News outlets covering the death of baseball great Bill Buckner on Memorial Day had to negotiate the 1986 error he’s most known for and a tremendously impressive life lived before and after it. The Washington Post and the AP mentioned the blooper behind the bag in their headlines and ESPN in its bottomline ticker. Awful Announcing took them to task for the choice.
It’s an easy stance to take. Buckner collected over 2,700 hits and handled the most difficult of situations with grace and courage. He was obviously more than the error. Anyone with a functioning brain already understands that.
The cold truth of the matter, though, is that Buckner is a bigger figure in the collective consciousness because he booted the ball. People have been unfairly defined by their best or worst moment since before the written word.
There’s a reason why people say something will be in the first or second paragraph of a person’s obituary. It’s because it will be in the first or second paragraph of their obituary. Perhaps even the headline. It’s not pleasant but the job of a journalist is to accurately reflect the happenings of the world around them.
Buckner never escaping the error, even in death, is a microcosm of his life. The more interesting media story here is how responsible Boston scribes are for perpetuating the lore of 1986 at the expense of Buckner and the overall healing process. That debate is more complicated.
Perhaps it’s fitting that coverage of Buckner’s death served as a window into coverage of his life. Yes, the error needed to be mentioned and it was important. But it’s important to note that there were plenty of words after the ESPN, AP, and WaPo headlines. Getting the full breadth oftentimes requires reading past the first few paragraphs.
For instance, people mad about the ticker wording should see this tribute from Scott Van Pelt.
Perhaps it’s worth remembering that the full scope of an outlet’s coverage is more complicated than the first wire story or tweet. Just like the full measure of Buckner is more complicated than a World Series error. It’s up to the reader to operate with a bit of nuance to negotiate.
Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect readers to do this. Maybe they’re incapable of it. It’s worth considering if that in part shaped Buckner’s post-1986 existence.
In the grand scheme of things, an obituary that mentions the error up front is far down the list of wrongs done to Buckner, who adroitly overcame bigger adversity.
The Magic Hour
Magic Johnson went scorched earth on First Take a few weeks ago, creating the best episode of the show in some time. What prowess the Hall of Famer lacks as a basketball executive, he more than makes up for as a content creator. ESPN wasted precious little time getting him back on their airwaves, putting him next to Stephen A. Smith last night for more NBA Finals and investigative journalism fallout. Johnson denied, denied, and denied some more and his feet weren’t held to the flame in an meaningful way.
No one paying attention should be surprised. There are many reasons why Magic finds friendly confines with his former television employer. One of them could be that he could once again become part of the broadcasting team. Johnson was not particularly interesting in his first several go-rounds as pundit, but things and people change. Having him at least tangentially related to the lingering Los Angeles Lakers dumpster fire makes him more relevant.
My colleagues have written that ESPN’s NBA offerings need to be revamped many times. The Magic Man is a splashy name who is making himself quite comfortable on set. Just a thought.
Skip Bayless has been crying for attention in the form of ripping Kawhi Leonard throughout the playoffs, often nonsensically. Portland’s CJ McCollum finally called him on it, but in doing so fell into the predictable trap Bayless, a skilled fisherman trolling the waters, set with the bait.
Rich Eisen has seen it all before and predicted exactly what would happen once McCollum engaged the Fox Sports opininist.
No athlete should ever fall into this trap again. Not on their behalf or anyone else’s behalf. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Bayless, though he would say otherwise, is not making his arguments in good faith. The show is professional wrestling. The show is a show. There’s nothing for an athlete to gain in engaging and back-and-forth only benefits Undisputed’s brand recognition.
NOTEBOOK: Jay Crawford, former host of the extremely memorable Cold Pizza, is joining WKYC in the fall … Bart Starr knew how to handle criticism … Ashley Feinberg is headed to Slate … Details of the Sports Illustrated sale are bizarre … Like it or not, it’s pretty clear that Dave Portnoy runs Boston … The reaction to Chris Long‘s very tepid marijuana endorsement has been a circus … Sunday Night Baseball will be broadcast from the Judge’s Chambers.