It finally happened. After waiting 108 years, the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. Along the way, there were a number of excuses, reasons, jinxes and curses that explained away why the Cubbies were taking so long to win again. The one that sticks out the most occurred in 2003, when a young man sitting in the outfield did what most people sitting around him did, and reached out for a foul ball. Of course I am talking about Steve Bartman.
If you don't know the full story, just do a quick Google search. The "incident" even has its own Wikipedia page. But the basic take away is that Bartman became the scapegoat for the Cubs blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 6 of the NLCS and ultimately losing the game. He became the new billy goat (another Cubs jinx for you to Google).
Now, don't get me wrong. I love how sports have its own myths -- and baseball in particular has a slew of them. It's part of what makes sport great, and the storytelling so compelling. But this instance, with Bartman, is not one of those times. This man's life was ruined. He was eventually escorted out of Wrigley Field, for his own safety. Think of the recent anger Blue Jays fans unleashed around the now infamous beer can throwing. Bartman was eventually vilified so much that he had to move, and change his life completely. No one really knows where he is now.
He doesn't need to have fans welcome him back, or make it OK for him to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs again.
And so he became part of Cubs legend. Documentaries were made about him, people parodied him, he became a symbol for bad fan interaction. He became mocked, and hated. His life was forever altered, and I often wonder how badly this affected his mental health and his general well-being. Did he ever find happiness again? How much does he miss his old life? Does he resent that a mob mentality uprooted so much of what he knew? Is he angry?
As time wore on, many people began to acknowledge that maybe things went too far with Bartman. He even became forgotten in some ways, as new sports pariahs took his place. But it was still there -- this lingering idea that Bartman needed to be "forgiven" by the Cubs, and that only a World Series title would achieve that.
So here we are, the Cubs are Champions. And now my social media feeds are filled with Bartman references. It's all varying degrees of "He's forgiven!", "He should throw the first pitch next year!" or "Make him the parade marshall!" But really think about it. Steve Bartman doesn't need forgiveness. He doesn't need to have fans welcome him back, or make it OK for him to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs again. Steve Bartman wasn't a player for the Chicago Cubs in 2003. Watch the clip of him reaching for the ball -- he isn't even the only one going for it! In fact, Bartman didn't even end up with the actual ball! But he became an easy excuse.
The Cubs and their fans don't owe Bartman forgiveness -- they owe him his life back. They owe him a chance to be forgotten. The owe him peace, and privacy. If anyone should be doing forgiveness, it's Bartman. He is owed an apology. Maybe to some, an apology is having him throw the first pitch, or be there at the parade. But in my mind, that just perpetuates the idea that he was part of the "curse" to begin with. It validates the idea that he did something wrong and requires some public display to "make it right". And does having him throw out a first pitch really make up for the last 13 years of his life? Does that make it OK that he was run out of town?
Wherever he is, I hope that Bartman is happy, fulfilled, and has found solitude.
For me, I think the best thing for Bartman is to just leave him alone. Don't bring him out as some mascot for the team overcoming any sort of curses or jinxes. He deserves peace. It actually reminds me of a piece I recently read about Heather Donahue, the lead actress in the Blair Witch Project. She spoke about how the film altered her life, and how she deeply regretted using her real name for the film.
This year, a new installment was released and when she heard it was being produced she was deeply upset that the iconic image of her crying face from the original movie was suddenly going to be back in the spotlight. It reminds me a lot of this. Bartman didn't ask for the attention, and didn't ask for his face to be etched in the minds of sports fans, as if now his likeness isn't truly his own property and identity. But yet, here he is again, back in the spotlight and once again being used as some sort of symbol for the "curse" of the Cubs.
Wherever he is, I hope that Bartman is happy, fulfilled, and has found solitude. Maybe he even still cheers for the Cubs. I hope he was able to somehow enjoy watching the team he grew up cheering for win the World Series. But most importantly, I hope he is left out of the celebrations.
Don't forgive Bartman, but we should all forget about him. I really hope the city of Chicago does the same. Oh -- and I realize that by even writing publicly about this, I am in some way perpetuating the story. So for that Steve, I am sorry.
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