On Monday the Chicago Cubs announced they were giving the long-suffering Steve Bartman a 2016 World Series ring, as a gesture of forgiveness and “closure” for the infamous 2003 playoff game incident.
Bartman’s statement of response was characteristically gracious and conciliatory.
Bartman has consistently shown himself to be a class guy who eschews bitterness and blame. But shouldn’t he really be the one who should have to forgive, instead of being forgiven?
Watching that 2003 playoff game on TV, I thought the whole episode was hilarious at the time, although I was a little worried for Bartman’s physical safety.
Only much later, especially after I watched the ESPN 30 for 30 special, “Catching Hell,” I felt ashamed. Ashamed at the deplorable way Bartman was treated and scapegoated, and at myself for making it an object of my own amusement.
If you haven’t watched “Catching Hell,” I strongly recommend it. It chronicles not only the Bartman episode, which was not the Cubs’ or sports fandom’s finest moment, but the 1986 Boston Red Sox World Series game loss that was blamed on hapless baseman Bill Buckner, and the grief he got for it. Living in Massachusetts at the time, I remember that episode well.
Mind you, both incidents took place in a time without social media, which would compound the insults.
I think by now it’s widely recognized that the ball Bartman, along with about half a dozen other fans, reached for was a foul ball, and that the Cubs lost that game and the next game because they choked.
But this gesture of reconciliation (some have called it a PR stunt) means nothing if nothing is learned and nothing changes. At the time, the Cubs organization, including manager and players, did nothing to defuse the fury misdirected at Bartman, and actually fed into it.
Of course, it's easier to be magnanimous and forgiving when you win, which the Cubs did in 2016.
Going forward, professional sports teams must act swiftly in making it clear that abuse of fans, spectators, or players will not be tolerated. Let's not have any more Bartmans.