As a long-time baseball fan, I read with interest Gabe Kahn’s Garden State of Mind column, “Bill Buckner and the unforgiving glare of history” (June 6). Buckner, who recently passed away, had an outstanding career and was a borderline Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, he will be most remembered for his 10th inning error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. That miscue cost the Boston Red Sox a victory that could have given them their first championship in 68 years. Instead, the Mets scored the winning run on the play and (happily) went on to capture the Series by winning the deciding seventh game.
As in the case with Buckner, people who make one bad mistake are often remembered for that one bad moment or decision rather than the outstanding things they may have otherwise accomplished. For instance, Ralph Branca was a reliable starting pitcher in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ rotation in the early 1950s, but people, especially old Dodger fans, will always recall the home run ball he served up to Bobby Thomson in the deciding game of the 1951 playoffs (AKA “The Shot Heard ’round the World”) that gave the New York Giants the National League pennant. To add to the grief in Brooklyn, the Dodgers had a three-run lead in the ninth inning when the roof caved in on them.
Likewise in politics, an unfortunate decision can mar the fortunes of a man whom history might have otherwise considered a great president. Lyndon Johnson, with his Great Society and civil rights legislation that began to rid the South of its despicable segregation policies, accepted some bad advice from his military advisers and accelerated the war in Vietnam. That war divided the nation and became the most unpopular war in our history. Johnson’s popularity tanked and he did not even seek reelection when his term was up.
For people who have done good things in life, we need not just focus on one unfortunate incident that appears to tarnish their reputation. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”