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He is a character from a modern Nathaniel Hawthorne novel about the harshness of village life in New England. A scarlet letter and a scarlet numeral adorn Bill Buckner's chest, the poor man consigned forever to wear the symbol E-3 on the local streets in remembrance of his momentary fall into sin. There is no forgetting what he did. There, alas, can be no forgiveness.
He has to leave.
A convicted felon, the perpetrator of the most heinous crime, can return from a stay in any prison and attempt to remake his life. This happens every day. Bill Buckner cannot be rehabilitated. No amount of good works or public penance can repair the damage he has done. He let a bouncing baseball slip through his legs.
His image will never be allowed to change. There are people who view him as worse than Sacco and Vanzetti put together, worse than Lizzie Borden and Albert DeSalvo, worse than any and all of the Brinks robbers and worse than Marky Mark, the pride of Dorchester, Mass., who now poses in his underpants. This is serious stuff. Buckner cost the Boston Red Sox a World Series. This is personal.
Almost seven years have passed since that "tragic and fateful day"—to borrow words from the song about another Boston man looking to get home, Charlie on the MTA—when the ball went through the first baseman's legs in the bottom of the tenth inning of Game 6, under the harsh lights at Shea Stadium, opening the floodgates for the accursed New York Mets. In other places, at other times—heck, just about any place at any time—this would have been a routine bobble, not even worthy of a mention on ESPN's SportsCenter. In this place, at this time, it was more reprehensible than treason, more contemptible than anything Benedict Arnold ever did.
To understand the magnitude of Buckner's mistake is to climb into the tortured New England mind, to wander through the labyrinth of perennial defeat and winter despair. The Red Sox were going to win the thing! After all these years, all this time, they were finally going to win. The last time the Red Sox had won the Series, as even the most casual baseball fan knows, was back in 1918. Sons of suffering fathers had died, even grandsons had died, waiting for the golden moment when a lifetime of perseverance would be rewarded. Now their progeny finally could put the monster to bed, to celebrate the end of all this agony.
"I had this bottle of champagne," the typical story goes. "My father gave it to me. His father had given it to him. I'd removed the little foil wrapper. I had my thumb on the cork. There was this guy I knew in college, a Yankee fan. He always busted me about the Red Sox. I called him on the phone. I wanted him to hear the people in the background when our sad times ended. I wanted him to hear the party...."