Buckner didn't stop battling all the way to Boston. He once fought Cubs manager Lee Elia on the top step of their dugout. His fight with Gary Carter is legend. Buckner got so mad at popping up in a 1980 game in Montreal that he smashed his bat down, accidentally breaking Carter's mask. The next week in Wrigley Field, after Buckner got a hit, Carter picked up Buckner's bat and broke it over home plate. So after Carter rounded the bag after a hit, the two of them ended up rolling on the ground, swinging.
Buckner would never be accused of being California mellow. He still yells at the wind, the hitting background or line drives that get caught. But ever since his first winter in Boston in 1984-85 when Hriniak told him, "If you'll shift your weight, you can hit homers," his fire has been devoted to hitting. In his 14 seasons before 1985, Buckner never hit more than 16 homers and only once did he drive in more than 75 runs, but in the last two years, he has hit 16 and 18 homers and knocked in 110 and 102 runs. Last year, when his ankle didn't bother him as much, he stole 18 bases, played 162 games and amassed 201 hits.
In 1986, Buckner's body finally broke down, and after hitting in the low .200s for two months, he limped to a low .267. It wasn't unusual to see him before games with ice taped to his ankle, Achilles tendon, lower back, elbow and shoulder. "This is weird," he said last Friday, 24 hours after the operation. "I hardly hurt. I won't know what it's like."
After Dr. Arthur Pappas removed a large chunk of bone from the top of the left foot and cleared bone chips and other debris from the ankle, he told Buckner that he should feel better than at any time since 1976. "I used to think, 'One year at a time,' " said Buckner, his left ankle in a cast and his right foot in a bandage. "Now I'm thinking three years and 3,000 hits. There's no reason I can't do it now if I'm healthy. Not only that, but I'll be wearing the high tops. Maybe they'll do for me what they did for Y.A. Tittle."
Maybe he can even get people to forget about a certain ground ball.