Bucky Bleeping Dent: A Yankees Villain Just Too Damn Nice to Hate
|That's Reggie Jackson on the left, the guy who's supposed to win you the game. And then the other guy, yeah, that's Bucky.|
But here's the thing about Bucky Bleeping Dent (if you were polite). He's a hell of a guy. Nicest guy you'll talk to today if you go see him at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, where he's appearing tonight as part of a charity event.
And that's really too bad. Because everything in my upbringing tells me that Dent ought to be regarded as baseball's biggest villain, on par with the Black Sox and Pete Rose and
a Mark McGwire.
Bucky, though, he doesn't mind when people come up to him at events like tonight's and tell him they grew up hating him. On the phone earlier today, he laughed about it, with that kind of chuckle that makes you join in, even know it's Bucky Stinking Dent on the phone.
"Oh, I love it," he says about those who hate him. "The Red Sox people, they joke around to me, and Yankees fans, they say, 'I was here,' 'I was there,' because they remember right where they were when it happened."
"It," of course, is the game that ended the regular season in 1978. "It" is still hard to talk about for Sox fans, that is, without following the story with a few four-letter middle names for Bucky D-bag Dent.
But before getting to that game, a bit of background on Dent. He's a hometown boy from South Florida, having spent much of his childhood in our fair swamps. He went to Driftwood Junior High in Hollywood and ran with the indians from the nearby reservation, the Osceolas, the Tigers, the Billys.
He graduated from Hialeah High and was the sixth pick in the 1970 draft. He had never been to a major-league game when he got called up. That day is his second-best memory of baseball, right after "it," of course.
"The first game I ever saw, the first professional game I ever saw, was when I got called up in Milwaukee as a rookie," he recalls. "Just to walk out in the dugout and, you know, there it is. It was a special moment, and I'll never forget it."
His other best memory of baseball came at the end of that 1978 season, when the Red Sox and Yanks both had 99 wins a piece. They played a single-elimination tiebreaker at Fenway. In the top of the seventh, the Yankees were down two nothing when they got two men on base. Dent was a defensive player, in the game because of his good glove and strong arm and not because he could hit. But he was due up.
If Yanks manager Bob Lemon had a choice, he would've sat Dent. But he had played his last bench man. The late-great Lemon repeated that refrain many times, annoying the hell out of Sox fans.
Things looked bad from the start of that at-bat. Dent fouled a ball off his already injured shin. He limped it off, looking too weak to continue. He had cracked his bat on the foul, so Micky Rivers sent out his.
The next pitch went deep. It went Bucky God Damn Dent deep. It sailed just inches over the Green Monster. And out. The Yankees went on to win the game 5-4, keeping the Sox out of the playoffs, allowing the hated boys from the Bronx to go on to another championship, and it became one more piece of proof that Babe Ruth's curse continued.
Dent is asked about it all the time and relives it happily. "It's an honor to be part of something that people remember so clearly," he said. "It's what every kid dreams to do, to hit in the winning run in the big game."
And that's the rich irony of hating Bucky Dent. He's what baseball fans want to see. He's the underdog, the journeyman player who everyone thinks isn't worth his spot in the batting order. He's us. He's Americans, the country of people who take a foul ball off the shins and come back to hit it deep.
Dent had some successes after that game. He was even MVP of the series that year. But after baseball, he had few successes as a manager. His lowest point came in 1990, when he was managing his old team. The Yankees fired him before a game in the middle of the season at -- where else? -- Fenway Park.
He should hate Fenway then, right? But no, Bucky Nice Guy Dent has no hate in him. In fact, when he opened a baseball academy for kids in Boynton Beach a few years back, he built a nearly scale model of the Green Monster.
"The Monster is always that special place," Dent says. "It's special to walk out there. It's like Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium. It's always going to have a special place in my heart."
So go see him tonight from 7:30 to 9:30 at the casino. It'll cost you $45 to get in to the Nectar Lounge, but proceeds go to the SOS Children's Village. Because, yeah, Bucky Dent donates to charity.
If you get the chance, tell him you hate him for what he did to the Sox in 1978. A bit of warning, though: You probably won't be able to hate him afterward.
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