Each and every single one of us has done at least 1 thing in our lives that we’ve almost immediately regretted doing, and we’ve been mildly embarrassed at a minimum or brutally ashamed and guilt-ridden at a maximum. Maybe we’ve offended someone by speaking too loudly at a dinner party about the host’s over-exuberant use of the word “aperitif”, or maybe we’ve attempted to drive home after having a few cocktails and accidentally parked the family car in the wrong garage. Perhaps there was an incident in Belize involving some tribal rituals and a fire walker, or it could have been that team of synchronized roller skaters doing jello shots. It doesn’t matter. You made a bad decision or a series of bad decisions, and it cost you – whether it be a moment of shame or internet fame involving your own YouTube channel. Maybe it even cost you a job along with your professional reputation. Still, you managed to somehow persevere, and you are still around today to read this.
Imagine for a moment walking a mile in Steve Bartman’s shoes. Allow me to refresh your memory. The Cubs made it to the 2003 NLCS and were playing game 6 at Wrigley Field with a chance to clinch the pennant with a victory. They were up 3-0 against the Marlins in the top of the 8th inning with 1 out when the Marlins’ second baseman, Luis Castillo, sent a ball toward the corner of the left field wall behind the bullpen. As Cubs outfielder Moises Alou reached for the ball, a guy named Steve Bartman reached out and disrupted the catch. No big deal, right? Wrong. Boos, chants, and curses words of all kinds (in various languages) rained down. The Marlins then went on to score 8 runs, and then they also took the deciding game 7. In the meantime, Steve Bartman had to endure the obvious frustration of Moises Alou, the wrath of angry fans surrounding him at Wrigley Field, and the shame of being escorted away from his seat for his own safety. He was probably just a supreme wedgie short of the bullying cycle.
Since that unfortunate, infamous moment, Steve Bartman has been the subject of ridicule, the butt of merciless jokes, and Chicago’s most convenient scapegoat. He’s the punching bag that won’t budge. He’s the punchline that just keeps giving. He’s got to have a thicker skin than I do.
ESPN recently dropped another “30 For 30” documentary titled “Catching Hell“, and it covers the Bartman experience pretty well. If you can watch it and not have that “awkward-need-to-shift-and-look-elsewhere” feeling, then maybe you should stop double parking, passing your 15 year-old off as a “child” at restaurants, and stop tipping waitstaff like it is 1960. Grow a spine and develop a conscience. To know more about the Bartman experience is to see more about the ugly side of humanity. People can be mean and nasty. Some people stop maturing around age 8, but their bodies keep getting bigger. Those same people think it’s okay to scream obscenities at someone else over an incident like the one involving Bartman. Maybe I would have reacted the same way at the time, but I’m pretty sure I would have cooled down after a bit. I certainly would have cooled down by the next day, and I definitely would have been back on steady moral ground after watching the replay a few dozen times. Why? Because there but for the grace of the baseball gods go I. It could just as easily have been me, except I wouldn’t have been at a Cubs game, but you know what I mean. I have my own “Captain Oblivious” moments. I’m just glad that none of mine have led to national attention and public scorn…..at least not yet anyway.
As with all things in life, let’s try to keep this in perspective. It’s the lunatic fringe that is still troubling for Bartman. They are the ones who just won’t let it go and are just ignorant enough to act on their grudges. Hardcore fans may have a hard time letting go, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t sympathetic. Deep down those fans know that Bartman played a small yet memorable role. Just don’t let the blame lay solely at feet of Cubs fans, though. This same thing could happen to any team’s fanbase. Cubs fans are not genetically different than the rest of us, or at least I’m pretty sure that they are not. I’ve met several and even come into close contact with a few. They appear to breathe oxygen like us, and they even communicate the same way we do. The males tends to use the advanced point-and-grunt method of communication at baseball games, and I get along just fine with them. They do the bidding of the females, and that’s how social order is maintained.
The point I’m trying to make is that it’s a bad idea to paint everybody with the same brush based on a few outliers. Just because a few people (*cough* lunatics *cough*) are still calling for Bartman’s head doesn’t mean that all Cubs fans are calling for it. I’d sincerely hope that by now that most everybody has found the proper perspective on this. It wasn’t Steve Bartman who blew the pennant for the Cubs. It was the Cubs who blew the opportunity for the Cubs. Bartman doesn’t owe anybody an apology, but I bet that there are hundreds if not thousands of people who owe Bartman one. He’ll probably never get most of those, but at least he will get one. Steve, I’m sorry for calling you a “self-absorbed moron” that night back in 2003. It could have just as easily been me.
There but for the grace of the baseball gods go I.