GREENSBORO — Why is it so many of us remember our failures more than our triumphs?
Why can we recall in excruciating detail those moments when things went wrong, while we struggle to recall a job well done?
I’ve thought about this question a lot since Monday, when I heard the news that Bill Buckner had died at age 69.
The name sings. The name absolutely fit the man with the thick mustache and the quick left-handed swing.
In my youth, I was a singles-hitting first baseman who took pride in making (weak) contact, a kid who was embarrassed each time I struck out. Buckner was my kind of ballplayer.
In his prime, Buckner “could foul off machine gun bullets,” a teammate’s description I wish I had written. When he won the 1980 National League batting title with a .324 average, Buckner struck out 18 times in 615 plate appearances. Eighteen.
That’s the guy I remember, the first thing I think of when I hear the name.
But most people instead instantly recall Mookie Wilson’s groundball trickling between Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
It’s iconic. In that moment, Buckner became the scapegoat of a Red Sox meltdown by relievers Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley, who allowed three consecutive two-out singles and a wild pitch to blow a two-run lead.
The sports world is full of moments like those. One mistake, one moment of weakness by an individual in a team sport, one play in a game of dozens, scores or hundreds of previous plays.
Freddie Brown’s pass to James Worthy. Chris Webber’s timeout. Joe Pisarcik’s fumble. Jackie Smith’s dropped touchdown pass. Mitch Williams’ 2-2 pitch to Joe Carter. Donnie Moore’s 2-2 pitch to Dave Henderson.
We remember the failures.
Most athletes I’ve talked to in 30-plus years as a sports writer have told me they are driven by failure, that they remember the sting of sorrow more as they chase the fleeting euphoria of joy. You’d be surprised how often it comes up in interviews.
And it doesn’t matter a bit the age, gender or sport.
Two weeks ago I spoke with A&T sprinter Kayla White, who became the Aggies’ first NCAA champion in any sport when she won the 200 meters in March at indoor track’s nationals.
That victory came after a runner-up finish in the 60-meter hurdles, a race that still bothers her.
“I remember the losses more than the wins,” White said. “But I don’t let them eat at me. I go back to practice and look at film. What did I do wrong? How do I fix it? You don’t dwell on it, you just fix it before the next race.”
Where we run into trouble is when there is no next race, no next game. Then the moment takes on a life of its own.
Then the weak grounder overshadows 22 years of line drives.
And, for the record, Bill Buckner’s lifetime fielding percentage at first base was .992.
Contact Jeff Mills at (336) 373-7024, and follow @JeffMillsNR on Twitter.