be on the field when the Sox won their first World Series since 1918.

Still, the easy storyline, particularly among national media, was that Buckner blew the Series for the Sox. New England fans often taunted Buckner, and after he went after a particularly vocal fan at Pawtucket—where he was serving as a coach for the Sox' Triple-A affiliate—in 1993, he moved from Massachusetts to Idaho and severed ties with the Sox.

After the Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, he told ESPN Radio's Dan Patrick he would not accept an offer to throw out the first pitch at a Sox game. And he was a notable absentee when the Sox honored the 1986 club during a ceremony in June 2006.

But the time was right this winter, when Sox historian Dick Bresciani, who was the team's spokesman during Buckner's time with the Sox, invited Buckner back to Fenway. "I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston per se, but in my heart, I had to forgive the media for what the put me and my family through," said a still teary-eyed Buckner at a press conference afterward. "I've done that, and I'm over that and I'm just happy. And I think of the positive and happy things like Dwight Evans and the guys in the front office when I came."

The return of Buckner was just one of many memorable moments to occur during the ceremony. The Sox honored the city's sports champions by having title-winning members of the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots—as well as 2004 Sox alumni Dave McCarty, Curtis Leskanic and Brian Daubach—carry the 2007 championship rings to Sox ownership.

These ex-players also brought the trophies from their respective sports on to the field. According to the Sox, it is the first time the World Series trophy, the Lombardi Trophy (NFL), the Larry O'Brien Trophy (NBA) and the Stanley Cup (NHL) have all been in one location at the same time.

The ring ceremony itself featured different theme music for nine different groups—manager and coaches, trainers and clubhouse staff, catchers, starting pitchers, infield, outfield, bullpen, closer and designated hitter. The rings themselves feature 28 round brilliant-cut diamonds and the words "WORLD CHAMPIONS" on top of the bezel. Also featured are the Sox logo, the words "7th WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP" and "4-0 SWEEP." Players who played on both the 2004 and 2007 champions have two trophies on their rings.

The inside of the ring features the words "Boston Red Sox" and "10-28-07," the latter, of course, being the date the Sox completed their World Series sweep of the Rockies. The ring weighs 50 dwt.

After the rings were presented, Sox legend Johnny Pesky uttered "Play ball!" into a microphone behind home plate.

"It was a wonderful day for the organization today," Terry Francona told reporters after the Sox beat the Tigers, 5-0. "When you end up winning, it makes it even better. But in the big picture, it was a day that was not only necessary, but also a good way to say goodbye to '07."

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.

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