With two outs in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Mookie Wilson stepped up to the plate. The Mets trailed the Boston Red Sox 5-4, but with runners on first and third, Wilson had a chance to become a postseason hero with a hit. After a wild pitch allowed the tying run to score and the possible winning run to advance to second base, the game was in Wilson’s hands.
On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Wilson hit a slow ground ball to Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.
“A little roller up along first, behind the bag. It gets through Buckner!” screamed legendary announcer Vin Scully. “Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!”
In one of the most recognizable plays in baseball history, the ball trickled through Buckner’s legs, allowing Mets third baseman Ray Knight to score the winning run. The Mets would go on to defeat the Red Sox in Game 7 to win their second World Series title.
Mookie will live on in Mets history forever, but his personal history almost made that indelible moment impossible.
William Wilson was born in Bamberg, SC on Feb. 9, 1956. Given the nickname “Mookie” because of his inability to pronounce “milk” as a child, Wilson was playing baseball soon after he learned to walk.
Mookie played ball at Bamberg Ehrhardt High School and was both a dominating pitcher and a solid hitter. On the mound, he went 14-0 in his senior season, leading his team to a state championship.
Wilson played his first two years of college ball at Spartanburg Methodist College before transferring to the University of South Carolina, where he became the first African-American baseball player in school history.
Wilson once again dominated in his time as a Gamecock, batting .357 while leading his team to the 1977 national championship game as a senior. He gave up pitching, which he said was his strength, that year to focus on hitting full time.
Wilson’s life could have turned out much different the year before, as the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in the fourth round of the 1976 Major League Baseball draft. Instead of signing with the Dodgers, he opted to play another season at South Carolina. He was a second-round draft pick of the Mets in 1977, and by 1981 became the team’s center fielder. By 1984, he was the face of the franchise.
After helping the Mets win the 1986 World Series, Wilson enjoyed his best season in 1987, batting .299. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989 and retired in 1991. Wilson remained the Mets all-time stolen base leader with 281 until Jose Reyes passed him in 2008.
Wilson was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1996 and since his retirement, he has served as the Mets first base coach, a gospel singer and a truck driver.