December 5, 2020

Game of Errors

And yet another story about why I love baseball so much…

Jeff Passan and Kevin Kaduk at Yahoo Sports report:

Sometime this weekend, an unlucky soul will commit the 500,000th error in baseball history. It has taken the sport 136 years to accumulate enough bobbles, bungles, kicks, trips, flips, flops, flings and altogether awful things to reach half a million. And whether it’s a bad hop, a worse throw or any of the hundreds of other ways to work yourself onto the scorecard, someone will earn a historic Scarlet E.

Any game that keeps track of its blunders like that, ya gotta love.

In Kaduk’s piece, he ranks the top ten errors over the years, and three of them resonate painfully in this Cubs’ fan heart.

In 1984, the Cubs were in the NLCS, leading the Padres two games to none. The Padres came back to tie the series, and then in the seventh inning of the deciding contest, Tim Flannery hit a grounder that the Cubs’ Leon Durham booted. His miscue allowed the Padres to score the tying run and they went on to win the game and the series, booting the Cubs out of the playoffs.

Interestingly, Durham’s glove had been soaked with Gatorade when Cubs’ star Ryne Sandberg spilled his drink on it earlier in the game.

Yes, Gatorade.

I love baseball. Perhaps my best chance to see the Cubs get to the World Series in my lifetime, and a guy gets Gatorade all over his glove and misses a grounder.

* * *

My next best chance was in 2003. I don’t even want to talk about it, but since Kaduk ranks it number four on his list, I have to. This was way worse than Gatorade.

The setting was the famous “Bartman” game, when, in the eighth inning (so close!) Cubs’ outfielder Moises Alou failed to catch a foul fly near the stands because, it appeared, a fan had interfered with his effort.

When people today talk about the game that is the incident they recall. But more important was something that occurred a couple of plays later. Cubs’ shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a potential inning-ending double-play ball. The Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning, win the game and eventually the series, leaving the Cubs hanging high and dry once more.


* * *

The greatest error in baseball history was not committed in a Cubs’ uniform, but by a player who once played for them. In fact, he was an All Star first baseman for the Cubs and even won the batting title in 1980. They traded him to the Boston Red Sox in May of 1984, the same year that Leon Durham led the Cubs to the playoffs and then booted their chances away.

As good a player as he was, the error he made at a crucial moment in a World Series game is the most infamous flub in the game (at least in my lifetime). As Kaduk says, “It has become a universal blooper.”

Bill Buckner. That’s all I need to say, and most baseball fans will see in their minds the image on the left side of the page.

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets. 1986 World Series, game six. Tenth inning and the Red Sox score two to take the lead. When they take the field in the bottom of the tenth, Red Sox manager John McNamara decides to leave Buckner in the game rather than bring in a defensive replacement as he had in previous games. The Mets score two and tie the score and then Mookie Wilson comes to bat. He fouls off two pitches and then hits a slow roller toward first. Buckner rushes because of Wilson’s speed and the ball rolls by his glove, through his legs, and into the outfield, allowing the winning run to score.

The Mets went on to win game seven, and it became another year in futility for Red Sox fans. Buckner became the scapegoat and for many years he had to endure scorn and even death threats from Boston fans, as well as heckling and derision when he went on the road. He eventually came to terms with what had happened in 2008, when he received a standing ovation at Fenway Park, and Buckner voiced his forgiveness of the fans and the media.

* * *

Baseball is a game infused with failure.

The best hitters fail seven out of ten times.

And now we are told that there have been 500,000 errors over the course of baseball history.

Yet the game goes on.

It almost makes me think about my life.



  1. Poor Billy B..

    He had a pretty good career ( I remember when he was a Dodger), but all he will be remembered for is that one error.

  2. And worse for Buckner, non-Red Sox fans don’t really remember Bob Stanley’s wild pitch with one strike away from a trophy that allowed the tying run to score.

    Bartman is remembered because his blunder *started* the curse and Buckner is remembered because his error allowed the winning run to score. Each case had its own multiple-incident chain of events, yet one thing stands out in each. Bartman wasn’t a player that committed an error, but his involvement is one of those “finding new ways to lose” for the Cubs. Let’s celebrate the 500,000th error for what it is: just a number, and hope nothing huge results.

  3. As long as we are talking baseball…any houghts Chaplin Mike or others on Stephen Strasburg’s situation? It’s the talk of the town here…

    • Final Anonymous says

      I think the writers are just bored; I believe it’s been done before. Usually the focus was on pitch count, and spreading it out throughout the entire season, but it’s not unusual for management and agents to watch and possibly limit their pitchers after surgery. I don’t know why this one is such a big deal; the high profile agent maybe? Or the decision to let him pitch until the inning count was finished and sit down, instead of more careful spacing to last throughout the season? I don’t know.

      • Didn’t the Nationals do the same thing to another pitcher last year? Regardless I’m guessing if they weren’t a legit contender it’s a non issue.

        So when’s the last time Washington had a team in the playoffs? Or won a World Series?

        • The last time Washington was in a post-season game is when they lost the 1933 World Series to the Giants. The only World Series any Washington team won was in 1924 when they beat the NY Giants in seven games.

  4. I’ve watched some games that brought Stengel’s line to mind, “Can’ anyone here play this game?”. I watched poor Steve Sax go from being a competent 2nd baseman to being unable to hit first. Watched games that were so comical in errors that the announcers started commenting about other games they had seen with lots of errors. I hvae learned much more in my life about the history of the game from baseball announcers than I have printed text. Is baseball the last great oral tradition?

    • Randy Thompson says

      Ditto for Chuck Knoblock, the Yankee second baseman who also lost contact with first base.

      • Or how about catcher Mackey Sasser, who suddenly had problems throwing balls back to the pitcher on the mound?!

  5. Kaduk lists the greatest error as the one that allowed Boston to pick up its second World Series Title in 1912. There is something incredibly poetic about that to a Sox fan.

    The Cubs will make it one of these days. As a fan of a team that used to be equal in crushing fans hopes and dreams, I will refrain from making any disparaging remarks.

  6. I remember the Buckner error well, even though I was only 7. It’s etched in my memory, along with Roger Clemens striking out 20 batters in one game. Certain things come to define our eras and our memories within an era….

  7. Alas, I’m a Mariner fan.

  8. This article could also be filed under “Meditation.” Woinderful stuff.

    Bill Buckner, a very good player forever tainted by one critical error. The sports world has not treated him very kindly.

    The Bible is full of people tainted by critical errors, some of them tainted by multiple critical errors. David, Peter…heck, I won’t try to list them all. But God…wow, we serve a God who shows us grace and mercy, who is full of a lovingkindness like we will rarely receive or experience from our fellow man.

  9. The irony about errors is that the best fielders will often have more errors. A centerfielder like uber-rookie Mike Trout will get to more balls and therefore have more chances. The result is that he also might make more errors.

    The same all out effort by Mike Trout, which results in incredible highlight reel plays, will also occasionally result in errors. Sometimes you can’t have the one without the other. It’s worth considering.

    Spectacular effort and heart sometimes means you will make more mistakes. Yet, in those moments we occasionally get to see things that seem almost miraculous. Those are the moments that take your breath away and that make you forget the errors.

  10. Richard Hershberger says

    “Sometime this weekend, an unlucky soul will commit the 500,000th error in baseball history.”

    This touches on a pet peeve of mind. The assertion is obvious nonsense. What will occur is nothing like the 500,000 error in baseball history. Far far more errors than that have occurred. It will merely be the 500,000 error in major league history. This confusion reveals a deep parochialism. It is the same parochialism shown when someone uses “Christian” to mean “Evangelical Protestant”.

  11. Final Anonymous says

    “Baseball is a game infused with failure.”

    Exactly! That’s why I’ve loved having my kids in the game.

    From the very beginning we get to talk about playing a game of failure, of inches, of luck and blessings and the tiny actual margins between the haves and have-nots in this world.

    In the world of professional sports, baseball is still (mostly) a team game, where humility and interdependence are revered, and no one gets to get too prideful about their own efforts.

    They will have more bad at-bats than good, more boring innings in the field than exciting opportunities. And still, at the end of the hard work and missed plays, the thrill of contributing with that one great hit or catch is worth it.

    Before each game we say “Work hard, and have a short memory.” For those of us with perfectionist tendencies, or who tend to focus on our own sin to the exclusion of God’s grace, baseball is a wonderful prescription.

  12. Final Anonymous says

    I have a comment in moderation again.

    Wish I could figure out what I’m saying that’s wrong; I promise I took out all cuss words relating to the Yankees before I posted.

  13. I personally witnessed the all-time major league record for the number of errors committed in one inning by one player. At Candlestick Park in SF I watched Bob Brenly of the Giants make four errors in one inning, including two on one play. Those errors allowed four runs to score. Mother Theresa was the scorekeeper that day, as an obvious bleeding heart scored a soft liner off his glove as a base hit, rather than error #5.

    Brenly’s next at bat came with monstrous boos. He hit one over the fence for a home run, but the short cheering changed to lusty booing as he ran around the bases, the crowd realizing that he still owed them three runs. His next at bat, he hit a two-run double, which was booed to the extreme, because he still had not overcome his debt. His final at bat came in the bottom of the 9th with the game on the line. He was mercilessly booed. He then hit a walk-off homer to win the game. After the victory, Giants manager Roger Craig insisted that Brenly win the “comeback player of the year” award for that game alone.