Death of Don Buddin, the Man Boston Booed

Don Buddin wasn’t a good player, though he wasn’t a bad one. The former Red Sox shortstop died Thursday, June 30, at the age of 77, an embodiment of an age that no one at Fenway particularly wants to remember. As Dan Shaughnessy wrote in an unexpectedly tender eulogy for him: “Buddin became the poster boy for bad times… And the nasty stuff from the stands sounds louder when there are only 8,000 people in the ballpark.” Boston Globe writer Martin F. Nolan referred to the time as “the empty-seat epoch of Don Buddin.”

Buddin hit .244 over his five full seasons with the Sox: 1956 and 1958-1961. (He missed the 1957 season, spending the year in military service in Korea.) During his years with the team, Buddin held down the starting shortstop position while the team remained lily-white and Pumpsie Green (who would later become the Red Sox’s first African-American player) was kept in the minors. When Buddin remained the team’s starting shortstop on Opening Day in 1959, after Green had hit .400 in spring training, the fans booed. Racist manager Pinky Higgins — who had once said, “There’ll be no n****s on this ballclub as long as I have anything to say about it” — was fired that July, and Green was finally called up to the majors, but he was just used as a utility infielder. Higgins was rehired in 1960, and Green never received more than 260 at-bats in a season in his career. At the time of Green’s callup in 1959, the Boston Globe wrote, “Pumpsie Green can only hope he is given as much opportunity to prove himself as Don Buddin.” Needless to say, he wasn’t.

Though team owner Tom Yawkey paid an estimated $50,000 bonus to sign Buddin out of high school, believing he “could become one of the top ballplayers of his time,” Buddin was one of the least surehanded shortstops ever. In Boston, he averaged 30 errors a year, despite only playing an average of 126 games a year. Two years after Buddin left the Sox, the Sox acquired Dick Stuart, the stone-handed former Pirate who first earned the nickname “Dr. Strangeglove.” But Buddin deserved the nickname more than Stuart ever did; Stuart didn’t make 30 errors in a season even once. Still, Buddin had no shortage of dubious nicknames, including “Bootsie,” “Bootin’ Buddin,” and “E-6.”

Buddin struggled to explain just why he had so much trouble. In that same 1959 spring training, when Green was tearing the cover off the ball, the Associated Press noted that Buddin was putting in extra work on ground balls, and quoted him as saying: “The easy chance has been ruining me… I never have had trouble on the hard shots off to my left and right. But I’ve made errors on balls hit right at me.” And he may have been right: he actually led the AL in range factor in 1956 and 1958, and led the league in double plays in 1956, 1958, and 1959.

Buddin was a small-town kid from South Carolina, and in the tradition of the day, reporters sometimes liked to quote him in dialect. In 1956, the Washington Post’s Shirley Povich praised Buddin as a hot prospect, but made Buddin sound like a rube when he quoted him talking about his hometown of Olanta: “Well, there’s a thousand people live there… the day I graduated from high school, they was a thousand and 14 people, to be exact. They was 14 big league scouts in town that day trying to sign me for bonus money.”

In an era when few shortstops other than Ernie Banks had any power at all, Buddin’s occasional ability to poke one over the fence tantalized his teams. He was the only American League shortstop to hit double-digit home runs in 1958, and one of only two in 1959 (though Cleveland shortstop Woodie Held had a sizeable advantage over him that year, with 29 homers to Buddin’s 12). Still, Buddin generally alternated between hitting leadoff and eighth. Buddin actually was pretty good at working a walk; his career BB% was a terrific 14.8 percent, and his wRC+ was a none-too-shabby 95. He hit for a low average and struck out a bit, but overall, he wasn’t a bad hitter. When he went to the expansion Houston Colt .45’s in 1962, he hit the first grand slam in franchise history.

Even in his day, Buddin always seemed to stand in for something more than himself: ineptitude, or racism, or a team fallen on hard times. In his biography of Ted Williams, Leigh Montville mentioned that in the 1970s, in a Boston bar called The Dugout, there was bathroom graffiti that read as follows: “Don Buddin lives! There is a little bit of him in all of us.” While rereading his baseball card for their book “The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book,” Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris came to the same conclusion, though far more unkindly:

Don Buddin was a creative goat. He was the sort of guy who would perform admirably, even flawlessly, for seven or eight innings of a ball game, or until such time as you really needed him. Then he would promptly fold like Dick Contino’s accordion. Choke. Explode. Disintegrate…. If there was a way to make the worst out of a situation, Don Buddin could be counted on to find it. There is a little bit of this in many of us, of course, and quite a bit of it in fact in most, but then again we aren’t being paid big league salaries are we, or being interviewed by “Collier’s” magazine?

There was something in Buddin that made Sox fans boo. It must have gone beyond his errors. In his five full seasons in Boston — 1956 and 1958-1961 — the Sox went 379-399, and averaged 6,726 fans a game. He was hardly the worst player on his teams, which were anchored by an aging Ted Williams (who retired after 1960), and which featured the likes of Sammy White and a past-his-prime Vic Wertz. Buddin wasn’t good and he wasn’t bad: he was worth about 10 WAR in his five seasons in Boston. With his above-average offense and below-average defense, he was almost an exactly average player on a team that lost more games than it won. But they hated him anyway.

The Red Sox believe that he never returned to Fenway after leaving baseball, and you could hardly blame him if it’s true. The team didn’t even know he’d died until his family informed them. He didn’t leave the game he loved: according to a paid obituary from Floyd Funeral Home, he worked with the Special Olympics and played in baseball Old Timers Games. It’s hard to imagine that there was much love lost for Boston after the Sox traded him. His old teammate Bill Monbouquette told Shaughnessy, “I think the fan stuff got to him. He would talk about it. Nothing was ever said when he made good plays.” After Buddin retired, he went back home to South Carolina, where his family remains: two sisters, three children, and seven grandchildren.

Buddin didn’t have a very distinguished or noteworthy career, but he played hard, played pretty well, and had a big family and a long life. We don’t often celebrate the perfectly average players. But there’s no reason to boo them. And Shaughnessy is right: Buddin’s career is worth remembering, because his history is tied to an important, though disgraceful, part of the Red Sox’s past. Don Buddin deserved more cheers than he received. Rest in peace, Don Buddin.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


40 Responses to “Death of Don Buddin, the Man Boston Booed”

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  1. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Never heard of Buddin, but I am very glad you wrote this piece. Thanks!

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  2. J-money says:

    ditto

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  3. Well done. Thanks for that.

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  4. Bob says:

    If Dick Stuart played shortstop, I bet he would have made over 30 errors in a season.

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    • There’s a reason no one played Stuart at short – he was already terrible at the easiest spot on the diamond. But it begs the question of how Buddin stayed there so long. It’s remarkable the Sox kept Buddin there for such a long time, isn’t it? Of course, they had another shortstop on the team, but the organization was determined not to make Green a starting player.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Raises the question, not begs.

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      • RC says:

        Range is more important than surehandedness.

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      • Of course. But 30 errors a year will hurt a team, no matter how much range the fielder has. It’s hard to know quite why Buddin had so many problems; it may have been nerves or a mental hangup. He was probably promoted to the major leagues too soon after being handed his nice bonus contract, and he may have struggled with his confidence after that. The Sox liked his power and wanted another Vern Stephens, and they probably wanted too much from Buddin.

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      • jlebeck66 says:

        @ DavidCEisen: If you’re so danged interested in grammar, go read a modern dictionary. Yes it’s a phrase that doesn’t mean what it originally did, but then again, “ass” doesn’t mean what it used to either.

        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/beg
        5. beg the question
        a. to evade the issue
        b. to assume the thing under examination as proved
        c. to suggest that a question needs to be asked: the firm’s success begs the question: why aren’t more companies doing the same?

        http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-beg1.htm
        Q From George Beuselinck: Recently, I have observed that begging the question has come to mean ‘raising the question’. Is this still an improper usage, or has the meaning of the phrase changed due to the usage?

        A … The meaning you give is the newest. It is gaining ground, and one or two recent dictionaries claim that it is now acceptable — the New Oxford Dictionary of English, for example, says it is “widely accepted in modern standard English”.

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  5. Ron says:

    I remember buddin, and it’s all true about buddin being called E6, along with the pumpsie green and higgins managing, yawkey as well. He really had some bad errors right under the glove through the wickets. Those were some mediocre teams. Poor guy tried, but the fans were relentless.
    rip
    as for dick stuart, iirc he cost Earl Wilson either no-hitter or a shutout or something Wilson just glared at him. power hitter but a total hack in the field.

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  6. senorpogo says:

    Dick Contino smack? Ouch.

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  7. Jon says:

    Its funny that you cant talk about bostons history without mentioning racism

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    • beasleyrockah says:

      You can’t talk about America’s history without mentioning racism guy.

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    • Peter says:

      As a Boston sports fan, it really makes me sad that we are a historically racist city, and rightfully so. American Indians were banned by law from entering the city of Boston from 1675 until 2004, for example.

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      • Ofer says:

        Oh, please– it’s also technically illegal in Boston to take a bath without a prescription. Everyone crossing the Boston Common must by law carry a shotgun in case of bears, yet I don’t see anyone lining up to accuse Boston of being a hotbed of gun enthusiasts.

        Sometimes, ridiculous laws stay on the books for a long time because they’re never enforced, which means they’re never challenged in court, which makes it harder to strike them down. Back during King Philip’s War, Boston faced a real threat from the native neighbors, and the legislature acted to protect its people. When the war ended, the legislature had moved on to other issues and didn’t bother repealing every defensive law it had passed before the war (though it did repeal the aggressive internment law that could have been a real issue). Further, this particular statute pretty much immediately stopped being enforced. As soon as it was brought to the modern Legislature’s attention, that body struck it down. I’d be stunned if any elected official in Massachusetts even knew about this particular ancient and defunct law long prior to repealing it.

        While Boston as a city has a reputation for racism, it’s inaccurate to connect that to its sports teams. The Celtics were the first team to draft a black player (Chuck Cooper in 1950), the first with five black starters (in 1964), and the first to hire a black coach. The Bruins were the first NHL team to hire a black player, Willie O’Ree in 1957-58. The (baseball) Braves were the third team in the NL and the fifth MLB team overall to integrate, fielding Sam Jethro in 1950. The Boston Patriots were the first AFL team to hire a black coach- Rommie Loudd was hired as the linebacker coach in 1966– and were integrated in their 1960 inaugural season. It’s true that the football Braves, later the Redskins, famously refused to integrate, but they didn’t last in Boston for very long. The Red Sox were the holdout, the worst of the lot, and even their own players (not to mention the fans frustrated at the team’s inferiority– my Alabama-born father lived in Boston for a few decades and railed, until the day he died, against the Red Sox’ refusal to integrate as causing their persistent failure– objected to their segregation, but the scouts and front office had the reins, and so it went. But that’s on Yawkey’s Red Sox, not Boston as a city.

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      • B N says:

        I’ve yet to see any evidence that Boston was any more racist than other cities of its time, to be frank.

        In particular, Yawkey is a horrible example of racism as it pertains to Boston. Born in Michigan, schooled in Yale, and spending half of each year in South Carolina…. Yawkey was about as Bostonian as Chevy cars, George W. Bush, or grits. It’s sort of like saying that Los Angelinos are profiteers because of Frank McCourt.

        Much better examples would be the Boston PD track record (see: bad), the busing riots, etc. However, these are unfortunately not even close to being unique among cities with baseball teams. Racial bias in the PD’s of NYC, Chicago, Atlanta, LA, and a hundred other cities have been as bad or worse depending on what decade you choose. (If you actually ponder the lack of accountability for police brutality across the country, it’s downright chilling.) And one would be hard pressed to say that Boston ever reached the level of hardcore segregation, voter disenfranchisement , or overt assaults seen in the south. The bus riot backlash was pretty disgusting though, possibly the ugliest moment of race relations in the Boston in the 20th century.

        While Boston was indeed quite bad and still has serious issues, I’ve yet to see an evidence-based argument that legitimately ranks it as the most racist city in the US. The usual argument is all hinges on Yawkey, whose choice to exclude black players was not overly popular at the time (and obviously is quite a bit less popular now, what with how an outfield of Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson would have looked, see: no Boston curse). Ultimately, assigning Boston the “most racist” label seems to be a convenient way to push race issues off on some other city.

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    • NBarnes says:

      If you think you can talk about the history of baseball in the US, and the history of baseball in Boston, and the history of baseball in the 50s without talking about race, you, sir, have a problem with race.

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    • Trotter76 says:

      You can talk about Mike Cameron and David Ortiz and Tom Gordon and even Jim Rice to an extent without mentioning racism. You cannot talk about Pumpsie Green, though, without mentioning it.

      Thanks for the article, Alex, it was very interesting.

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  8. Ayuh says:

    Can we talk about baseball’s history without mentioning racism? No.

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  9. BDF says:

    Great piece. I’d never heard of Buddin. I know a lot of folks don’t, but I love it when Fangraphs strays from its primary mission to do pieces like this.

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    • Thank you. I hadn’t heard of Buddin before reading the Shaughnessy article, either. But I don’t think of baseball history as being separate from Fangraphs’ “primary mission”: I think we’re a baseball site that strives to bring intelligent analysis to topics throughout the whole sport. I love learning about baseball history, and I’d love to write more about it.

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      • RC says:

        And we’d love you to.

        What we don’t love is when you make up issues that simply don’t exist, and that seems to be a focus of many of your articles (not this one).

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      • jlebeck66 says:

        I’ve heard of Buddin by name and stats via playing historical seasons from APBA, but it is always cool to hear the story behind players that I’ve never seen play. Thanks for the article.

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  10. kdog says:

    Must have been something about Buddin the Sox liked because when they did finally get rid of him they they replaced him with pretty much the same player in Eddie Bressoud.

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  11. Susan says:

    I only wish this article, as well as Shaughnessy’s, had been written while he was still around to read them. When he left Boston, he left behind “E6″ and “Bootin’ Buddin”….and replaced them with “Daddy” and “DonDon” to his grandchildren. His lesson to them has always been to “never give up, and always hold your head up high”…..I guess now we know why.
    Thank you for the article. It helped to explain a little more to me about my dad.

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    • Please accept my deepest condolences to you for your loss, Susan, and thank you.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      Ditto on Alex!

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    • Mark W says:

      Dear Susan, thank you for weighing in about your father. I have very pleasant memories of his playing days with the Houston Colt .45s when I was 13 years old. He was a good teammate and a good man, and clearly a good grandpa. May your loving memories of him always fortify you and those he loved.

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  12. srfay says:

    I recommend the book A Stolen Season by David Lamb. There is a nice piece where 1958 World Series hero Bob “Hurricane” Hazel who, at the time was a liquor Salesman, took the author to meet Buddin. Don owned a liquor store in South Carolina on Hazel’s route. There is a photo of Buddin in the book.

    And a note to Susan; it was written that Don was uncomfortable with the integration, being from South Carolina. It was never publicized as an issue, so obvously he adjusted to it like many other established players did. This is one thing we probably won’t learn from the media, but is a testament to the man. He also survived a horrific beanball at Fenway, where the game was delayed for quite sometime.
    As a kid, I idolized Don along with the other Red Sox regulars (there was a constant revolving door then). I wish there were more positives attributed to his legacy than what the media dug up. Don was one like Frank Malzone And Ted that I always wanted to meet.

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  13. Tom Shaer says:

    Is it possible to send a message directly to Alex Remington without it being posted or otherwise made public? Kindly advise at your convenience. Thank you.

    Tom Shaer

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  14. Rev. Tom Summers says:

    In the fall of 1952, I was a fellow freshman with Don Buddin at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. He attended there for that one semester before taking off for spring training with the Boston Red Sox. Don was one of the most heralded baseball players in high school and American Legion Junior baseball in the early 1950s. He and Bobby Richardson (who later played with the NY Yankees) were contemporaries and drew mammoth amounts of national attention from scouts. At Wofford College, Don and I lived in the same dormitory. In intramural football that fall, we played together on a frosh team. He never bragged about his baseball fame nor his bonus signing but was unassuming and friendly. That next spring when the Red Sox played a spring training game in Greenville SC, some of his former college buddies were told by him to meet him at the gate entrance of the Greenville stadium and he’d get us in free. Don then took us over to the Red Sox dugout and introduced us to Ted Williams. Don was truly a wonderful person and his death is mourned. Rev. Tom Summers

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  15. JOE CASH says:

    I remember DON BUDDIN from 1951 when he played AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL for OLANTA, S.C. I lived in COWPENS S.C. and we played them for the STATE CHAMPIONSHIP and beat them. I was only in the second grade then ,but I remember it like it was yesterday. DON was probably the most feared hitter in the state at that time. He went into the major leagues at a time when there was real talent on display on every team. It was not like the watered down pool of players that we have today. Half of what’s out there today could never have made the major leagues back then. If DON was playing today, he would probaly be one of top players in the league. He had real talent. I am glad that I got to see him play. JOE CASH , GAFFNEY S.C.

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  16. Kimberly says:

    I have a cute “playhouse” type storage building that used to belong to my uncle who passed away in 2009. Inside the building tucked away in a book I found a picture of Don Buddin. It is a black and white head shot printed on Kodak Paper in his baseball uniform. I turned the picture over and found his autograph. It is the orginial autorgraph done in blue pen. My uncle dated it at the bottom with the date of 5/22/02. I compared the autograph with the printed ones on the baseball cards. My family is from South Carolina so my uncle must have been a fan of Mr. Buddin. It’s nice to learn a little about him.

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  17. hcolcord says:

    On July 11, 1959, Don Buddin hit a walk-off grand slam homerun in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the New York Yankees, 8-4. What a thrill it was to watch this game as an eight-year-old boy making his first visit to Fenway Park! Thanks for the memories, Don. You’ll always be one of my favorite Red Sox players. R.I.P.

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  18. Dan Murray says:

    I’m a native Bostonian and grew up in those days. Baseball was RELIGION! Boston had as much de facto racism, if not more, than any other northern city because it portrayed itself as exactly the opposite, which, thankfully and shamefully was exposed. The Red Sox were the LAST major league team to suit up and field an African American player and held out as long as it could. Higgins was a major racist and the Red Sox had more interest in being white than being winners. We learned to understand this years later. Yawkey didn’t want to integrate any more than Higgins did. Baseball lagged way behind the other sports and the Red Sox championed it reactionary cause. I remember Don Buddin well. The article depicts him PERFECTLY! Most of us felt sorry for him until the next miscue or k. It really felt like he was disrespected, but that’s the way we thought baseball reporting was.

    Look up the Red Sox double header of June 18, 1961. I was there. Really! What an experience. It was a Sunday. Don Buddin and a couple of other guys (Jim Pagliaroni) cemented their places in Red Sox fame, regardless of anything else. The 2nd game went 13 innings. My friend’s father left the house in the 7th to pick us up. He didn’t bother listening to the radio and his tirade was almost as memorable as the whole double header. How could he not understand. Never, ever experienced anything like it and is a real life’s highlight. (I lived in Montreal later on and was at a game when the umpire ejected the mascot, but… naw…)

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    • Mark W says:

      Wow! I’m well acquainted with that first game because I’m pretty sure that it remains the greatest comeback in the bottom of the 9th inning after 2 outs in MLB history. But I didn’t know that Don Buddin, and Jim Pagliaroni, were the Red Sox hitting heroes of that day. Awesome that you were there for it. Your friend’s father should have turned on his radio. Like Yogi said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Red Sox, down 12-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, score 8 runs after 2 outs. You know many people already had left the park before that first out, and you were still there. First batter, Vic Wertz, grounds out. Don Buddin singles. Third batter, Billy Harrell (pinch-hitting for pitcher Ted Wills) strikes out. Fourth batter, Chuck Schilling singles to center, Buddin to second. Fifth batter, Carroll Hardy singles to center, Buddin scores, Schilling to third. Sixth batter, Gary Geiger walks, bases loaded. Dave Sisler relieves Carl Mathias, whose final major league appearance of a 29 inning, 11 major league game career, will occur on July 14th. Seventh batter, Jackie Jensen walks, Schilling scores, Hardy to third, Geiger to second. Eighth batter, Frank Malzone walks, Hardy scores, Geiger to third, Jensen to second. Ninth batter, Jim Pagliaroni, hits a grand slam, Malzone, Geiger, and Jensen score ahead of him. Vic Wetz comes up for the second time in the inning and this time he works a walk from Sisler. (This is not Sisler’s best day.) Marty Kutyna relieves Dave Sisler. Up steps Don Buddin for the second time in the inning, and he singles Wertz to second for his second hit in the inning. (Buddin is 3-for-4 in this game with one walk.) Pete Runnels pinch-runs for Wertz. Russ Nixon pinch hits for Harrell and singles, Runnels scores, and the Red Sox secure a most improbable and legendary 13-12 victory over the original Washington Senators in their last season in Washington. The Red Sox also won the second game of the double-header as Don Buddin doubled and scored a run in the Red Sox 6-5 victory over Washington in 13 innings. Don Buddin certainly was a big part of not only Red Sox but also Major League history that day.

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  19. Jim Brown says:

    Don’s brother, Willis Buddin, married my Aunt. Legend has it that he was better than Don. However, the conflict in Korea kept him from pitching in the majors. To sit out at the farm and listen to the stories of the damn Yankees kept me and my cousins mesmerized. You can not forget memories like that. But more than anything, I remember the Buddins brothers as sincere family men.

    But more than that those two brothers are legendary in an area steeped in baseball including Bobby Richardson and Roy Cromer. Cromer’s 4 sons all played pro ball (the only time 4 brothers have played in the pros at one time that I know of). These are the grandfathers of the modern domination in this sport by South Carolina teams.

    Those were the glory days of baseball.

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  20. R Lee Young says:

    YES! Don Buddin hit the first grand slam in Houston Astro (nee: Colt 45ers) history in the second game @ Colt Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates: he was soundly booed in the trek around the bases!

    Why? (Red Sox fans know all too well)

    Because he booted so many balls in BOTH games that we were obliterated twice in ONE day; i was there and i know…
    (Unfortunately, we got him in the major league expansion draft from Boston; luckily, the expansion Mets were worse than Houston and finished in the N.L. gutter opening seizon-

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