Buddin fielded criticism
Former Red Sox shortstop Don Buddin died a week ago and nobody here noticed. He was buried in South Carolina Sunday, but there was nothing in the Boston newspapers until yesterday. Folks at Fenway didn’t get the word of Buddin’s passing until his son-in-law called them Tuesday.
Buddin died in Greenville, S.C., at the age of 77 after a long battle with cancer. He last played in Boston 50 years ago, and apparently never came back after he left, but none of that takes away from his important place in Red Sox history. Fair or unfair, his name became synonymous with an era of ineptitude in Boston baseball. That’s why he’s important. That’s why his passing should not go without notice.
It’s hard for young people to fathom, but the Red Sox of the late ’50s and early ’60s were noncontenders, hardly relevant. In Buddin’s last two seasons with the Sox, they finished 32 and 33 games out of first place. They didn’t draw many fans (well under a million in ’59 and ’61). Buddin became the poster boy for bad times.
If John Lackey thinks he’s got it bad now, he should have talked with Don Buddin. Buddin was the early-day Julio Lugo. And the nasty stuff from the stands sounds louder when there are only 8,000 people in the ballpark. You hear everything.
“It was bad,’’ recalls Frank Malzone, who played third base next to Buddin for four long seasons. “He got off to a bad start and the fans gave him a hard time when he came to the ballpark. I played right next to him. Hearing all these guys hooting and hollering at him, I was thinking, ‘Better him than me.’ I would hate to walk out there and hear that every day.’’
Bill Buckner is unfairly remembered for one error. Buddin is remembered for constantly making errors. Buddin led the league in errors twice. He committed 35 errors in 1959 and 31 in 1958. In 1960, when he started only 121 games, he committed 30 errors. His nickname was “Bootsie.’’ The Globe’s inimitable Clif Keane quipped, “Buddin’s license plate is E-6.’’
“He was an adequate shortstop,’’ says Chuck Schilling, who played second base alongside Buddin in 1961, when Schilling was a rookie. “Maybe people didn’t think that he lived up to his potential.’’
In many ways, Buddin typified the Yawkey-owned, Pinky Higgins-managed Dread Sox of that era. He was slow. He could hit a little (41 homers in six seasons). He was erratic in the field. He was from South Carolina. He was known to have fun in his free time. And he held his job for five seasons despite hitting .244 as a Red Sox.
A case can be made that Buddin was used to keep the Sox from integrating. He was a fixture at short while Pumpsie Green lingered in the minors.
In 1959, Pumpsie hit .400 in spring training and scribes touted him as “camp rookie of the year.’’ Asked if Green would make the team, Yawkey replied, “The Red Sox will bring up a Negro when he meets our standards.’’ Alas, Pumpsie was sent back to Triple A when the roster was cut to 25.
“Red Sox Century’’ authors Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout wrote, “On Opening Day , Sox fans showed that they thought Green’s time had come. When Don Buddin was introduced, he was booed.’’
When Pumpsie got the call to the bigs on July 21, the Globe’s estimable Harold Kaese wrote, “Pumpsie Green can only hope he is given as much opportunity to prove himself as Don Buddin.’’
None of this is Buddin’s fault. By all accounts, he was a gentleman and popular with his teammates.
“He wasn’t bitter,’’ says Bill Ballou, baseball writer for the Worcester Telegram. “I interviewed him in 1987 and hard as I tried, I could not get him to rip the Boston fans. He was a great guy.’’
Buddin had plenty of good moments. He hit a grand slam to help beat the Yankees when the Sox swept the Bronx Bombers in a five-game series at Fenway in 1959. When the ’61 Sox came back to beat the Senators after trailing, 12-5, with two outs in the ninth, Buddin collected two singles in the rally. In 1959, he led American League shortstops in double plays turned, and ranked second in putouts and assists.
“He was not a bad player,’’ says former teammate Bill Monbouquette. “He had a little pop here and there. I think he’ll always be remembered because of the way the fans jumped all over him, but he was a good guy. I think the fan stuff got to him. He would talk about it. Nothing was ever said when he made good plays.’’
Buddin was traded to the Houston Colt .45s for Eddie Bressoud after the 1961 season. After leaving Boston, he played only 71 big league games before retiring at the age of 28. No one can remember him ever returning to Fenway Park.
“I never saw him again after I stopped playing,’’ says Malzone.
“He was out of the loop,’’ adds Schilling. “I never saw him or talked to him again.’’
“To my knowledge, he never came back to Fenway,’’ says Red Sox vice president/historian Dick Bresciani, who has been with the team for 39 years.
In the spirit of these golden days at Fenway, it would have been nice to bring him back and tell him that all is forgiven. Now it’s too late. Don Buddin is gone and with him goes an important part of the Red Sox’ past.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.