Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner swats the ball during a game against the York Yankees in 1986. Photo by Joe Gromelski

Long ago, in an era when the Boston Garden was still standing and Fenway Park had yet to install Green Monster seating, there were two Boston professional athletes whose actions during the postseason affected the destiny of their respective teams.

John (Hondo) Havlicek stole the ball in Game 7 of the 1965 NBA Eastern finals. Bill Buckner allowed a routine ground ball to slip through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Tony Blasi

Havilcek was the talk of Beantown for years after his decisive act at the Boston Garden. He was lauded by adoring fans who witnessed sports history. Spectators would be forever enamored by the 6-foot-5 Celtic swingman, who steered Boston to numerous NBA titles.

Who hasn’t heard the recording of announcer Johnny Most bellowing, “Havlicek stole the ball! Havliceck stole the ball. It’s all over, it’s all over?” I have an early copy of the “Havlicek Stole The Ball” alblum, which was released in 1967. It is a precious possession and a time capsule of when the Boston Celtics ruled the NBA with players like Hondo, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones and Bill Russell.

Buckner, on the other hand, incurred the wrath of belligerent Red Sox fans, who wanted to tar and feather him on Boston Common. His gaffe soured fans, who were reeling from the frustrations of a team that hadn’t prevailed in the World Series since 1918.

That’s a long drought, which would continue until 2004.

Fans felt betrayed and their outrage over Buckner’s blooper simmered for years. They would never let him forget the mishap, which I will never understand. It was like Buckner committed crimes against the state — or worse — he jumped ship to the Evil Empire — the New York Yankees.

Whether it’s the NFL, NBA or a high school game, athletes falter and teams lose because of an error, a blown call or a team went on sabbatical at the wrong time in the postseason,

But here’s the thing — nobody died! Fans went home to live another day and root for their favorite teams. 

Ruthless fans felt they had just experienced the apocalypse, believing Buckner’s error at first base cost the team a World Series. He was treated like a pariah long after that damn ground ball got away from him.

Let’s rewind the tape and look back at Buckner’s blunder in the 10th inning of Game 6 against the New York Mets, who were down 5-3 with two outs and the bases empty. Before the blunder, Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi gave up three consecutive singles and a run, with runners holding up at third and first base.

Bob Stanley came on in relief of Schiraldi, but Stanley threw a wild pitch at Mookie Wilson and the runner scored from third base to tie the game. The other runner, Ray Knight, moved to second.

With a full count, Wilson sent a ground ball down the first base line to Buckner, but the ball scurried through Buckner’s legs and into the outfield, and Knight crossed home plate to score the winning run for the Mets.

The error, along with some timely hitting in Game 6, gave the Mets a second chance in Game 7, which they won 8-5, along with the World Series title.

Sure, my father and I were disappointed as we grumbled about another missed opportunity for the Sox to win a World Series in our lifetime.

We were joined to the hip when it came to Boston sports. My uncle, A.J. Blasi, a teacher who worked part-time at fabulous Fenway Park, had the privilege of getting into a loud argument with the irascible Ted Williams when my uncle mentioned Wade Boggs’ batting success. My mom and dad attended Williams’ last game of his career at Fenway on Sept. 28, 1960, while I was knocking the stuffing out my Teddy Bears in a  crib.

It proves fans’ passion for their teams run deep in Beantown.

But some fans wouldn’t let it go and continued to point the finger at the 20-year MLB veteran, who piled up 2,715 hits and 174 runs, as the reason for the Sox’ failure in 1986.

“You can never really forget it because it comes up all the time,” Buckner told the New York Times in 2011. “I’m a competitive guy, so it’s something I didn’t enjoy. But for some reason, the stars were all lined up just right for the Mets that year, and here we are, 25 years later, still talking about it.”

One of the Celtics’ finest moments came when Havlichek stole an inbounds pass by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Hal Greer with seconds left in the game. Boston was holding on for dear life with a 110-109 lead. The Celts went on to capture another NBA title thanks to Havlichek, who eventually scored 26,000 points in his 16-year career.

Havlichek reveled in glory. Buckner was remembered as a scapegoat for years.

John Joseph Havlichek, born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, died on April 25, 2019, at age 79.

William Joseph Buckner, born in Boise, Idaho, died on May 27, 2019, at age 69.

Two great athletes, who became household names due to their daring exploits on the basketball court and baseball diamond, are lost forever — and hopefully the anger that was directed toward Buckner.

It took courage for Buckner to move on and not allow one play in a successful 20-year baseball career to define him as a human being.

As parents and fans, we should all restrain our indignation the next time your kid or favorite pro athlete misplays a fly ball or drops the winning pass in the end zone.

It is tiresome and pathetic all at the same time.