Perhaps now life can get back to normal for Steve Bartman. He’s certainly waited long enough.
On Monday, baseball’s reigning champions, the Chicago Cubs, announced they had presented a World Series ring to the long-time Cubs fan who has lived an essentially reclusive life ever since his involvement in an infamous moment in Cubs lore almost 14 years ago.
Bartman, an avid Cubs fan, was in the stands at Wrigley Field on Oct. 14, 2003 with Chicago just five outs away from advancing to the World Series for the first time since 1945. The Cubs were leading 3-0 when a foul ball drifted toward the outfield stands. As Cubs outfielder Moises Alou reached to make the catch, Bartman, seeking a souvenir just as generations of baseball fans have done through the decades, deflected the ball from Alou’s grasp.
The Cubs went on to surrender eight runs in the inning and lost the game, then also dropped Game 7 to bring their season to a disappointing end.
Clearly, a lot of other things happened to bring about the Cubs’ collapse in that series. But it was Bartman who bore the brunt of the blame in the eyes of Cubs fans, and he became the target of the most scathing abuse imaginable.
Little wonder this devoted Cubs fan was forced to become a virtual hermit. He has avoided the public eye ever since, even staying away from the ballpark last fall while his beloved Cubs were playing in the World Series. Not even the positive occasion of receiving a World Series ring could coax Bartman into the open. Instead, he responded simply with a released statement expressing his gratitude and the hope “that we can all learn from my experience to view sports as entertainment and prevent harsh scapegoating…”
Yes, sports is entertainment but it is too often viewed as something far more serious. To some fans, it’s life and death. To others, it’s the next thing to war, and opposing players and fans are the enemy, even to the point of throwing objects at players or beating up fans simply because they cheer for the “wrong” team.
In Bartman’s case, he was simply reacting the way most fans likely would in reaching to catch a ball. In a photo in Tuesday’s Herald showing the fateful play, other fans behind Bartman can be seen also reaching for the ball. But it was Bartman who made contact with the ball, and thus it was he who became a pariah for doing so.
The Cubs said they hope the gesture of presenting a ring to Bartman provides closure to the episode, and perhaps it will. But nothing can undo the unwarranted cruel treatment this man endured.
There’s a lesson to be learned here. We can only hope sports fans everywhere take it to heart.