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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Former Chicago Cubs first baseman Bill Buckner said playing day games at Wrigley Field took its toll on the team, especially in the summer.

Buckner likes direction Cubs headed

Says success still a few years away, players maturing

David Ortiz might have been onto something.

At least, Bill Buckner thinks so.

Ortiz commented earlier this month that the Cubs’ affinity for playing day games caused their history of losing.

Buckner, who played for the Cubs from 1977 to 1984, said the schedule was even more lopsided back then.

“They play 30 or 40 night games now,” Buckner said. “I wish they had those when I played.”

Buckner spoke with reporters while at Parkview Field as part of the Principal Financial Dreams Tour that honors and assists military members and their families.

Before the TinCaps’ game against South Bend on Monday, Buckner signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans.

Ortiz, the Boston slugger, claimed Cubs players complained to him over the years about having to constantly adjust their body clocks.

Buckner said there are issues associated with travel and day games after night games at Wrigley Field, which didn’t get lights until 1988.

“A lot of times you get stuck getting in at 3 or 4 in the morning,” Buckner said. “A day game the next day is tough.

“I remember sleeping on the trainer’s table a few times, going right from the airport to the ballpark, and then having to play a 1 o’clock game.”

Buckner managed pretty well, though, in his time in Chicago. He won the 1980 National League batting title and appeared in the 1981 All-Star game.

While Buckner expressed support for the Cubs’ tradition, he also said it was “pretty much obvious that it has some effect on the team’s success.”

“Day games are good, except in the summer when it gets really hot and humid,” Buckner said. “It takes a bit of a toll on you.”

Perhaps Chicago won’t have to mess with its schedule to win the World Series for the first time since 1908.

Buckner endorsed the rebuilding plan of Cubs president Theo Epstein, who has prioritized player development.

“They’re taking the right route,” Buckner said. “When they took over, they decided to put all their money in the minor leagues.

“They’re still a couple years from being competitive, but they have five or six really good young players.”

Although Buckner finished his 22-year career with 2,715 hits, he is most known for his Game 6-ending error in the 1986 World Series while playing first base for Boston. The New York Mets won the game and then Game 7.

“When you’re a kid, you dream about hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series,” Buckner said. “It doesn’t always work out that way, but I’m very happy with my career. I accomplished a lot.”

Buckner played in four different decades: the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

After two years as hitting coach of the Boise Hawks, a Cubs affiliate, Buckner retired in March.

He referred to Parkview Field as a “beautiful” facility and said he played in big league stadiums that were of lesser quality.