Let me start by saying that Steve Bartman is a better person than I am. He’s a better person than Moises Alou, Mike Wilbon, and all the Cubs fans who still revile him and hold him responsible for the Cubs’ loss in the 2003 National League Championship Series. (And he had a similar fielding percentage to Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzales in the fateful inning that doomed him to a life of hiding.)
Steve Bartman, of course, is the fan (one of the fans, actually) who tried to catch a foul ball that left fielder Moises Alou may have been able to catch in the eighth inning of Game 6 of that NLCS. The Cubs had a 3-0 lead in the game and a 3-2 lead in the series. They needed five outs to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1945, and if Bartman had not made contact with that ball, Cubs left fielder Moises Alou likely would have caught it and they would have only needed four outs. Instead, Alou did not make the catch and slammed his glove in anger at the fans—one in particular—who got in his way.
Long story short (in case you don’t know how this ends), the Cubs threw up on their shoes and lost that game 8-3, then were eliminated by the Marlins the next night in Game 7. Cubs fans, needing a scape (billy) goat for their frustrations, pinned the loss on Bartman. He was subjected to threats of varying severity, including a thinly veiled one from the charming young governor of Illinois at the time, Rod Blagojevich, who suggested that Bartman should enter the witness protection program. Pardon the Interruption host Mike Wilbon confessed later to hating Steve Bartman.
More than eight years later, just this past March, ESPN Chicago did one of those fan-voter March Madness brackets of Chicago’s Public Enemy #1. Steve Bartman was among the 16 people most hated by Chicagoans. You know who was not on the list? Shortstop Alex Gonzales, who booted a surefire double-play ball that would have gotten the Cubs out of that eighth inning with the lead intact. Or any of the actual players in the game who allowed the Marlins to score eight runs that inning after the Bartman incident.
Even notoriously tough Philly fans eventually forgave Mitch Williams for his role in losing the 1993 World Series. And he was an actual player in an actual game who gave up the actual Series-clinching home run. He wasn’t just some guy in the wrong place at the wrong time whose life changed forever with an impulse move that 99 percent of baseball fans would have made in the same situation.
Here’s the part where Steve Bartman is a better person than the rest of us: He has completely disappeared, and he has refused opportunities to cash in on this moment. He forwarded tongue-in-cheek gifts from Marlins fans after the game to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In the years since, he has turned down a ton of money—including a $25,000 offer to autograph a photo of himself and a reported six figures to appear in a Super Bowl commercial eight years after the fact.
Cubs fans have ruined the life of one of their own because they’re desperate to blame someone for generations of their team’s futility. But any Cubs fan who blames Bartman instead of Alex Gonzales or Mark Prior or Kyle Farnsworth or any of the other players who were actually in the game is misguided. If you pin the entirety of losing a series that your team led three games to one on that fluke of a moment, you are a hateful, spiteful loser—and you’re part of an irrational mob.
I know many Cubs fans rationally, as individuals, do not profess hate for Steve Bartman. But there’s a reason he went into hiding, and that a guy who clearly loved his team has not been back to Wrigley Field since. The mob mentality that forced Bartman to leave the city in a disguise, and that had six police cars guarding his house, and that forced his family to change phone numbers still exists—it may have diminished, but ESPN Chicago’s bracket proves that it’s still there.
I’ll be honest, I love this commercial for MLB: The Show 2012, which went viral because it tugs at the heart strings of all baseball fans. I think most sports fans can relate to the release Chicago will experience when the Cubs do eventually win it all after 100 years without a title. Chicago is a great city, and the Cubs are a historic franchise, so I think on some level, most baseball fans root for them at least a little.
But so long as Steve Bartman keeps showing up on lists of people Chicagoans hate the most, along with the likes of Bill Laimbeer, Brett Favre, and Albert Belle, I will root against them. Because they don’t deserve a title.