What I learned from Steve Bartman
When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series this past November, it ended one of the most infamous streaks in all of sport — a 108-year championship drought.
Toronto Maple Leaf fans do not know what that kind of pain is like.
However, at the same time, it brought closure to one of the ugliest chapters for a club whose history books are filled with dark passages.
Sport’s ultimate scape goat, Steve Bartman, was finally let off the hook. Truth be told, the mild-mannered little league coach should never have been held responsible by a rabid fan base filled with angst and 95 years of curses and heart break.
As a life-long Cubs fan, I have to admit I was sitting there in my living room in St. Paul, flipping out. I even penned a column on how he caused the club’s eighth inning, Game 6 collapse to the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series.
I was young, I was stupid. Some would argue I still am. I hope I have learned a lot from that night.
But let’s back-track for those who do not have a foggy clue what I am talking about.
The Cubs were five outs away from advancing to their first World Series since 1945. Chicago was up 3-0 on the Marlins with ace pitcher Mark Prior in a groove. With a runner on second base and one out, Louis Castillo lifted a drifting foul ball down the third base line that carried Cubs outfielder Moises Alou to the outfield wall. As he went up to make a play on the ball about 12 fans reached for it. Unfortunately, Bartman was the one who made contact with the ball, and Alou threw a tantrum drawing the eye of everyone in the stadium and watching on TV to what had happened.
The psyche of the Cubs cracked in that moment and they fell apart.
Prior suddenly could not get a pitch across the plate, shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted the ball around the infield and before the Cubs could get out of the inning the Marlins had pushed eight runs across the plate. With each Marlin that came to bat the vitriol towards Bartman increased. He eventually had to be escorted to safety and he went into hiding as the Cubs were blown out in Game 7.
For a fanbase steeped in curses about Billy goats and black cats, Bartman became the newest lightning rod. He faced death threats and the type of hate that comes with being a presidential candidate. Except he was a just a passionate Cubs fan. The ball he touched was even auctioned off for $113,824.16 and then blown up prior to the start of the 2004 season.
In the years since, Bartman has refused all media interactions, at first out of fear and later out of fear of becoming a distraction.
When the Cubs finally ended the drought in Cleveland on Nov. 2, one of the first things they did in the afterglow of their champagne hangover was to reach out to Bartman to include him in the celebration. He declined. They tried many times over the summer to bring him into the fold, including the World Series parade and for other events.
He finally acquiesced as the team presented him with a World Series ring on Monday. In a statement released to the media, he said this: “I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society. My hope is that we all can learn from my experience to view sports as entertainment and prevent harsh scapegoating, and to challenge the media and opportunistic profiteers to conduct business ethically by respecting personal privacy rights and not exploit any individual to advance their own self-interest or economic gain.”
We live in a world where sports and entertainment have somehow morphed into something more than the break from reality they are intended to be.
That night in 2003 showed how a fanbase completely lost touch with what’s right and decent.
Sports are meant to be enjoyed, whether you’re watching or participating. I have witnessed more times than I care to count horrible acts committed between fans and by fans. This, however, is the only time I have seen a city swallow a man whole just for being a fan and doing what innocent, excited fans do.
We need to be better than this, we need to learn from this.
Let Bartman stand as an example for all of us on how to be a fan.