7:04 PM CDT, May 4, 2012
Bill Buckner and Leon Durham gave the Cubs solid first basemen from 1977-87, when this reporter spent some time covering the team as the Tribune's beat writer.
Each enjoyed a solid major league career. Buckner wound up a .289 career hitter with a batting title in 1980, and Durham hit .277 lifetime.
But numbers reveal only part of their legacies.
Buckner is best known for his error with the Red Sox in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series against the Mets. When Mookie Wilson's slow grounder snaked through Buckner's legs, the Mets made an incredible comeback and went on to win Game 7.
Durham's seventh-inning error on Tim Flannery's grounder in the final game of the '84 National League Championship Series led to a heartbreaking Cubs loss to the Padres.
Buckner carried his burden for two decades before Red Sox fans reached out to him in 2008. He threw out a ceremonial first pitch on opening day, and the thunderous ovation at Fenway Park brought tears to his eyes.
"In my heart I had to forgive not the fans of Boston per se but the media for what they put me and my family through," Buckner told reporters after that emotional experience. "I am over that."
I caught up with Durham this week to ask if he has carried the burden of the '84 NLCS defeat and whether he could use a similar form of forgiveness from Cubs fans.
"To me, that (error) wasn't really the cause of us not getting to the World Series. But it was part of it," said Durham, now the hitting coach for the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers' Triple A affiliate. "It wasn't like we didn't have an opportunity to score any more runs. There were pitchers who could have been taken out of the game in certain situations. But (manager) Jim Frey decided he went this far with his best, and he wanted to stay with his best.
"It was not a suicidal thing or something for me to have a bad feeling in my stomach about. I didn't lose any sleep over it. I didn't hold it as my fault that we didn't get to the next level."
Durham said he had attended only a couple of Cubs Conventions over the last 28 years. And he has yet to return to Wrigley Field to throw out a ceremonial first pitch or lead the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
"Every time I see (Cubs) fans, they say: 'Why don't you come to the convention? … We need to see some different faces,'" he said. "I say: 'Hey, it's not my call. I'm not going to be begging to come in for a week in advance. I have things going on in my life.' "
Durham, 54, said the Cubs had invited him over the years to lead the crowd in the seventh-inning stretch, "but I can't do that with my job. If I was not working in the summer, then I would probably accept that.
"(Fans) treat me pretty good in Chicago when I'm there. There are one or two hecklers here and there, but I dealt with that (mess) when I played. …
"If that's all you remember about Leon Durham, then that's your fault. … You're a miserable person."
When I continued to ask him about the desire for a forgiving gesture, Durham relented.
"I mean right now, do I feel like I was once a Cub?" he said. "No, I don't. I don't because I don't feel like I am part of the family. There are no invites, there's nothing there. I get a fricking calendar every year. Bobby Dernier is more of a Cub guy. They take care of him more than they take care of me, and Bobby Dernier came in there for what? Two or three years (actually four) or whatever, and he's like Mr. Cub … Ernie Banks and (such).
"But I'm not down about it. I have been in this game a long time, almost 38 years. I have no bad feelings in my heart … because I was allowed to take care of my family and I was allowed to take care of my dreams. I have no hostility against the Cubs. I was just treated different."
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