Time to Forgive Steve Bartman

The Steve Bartman incident will always be a bad memory for Cubs fans, but it's time to forgive and forget. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

The Steve Bartman incident will always be a bad memory for Cubs fans, but it's time to forgive and forget. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

By Matthew Michaels

Sports fans understand the thrill of victory, the elusive and fleeting feeling that comes when the team you support comes out victorious. In sports, only one feeling is more intense than the thrill of victory. As awesome as a win is, an agonizing loss is twice as awful. You follow sports because rooting for a team is like being in a relationship. The highs bring you to cloud nine where you feel more passionate and in love than ever before. However, the heartbreak of loss discourages us and puts into question our commitment to fandom. Then we remember: ‘tis better to have played the game and lost than to have never played the game.

The Steve Bartman incident will always be a bad memory for Cubs fans, but it's time to forgive and forget. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)
The Steve Bartman incident will always be a bad memory for Cubs fans, but it’s time to forgive and forget. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

When we celebrate in victory, we thrust herodom on a figure we collectively feel has done more than his share to earn us all glory. On the flipside, following a heart-wrenching defeat, we are more than willing to place the sole blame on one tragic figure so we can be relieved of the whole ordeal. Far too often, this scapegoat is not worthy of any blame at all and is etched into the record books on the wrong side of history, where his descendants will read in shame about their ancestor.

For an organization like the Chicago Cubs, who have gone through eras of suffering and torturous loss without a championship, it seems all too likely that someone would have taken the brunt from the loyal North Side fans. Unfortunately for one simple man, the wrath of a desperate city fell squarely on his unwilling shoulders. Steve Bartman was not a player but a simple fan and yet he has come to symbolize the ineptitude of the entire organization’s 108 year World Series drought.

The Chicago Cubs were the first baseball franchise with multiple World Series victories by winning it all in 1907 and 1908. They made the Fall Classic several more times, but they were unsuccessful in their endeavor. During Game 4 of the 1945 Series, Cubs fan Billy Sianis attempted to bring his goat into Wrigley Field but was not allowed in. The Cubs, who had a two games to one lead in the series at that point, lost the series, and the Curse of the Billy Goat was born.

Another goat, the ultimate scapegoat, was born in 2003. In the NLCS against the Marlins, Chicago was leading three games to two in the series and up 3-0 in game 6. Starting pitcher Mark Prior was cruising with the Cubs only five outs away from clinching their first pennant since Sianis and his goat. With one out and one runner on base, Luis Castillo lifted a fly ball towards left field. Moises Alou rushed over into foul territory and reached out, but the ball was deflected by a common spectator.

In an instant, Alou was enraged and the entire stadium turned its eyes to an anonymous bespectacled man wearing a green turtleneck, a Cubs hat and headphones with which he was listening to the game’s radio broadcast. Although the umpires decided not to call interference, the anger of his fellow spectators was too much and Steve Bartman had to be escorted out, out of Wrigley Field and out of the public eye, forever.

With renewed life in the at-bat, Castillo drew a walk. Ivan Rodriguez followed up with a run scoring single but Chicago almost got out of the jam. Rookie Miguel Cabrera hit what looked like an inning-ending double play, but shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted the ball.  The Cubs continued to unravel, and the Marlins finished the inning by scoring a total of eight runs. Florida had stolen Game 6, won Game 7 the next night, and won the World Series a week later.

The Cubs’ curse would go on even longer, but the consequences of the collapse were far worse for Bartman. The harassment and death threats got to a point where then Florida Governor Jeb Bush offered Bartman asylum. He was just a fan who, like any of us, would have done in his situation, reached out for a nearing foul ball. Cubs’ fans were so caught up in the thrill of victory that when they fell, they pinned the heartbreak on an unsuspecting victim of circumstance.

Alou would not have caught the ball anyway. Prior still imploded on the mound. Gonzalez erred on a routine play. If you want to blame someone for the Cubs’ loss than October night, there are plenty of suspects, but Bartman is not one of them. Steve Bartman had a front row seat to see his beloved Cubs clinch a pennant but instead had his life ruined. Bartman has made no public appearances despite pressure and large monetary incentives. He had to change his name and hide in embarrassment for the last 13 years.

The Cubs are in the World Series. The Curse of the Billy Goat is over. It is time for Bartman to cease his existence solely as a scapegoat. Instead, he should be with the other faithful Cubs’ fans enjoying the thrill of victory as Chicago looks to win it all.