"Little roller up along first...behind the bag...it gets through Buckner, here comes Knight and the Mets win it..." - Vin Scully.
First, let's clear up some misconceptions of the situation. The Red Sox did not have the lead at the time. After three bloops singles and a wild pitch, the Red Sox had already given up the lead and it was tied at 5. Most people (including myself) mis-remember that play that if Bill Buckner fields and hits the bag, it's over and the Sox are World Champions. Not so. They would have had to blow more bullpen and maybe come out on top. Conventional wisdom was, the Mets were a team of destiny. But I digress.
It does remain one of the greatest games in World Series history. Roger Clemens started it; Calvin Shiraldi blew the save but almost went three innings for the win. The Mets came back from 2-0, 3-2, and 5-3; the last rally with two outs and nobody on.
To quote the famous ESPN 30 for 30 commercials. "What if I told you...", even if Bill Buckner fields the ground ball, Mookie would have beat it. It may not have been close.
Before we roll tape; some facts. Buckner was a fielding liability (at this stage of his career) with very limited range and mobility, including bad knees, and a hurt Achilles tendon and ankle. And Mookie Wilson was quick. On the play in question, his swing was taking him to first as Buckner awkwardly ambled to his left caught in between hops and unsure of his play. Mookie was running for his, and his team's, life (but not really, remember, the game was tied). And a third factor we won't even get into. Bob Stanley balked, never game to a stop, should have moved Ray Knight to third. Now. Roll tape.
On paper it was a chopper to first and routine. But all the factors above are in play. It was slow. Mookie was fast. Buckner was the opposite of agile. We start to look at timing. We start with when the ball scooted through his legs in this video it was after the 00:22s mark
|Figure 1 - Ball reaches Buckner at 22s|
|Figure 2 - Right at the 23s mark, the ball hasn't gone far since Fig. 1|
|Figure 3 - Mookie hits first at 24s, ball has gone 12 feet.|
The quickest I could stop the video at 25s was here
|Figure 4 - Mookie is well beyond 1B by 25s|
I believe the time to be 1.5s to 1.7s. 22.9s to 24.5s on the video time. It might have been closer to 1 second.
Now could Buckner cover 10 feet in say 1.6 seconds? From a crouched position on those 36 year old knees and a hurt ankle/Achilles tendon? This debate we will never know. For 10 feet, it would be 3 to 4 steps from a stand still, crouch (each in 0.4s or so). Looking at Mookie's stride cadence, I peg him at about six steps at full stride in that same time period (one step every 0.25s full speed). If I were at the betting booth, Mookie beats it, by a half a step to a step. After the ball passes Buckner, it was slightly slowed down but still moving well. It goes about 12 feet in that time period (see Figure 3). Would Buckner have been able to move the other direction in approximately the same time period? I believe a contributing factor to the misplay was that Buckner knew he was on razor thin time. He had to snatch as he was moving toward the bag or had no shot. It still might not have been enough.
Watch it all at full speed. How quickly Mookie flashes at the bottom as the ball moves away. Thinking, could Buckner move as fast as that ball? I think not. Mookie would have beat it.
When asked, even Mookie thinks so.
However, had Buckner just stopped the ball, Knight stops at 3rd and we play on. Maybe the Red Sox win in extra innings. But I have a bone to pick with the official scorer. That was a hit AND an E3 allowing Knight to score (unearned run, no RBI just the same).