Don Buddin was born on May 5, 1934, in Turbeville, South Carolina. He played shortstop for the Red Sox in 1956 and then, after a year of Army service, from 1958 through 1961. After leading the league in shortstop errors in both 1958 and 1959, he became the butt of near-constant abuse from sportswriters and fans alike.
Don played high-school ball for Olanta High School, from which he graduated in 1952. He played “infield, shortstop, and pitched. He was as highly rated by the Red Sox but he wasn't certainly a prized prospect. But the Red Sox offered him a reported $50,000 bonus, which was quite large at the time.
At 18, he signed on with the Red Sox. He came up to Boston for a couple of weeks and worked out with the team. Eventually the Red Sox assigned him to Roanoke in the Piedmont League to get some playing time.
The next year, after working out at the Red Sox minor-league camp in Deland, Florida, he played for Greensboro and manager Eddie Popowski in the Carolina League. Don improved dramatically, batting an even .300 and he showed power, with 25 home runs, and hit 37 doubles and 7 triples.
After this fine first full season of professional ball, he was promoted from Class B Greensboro to Triple-A for 1954, and earned praise. But in his first year with the Louisville Colonels of the American Association, he struggled a bit more against better pitching. The Colonels won both the American Association playoffs and the Junior World Series in 1954 and then Don played winter ball for the Venezuela Patriots and had an excellent season.
He again played for Louisville in 1955. But in a sign of things to come, his 48 errors led the American Association. He went to spring training with the Red Sox in 1956, and on the trip north the team stopped in Charlotte to play an exhibition game. While there, Mike Higgins announced that Buddin would be the Red Sox’ Opening Day shortstop. Higgins favored Buddin, whom he’d known in Louisville, and stuck by him throughout his time with the Red Sox. Bobby Doerr, the Red Sox’ stellar second baseman and later a coach and hitting instructor, thought that all he needed was a little more experience. He made 18 errors in his first 40 games and his season was shortened further when he fractured his hand on a slide in September.
The United States Army soon called and Buddin spent the entire 1957 season stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and Fort McPherson in Georgia. He played a lot of baseball in the Army, traveling to play teams on other bases and keeping in shape. There had been some uncertainty whether he’d be able to join the club before June or July in 1958, but Corporal Buddin was mustered out just in time to get to part of spring training.
Billy Klaus had returned to shortstop in 1957; when Don returned, Klaus was relegated to backup duty. Billy Goodman had been Buddin’s double-play partner playing second base in 1956; for the next three years it would be Pete Runnels, whom the Red Sox had acquired from the Senators.
Buddin was distinctly better than average among shortstops offensively. Coming back after his time in the Army, he got off to a terrific start and in 1958, and led all American League shortstops in OPS, and in 1959 he was second only to Woodie Held. He hit for a decent average, but walked a lot (more than he struck out over his career, which is very rare), giving him a strong on-base percentage for a shortstop at a time when most middle infielders were light-hitting defensive specialists.
But he led the league in shortstop errors in both 1958 and 1959. His too-frequent errors gave birth to the reputation that besmirched him. The “Fenway Park wolves” got on him so badly that Higgins had almost no choice but to bench him.
These were disappointing years for the Red Sox, though as they never finished closer than 13 games out of first place and, after 1958, they didn’t have a winning season again until 1967. It is clear that Buddin unfairly bore the brunt of a little frustration. But despite a few brief benchings, he held onto his position and never lost faith in himself, although he had a hard time.
In 1961, Buddin faced a challenge from Pumpsie Green for a berth at shortstop. Don pulled a leg muscle in spring training and it hampered him badly. He lost the Opening Day start to Pumpsie. When Green had an appendectomy in mid-May, Don took over again. He raised his average to a career-high .263 and he cut his errors dramatically, down to 23, though that was in part because Green also played in some 57 games at short.
The Red Sox weren’t really satisfied with either and when they saw an opportunity after the season to go for a perceived upgrade, they swapped Don to the Houston Colt .45s for Eddie Bressoud. The Colt 45s were a brand-new expansion team. In the winter, Buddin traveled with the club as it made a goodwill tour of 20 towns in Texas, Louisiana, and northern Mexico to drum up support for the team. When it came time to play, he suffered another pulled muscle in spring training and again it held him back. The best he was hitting a miserable .163 after 80 at-bats, and in July was waived to the Detroit Tigers.
After the 1962 season, the Tigers assigned Don to their Syracuse club, and then offered him for sale at the minor-league convention, but finding no takers, they released him. Don was then offered a minor-league contract by the Yankees and played for their Richmond farm club in 1963.
In 1964, he went through a bewildering succession of ball-clubs all in the one year. He began the year with Columbus, Georgia, a Yankees affiliate in the Southern League, but was released before the season started. He then played for Rochester (affiliated with the Orioles), Indianapolis (White Sox), Denver (Milwaukee Braves), and Toronto (Senators and Tigers).
He started 1965 with Atlanta (of the American Association) but was released in April and wound up with the Knoxville Smokies, a Cincinnati affiliate. He played a full season with a .242 average but was not re-signed. The Macon Peaches made a pitch to him, but he decided it was time to look for other work and announced his retirement.
Don was living in Lake City, South Carolina, and went to work for his father selling life insurance for Liberty Life. After doing that for seven years, he took on a position combining public relations and writing for his hometown newspaper, the Lake City News.
After the newspaper work, Don spent seven years as a salesman for Kayot Pontoons, a boat company based in Mankato, Minnesota. Then he opened what he called “an alcohol liquor store” in Greenville. He owned Don’s Party Shop – one in Lake City and the other in Fountain Inn — though a partner ran the enterprise before Don sold his share.
After a heart attack and a stroke, Don lived in a nursing home in Greenville. He still heard from the Red Sox through their active alumni outreach effort, and from several of his old teammates. He always remained loyal to the team that first signed him.
Don Buddin died in Greenville on June 30, 2011 after a long illness.