The Chicago Cubs are going to come calling. It’s inevitable. Now that the franchise’s great World Series shame has been extinguished, the team will finally come around to forgiving its most infamous fan. The offer will come sometime in the next few months. A first pitch at the ring ceremony next April. Singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame with Eddie Vedder. Accompanying Bill Murray for a cameo on Saturday Night Live. The adoration of fans who have cursed his name for years. It’ll happen. And when it does, Steve Bartman, the designated goat of recent Chicago Cubs history, should tell everyone to shove it.
Everybody remembers Bartman, with that green turtleneck and the 1980s headphones perched atop his aged Cubs hat, reaching over to grab a foul ball that Moises Alou might have caught in the eight inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. They collided, the ball harmlessly dropped foul and the at-bat resumed, with Luis Castillo facing a full-count with one out, a man on second and a three-run deficit. He walked on the next pitch.
Five outs from the World Series and a double play away from being out of the inning with their ace still on the mound, the Cubs collapsed. Wild pitch. Single, RBI. 3-1, Cubs. And then, the true culprit for Chicago’s Game 6 collapse – a routine Miguel Cabrera ground ball to Alex Gonzalez that should have gone for an inning-ending double play (or an out at worst) but was booted instead, leading to a bases loaded situation and the floodgates opening. By the time it was over, the Marlins had sent 12 batters to the plate, scored eight runs and the unknown, sad sack down the third-base line would soon become the most infamous baseball fan since Jeffrey Maier – except this time, the fan wouldn’t be celebrated, he’d be vilified. Steve Bartman had sabotaged his own team.
And hadn’t he? Alou should have caught the ball, the Cubs would have easily retired the next batter and the drought could have ended after 95 years instead of 108. Heck, the Cubbies could have exorcised their demons before the Red Sox. Think of all those Cubs fans who missed out on seeing that elusive title because of Steve [expletive] Bartman, the unknown-turned-pariah-turned-recluse, all because he reached for a foul ball. Forget that Steve Bartman barely scratches the top 10 reasons the Cubs imploded that year. The blame, however, was put on him.
He went into hiding, it’s said, even though it appears he lived a relatively normal existence. In the era of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Bartman has done a remarkable job of staying out of the limelight in the years that followed and good for him. He didn’t deserve any of the scorn thrown his way so the least people could do is curse him in private rather than to his face. The rational Cubs fans realize this. Chicago still should have gotten out of the inning with a lead. They could have even survived Gonzalez’s error, which was more damaging by a factor of 100. But they collapsed and if a Walkman-wearing fan could do that to the psyche of a baseball team, imagine how they would have performed in a World Series with 95 years of history on the line against the greatest franchise in baseball history. (The Yankees would have awaited in the 2003 Series.) Oh, they also remember the Cubs had a 5-3 lead in Game 7 that Kerry Wood couldn’t hold. One fan didn’t cause all that.
Now the Cubs, its fans and the baseball world will want him – expect him – to come back out at their command so they can feel good about themselves as they absolve an innocent man of his crimes against Cubbies. It’s too late. You don’t get to apologize when it’s convenient. The Bartman game was 13 years ago. Apologize when you realize you’re wrong, which, in this case, should have been about three hours after that Game 6.
There’s a parallel with Bill Buckner’s situation in Boston, where he was the goat (lowercase) of the 1986 World Series even though the team had a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the 10th that was blown by reliever Calvin Schiraldi. Buckner’s boot would have only sent a tie game into the 11th, not won the Series. And like the ’03 Cubs, there was still a Game 7 to play, complete with another blown lead by Schiraldi. Despite the fact that the relief pitcher was the main culprit of a lost season, Buckner unfairly got the blame and became the outcast of New England. Although he returned numerous times over the years as a player and coach (even playing for the team again in 1990), he didn’t accept the invitation for a hero’s welcome until after the Red Sox won their second World Series.
“I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston, per se, but in my heart, I had to forgive the media for what they put me and my family through.”
It ends there though. Only their status as scapegoats tied them together. Buckner was a paid player. With the fame and money comes the pressure and scrutiny. He’s supposed to make that play. He deserves the blame when he doesn’t. He didn’t deserve the scorn he ended up getting, but at least he knew what he was in for when he signed up to be a professional athlete. Bartman was just a guy with good seats to a baseball game who may have interfered with a ball, yet had to be hustled out of the stadium by security and go into hiding whereupon he immediately released a pathetic, poignant, 185-word note to the public that showed the depth of his Cubs fandom (the two former players he apologizes to were alive at the time but have since passed) and the instant pain and torment he felt. It ended:
“To Moises Alou, the Chicago Cubs organization, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Cub fans everywhere I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan’s broken heart.
I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends, and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs.”
Now the Cubs fans will want to forgive Steve Bartman who, reports from friends say, is still a huge fan. They’ll want to applaud him for the classy, humble way he dealt with how he was treated for 13 years. It’ll be soul-cleansing. What they really want though, is for Steve Bartman to forgive them. They’re the ones who need penance, not him.
And if Bartman wants to wash away these painful years by basking in the adulation of 41,268 Cubs fans (even if he realizes how superficial it all is) or decides to cash in by making $300,000 on a 30-second Budweiser commercial, then go for it, man. He’s gone through enough. He deserves to do what he wants.
If I were him though, I’d put on my Walkman, pull my new Cubs World Series hat low and stroll down the streets of Wrigleyville, anonymous as ever and without a care in the world.