Last year the Chicago Cubs won the Major League Baseball World Series, but it was 108 years in coming. They had not won a World Series since 1908, the same year Henry Ford introduced the Model T and the same year William Howard Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan for the U.S. presidency.
In 2003 the Cubs had a remarkably good year and played themselves into the National League Championship Series by beating the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series in five games.
The Cubs played the Florida Marlins for the NLCS and were five outs away from competing in the World Series. Chicago led the Marlins 3-0 in the top of the eighth inning in game six in Wrigley Field.
The turning point of the game came on a foul ball hit by Florida second baseman Luis Castille, which came down over the wall in shallow left field. With the ball apparently headed for the glove of left fielder Moises Alou, a Chicago fan named Steve Bartman – in a black sweater, green turtleneck, Cubs cap, glasses, and headphones – didn’t notice Alou. Bartman also went for the ball and deflected it into the seats. Many questioned Alou’s chances of catching the ball had it not been deflected.
Before the Cubs could get the final out, they trailed by five runs. When Chicago lost the series the next night, Cubs Nation had someone to blame and Bartman suddenly became the scourge of Cubs fans everywhere. Even Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who has since been indicted and imprisoned, declared after the game, Bartman “will never get a pardon from this governor.”
When the ball was deflected, Bartman, a meek, gentle kind-hearted man, was showered with beer, curses, and death threats. He was escorted from the scene for his own protection.
Michael McCarthy, writing for USA Today, explained, “The fans at the “Friendly Confines” (of Wrigley Field) turned into an angry mob one eyewitness compared to the pitchfork-bearing villagers in Frankenstein. As he fled with a jacket over his head, one fan urged him to blow his own head off with a shotgun.”
In truth, there were other fans that also reached for that foul ball. Bartman was not the reason the Cubs lost that game, but he became the excuse people used to cope with the fact that their team royally blew it. Bartman was just the fall guy, the scapegoat, and was maligned for years as the reason for the Cubs failure to reach the World Series in 2003. He was forced to live a reclusive life. He couldn’t even go out of his home to buy groceries or to the drugstore for fear of actually being physically harmed.
Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, never retaliated. He has acted honorably and graciously ever since the incident occurred. Bartman even wrote an apology and asked his fellow fans for forgiveness. He did what any fan would do under the circumstances – reach for the ball.
Bartman has rejected publicity and refused to profit from the situation. He could have made hundreds of thousands of dollars off his notoriety, but has not done so. He’s been offered vast sums of money for appearances, autographs, and commercials, but he chose not to do so. The gifts he did receive, he donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. One reported who tracked him down was “mesmerized” by his kindness, grace, and dignity.
Apparently, the Cubs knew something about Bartman’s character, because it was announced earlier this week that the team was awarding him a 2016 World Series championship ring. The ring was bestowed with the following comment:
On behalf of the entire Chicago Cubs organization, we are honored to present a 2016 World Series Championship Ring to Mr. Steve Bartman.
We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story that has perpetuated throughout our quest to win a long-awaited World Series. While no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade, we felt it was important Steve knows he has been and will continue to be fully embraced by this organization. After all he has sacrificed, we are proud to recognize Steve Bartman with this gift today.
Bartman responded by saying, “Although I do not consider myself worthy of such an honor, I am deeply moved and sincerely grateful to receive an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring. I am fully aware of the historical significance and appreciate the symbolism the ring represents on multiple levels. My family and I will cherish it for generations.
“I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society.”
Sports has become a huge idol in America, but occasionally there is an inspiring story that comes from the world of athletics. In this story we read about a man who handled adversity with wisdom and grace and a baseball enterprise that responded magnanimously to a misfortune.
It is a good day when everybody wins!