Major Leagues: Will you forgive us Bartman?
By Martha Irvine
CHICAGO ó Steve Bartman, I have a confession to make. I was one of those fools who dressed as you for Halloween.
It was 2003. You’d just become infamous for deflecting that foul ball outfielder Moises Alou tried to catch in the National League championship series, the one that went so wrong for the Chicago Cubs.
My costume was a cross between you and the infamous Billy goat that supposedly started this whole Cubs curse thing back in 1945. I titled it “The Scapegoat.”
Hee hee. Sure, it was a tiny poke at you. But really, it was a much bigger jab at all of us Cubs fans who were misdirecting our anguish after the Florida Marlins ó trailing 3-0 ó erupted for eight runs and won that Game 6. Then the Cubs blew Game 7, too.
But I miscalculated. As a new-ish Cubs fan, I discovered it was way too soon to make light of our team’s latest meltdown.
A lot of people booed when I walked in a Halloween parade on Chicago’s North Side, donning a Cubs cap and headphones, like the ones you wore that awful night, along with goat ears and a goat beard.
You weren’t a very popular guy back then, Steve (like I have to tell you that).
But the past … has passed. Five years later, the Cubs are again looking to claim that first World Series title since 1908. They start their playoff run today against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And guess what, Steve: Cubs fans are ready to forgive.
Really! I’m telling you. I checked with a lot of people ó the kind who claim to “bleed Cubbie blue” ó and they’ve moved on, some of them long ago.
“It was so easy to turn to that geeky looking kid and pin 95 years of frustration on him,” Justin Rounds, a 30-year-old Chicagoan, says when asked about you. Rounds was working at a San Diego sushi restaurant in 2003 and, at the time, cursed your name to anyone who’d listen.
But now he says he’s more mature ó “and my emotions have calmed and my perspective has changed.”
Paddy Stanton was so angry after the Game 6 loss that he hit his hand against a wall and fractured it.
“I broke my hand for the Cubs!” says Stanton, who’s now a 29-year-old financial adviser in Chicago. “I have still not quite gotten over that night.”
But he says he never really blamed you. Nope. He pinned his anger squarely on Alex Gonzalez, the Cubs shortstop who mishandled a potential double-play ball soon after your mishap.
Other Cubs fans point the finger (yes, probably that one) at former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, or pitcher Mark Prior, or even Alou. Some go as far as calling Alou a “brat” for jumping up and down in disgust after you deflected the ball away from his glove and into the stands.
I say maybe, just maybe, we should cut Alou a little slack, too. Isn’t it possible he was just channeling decades worth of Cubs angst?
Take Kevin Johnson, for instance. He was at that Game 6 and, to this day, carries the ticket stub in his checkbook.
He recalls celebrating a little too early and thinking the Cubs were heading to the Series when they took a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning.
“I was ecstatic with the thought that I could tell folks for the rest of my life that I was at the game that put the Cubbies in the World Series for the first time in 58 years,” says Johnson, a 50-year-old fan who lives in suburban Streamwood.
For fans like Johnson, this year ó this World Series ó is the focus. And Steve, several fans have told me in no uncertain terms that you are not.
“The media likes its heroes and its scapegoats, simple stories of good and evil rather than complex ones with shades of gray,” says Bill Savage, a Northwestern University professor and Cubs season ticket-holder. He’s also a a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and teaches a course called “Baseball in American Narrative.”
“The Fox cameras focused on Bartman ó who did what any fan near a foul ball does ó and they kept running the clip over and over again,” Savage says.
Columnists wrote about it immediately. One newspaper printed your home address.
And in 2004, the deflected ball was blown up in a ceremony at Harry Caray’s restaurant in Chicago.
“So these multiple narratives coalesced to create a story, a meaningful narrative, with a single bad guy to blame for the Cubs’ collapse.”
But not anymore.
Most of us agree (you more than anyone, I’m sure): It’s time to put this whole thing to rest.
“If the Cubs win the World Series, I will forgive each and any transgression against me by any human being, alive or dead, including Bartman, but excluding my second ex-wife,” says Johnson, the guy with the ticket stub.
Pete Dunn attended a game last month at Wrigley Field and stopped to look at the “Bartman seat,” after asking a few bystanders where it was. He was struck by just how close you were to the field.
“My heart has always gone out to him,” says Dunn, a 47-year-old Chicago native who now lives in the Boston area. But having stood at that very seat, “I felt even more certainly that he was not the problem.”
If the Cubs make it to the World Series, he hopes you get to throw the first pitch or sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
“I’d raise my glass to him,” Dunn says.
Annie Wilson, a 24-year-old fan in Washington, D.C., put it this way in her “Ode to Steve Bartman”:
“Let’s cut this poor Cubs fan some slack,
“Since, this year, our Cubbies have no lack.
“With Piniella and ‘Big Z,’
“Soriano and Lee,
“After a century, our pennant’s coming back.”
So now, Steve Bartman, there’s really just one question.
Do you forgive us?