Sports and Scapegoats

Tonight I watched “Catching Hell,” one of ESPN’s documentaries in its 30 For 30 series. If you have not watched any of the 30 For 30 documentary films, you are missing out. You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate how well these films are done and how gripping the stories are. I highly recommend you watch as many as possible. The one I saw  tonight, “Catching Hell” (it originally debuted on September 27th), told the story of the infamous Chicago Cubs fan, Steve Bartman. With one out in game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series, Bartman interfered with a foul ball that many believe Moises Alou would have caught if Bartman had not interfered on the play. Immediately after the boom-boom play happened, Alou cursed in disgust and gestured at Bartman. Fox showed the replay over and over during the live broadcast and the guy’s fate was pretty much sealed.
Here is where Bartman went wrong: He interfered with the play. Despite the fact if the ball was in fair or foul territory, he should have basically fallen back in his chair and let Alou go for the ball. When you sit at a baseball game in the front row down a foul line, you have to mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of a ball coming your way and a player trying to make a play on that ball. In your head, you have to have a plan to get out of the way or make yourself a nonfactor. Sure it may be the natural reaction of a fan to reach out for a ball that is coming to their way but you have to have the discipline to fight against that natural reaction.  Bartman did make a mistake by reaching out for the ball.
Here is where the city of Chicago went wrong: They crucified Bartman for being the guy who lost the 2003 NLCS for the Cubs and who continued on the curse. They designated him as the ultimate scapegoat of a struggling franchise. At the heart of the situation, I am not convinced that Alou would have caught that ball if Bartman had not reached his hands out to try and catch it. There is just no way of knowing. After that play, the wheels fell off for the Cubs. They simply could not get another out. After a walk, a wild pitch, and a couple hits, Alex Gonzalez committed an error on an easy double play ball. This part of the inning has forever been overshadowed by Bartman. The Marlins would go on to score eight runs that inning.
Bartman deserved to have a few fans who were sitting close by to put him in check and tell him that he should not interfere with a playable ball. Then again, they had no room to talk because those fans sitting close to him also reached for the ball, they just happened to be fortunate enough not to touch it. If there was any sensible fan in that whole cluster of seats who did not reach for the ball, he/she had full right to tell Bartman and everyone else not to do anything else stupid if another ball came over their way….that would have been acceptable. What was not acceptable was what really happened. Thanks to people watching the game on TV outside of the stadium and around the Chicago area,  they were able to call friends inside the stadium and let them know that the dude in the Cubs hat, green turtle neck, and earphones was the person who had “screwed” the Cubs out of a potential trip to the World Series. As word spread, the whole stadium unleashed their fury on Bartman. As a chant of “ASSHOLE” started, people started to throw beer, hot dogs, pizza, and really anything else you could imagine at the guy. Death threats started to surround him as he sat slumped in his seat. Finally, security appeared and escorted him into their dispatch office for his own safety. It would only be the beginning.
Of course the Cubs never overcame the 8 spot that the Marlins put up in the eighth inning and they lost game 6. The next night, they dropped game 7. The curse was solidified and Bartman became Public Enemy #1 in Chicago.
Steve Bartman faced threat upon threat during the aftermath of the Cubs exit from the playoffs.  He was forced to go into hiding. There was nothing but pure venom spit out on talk radio shows, public officials in the Chicago area denounced him.   The documentary mentioned that Bartman can no longer even use a credit card because then his identity will be known.
I feel the most amazing thing in this whole story is the classy way that Steve Bartman has held himself over the past eight years. The guy has had numerous offers for six-figure pay days for ten minute interviews, car show appearances, commercial ad requests, casino promotions, etc. but he has denied every single one. For all the misery he has suffered, you would think he would be entitled to cash in a little bit. How ironic is it that the guy who ended up getting the foul ball that Bartman and Alou went for sold it for $100,000? Kind of sad that a guy profited off of another guy’s life crushing experience. Steve even issued a statement shortly after game 6 detailing how sorry he was for the role he played in the Cubs not making it to the World Series. He apologized to the team, the fans, and pretty much every significant player that ever put on a Cubs uniform. Other than that, he has been silent. To this day, he has not said one word to the media.
Fans take sports way too seriously. I love sports and I make a living in sports but I do not see it as the bane of my existence. I do not need to contribute to the shattering of someone else’s life simply because they could have played a small role in a series of events that eventually led to a team losing a game. I genuinely feel very sad for Steve Bartman. This saga is still going on as I type this. People in Chicago hate him. How funny is it that all of the players on that Cubs team, the people who had the most stock invested in that 2003 team, have moved on while a bunch of low-lifes who wear jerseys and keep baseball card collections hold grudges so big against Steve Bartman that they throw darts at his picture each day? Talk about pathetic.
Our favorite teams are going to lose. Sure, it is natural to get frustrated but you have to remain rational as well. We live in a sporting society where people want to always pin a loss on one factor. It could be an owner, it could be a coach, it could be a player, and in some terrible cases, it could be a fellow fan. Get real, people. Just like a victory, a loss is shared by everyone. Quit finding a scapegoat to explain why your team lost and take a more holistic view. Steve Bartman, you are a man who has endured way more than anyone should. As the documentary said in its closing, you don’t owe the city of Chicago an apology, the city of Chicago owes you can apology. Don’t Blink.