Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Steve Bartman: the song that never ends



     I worked on something I intended for tomorrow, but the topic was so thoroughly trivial — a change in tea box design — that I needed to marshall sufficient oomph to pull it off, and I wasn't able to, yet. Maybe a few days marination might help.
    So in lieu of something substandard or, worse missing a day (Every ... goddamn ... day!) I thought I'd post this, which was in the paper last week, and did cause a bit of a stir, drawing the range of comment, from support to those who felt that the only reason the story is in the public eye is because the media keeps bringing it up (one of those points that isn't half as clever as it seems, since most everything in the public eye is only there because the media keeps bringing it up). 
    Enough prologue. If you're missing baseball already, a parting glance at your favorite fan and mine, Steve Bartman. 

     Nothing tumbles into oblivion quite like baseball immediately after a team is eliminated from the playoffs.
     Straight from full-throated, spotlit frenzy to a dim chorus of crickets.
     Chicago was festooned with blue banners, the media thundering every angle; every 80-year-old coot who kept his ticket stub from the 1945 World Series was paraded blinking into the glare.
     Easy for me to keep quiet, then. But now, with the city settling down, there is a piece of unfinished business.
     Steve Bartman. The one guy the media really wanted in its clutches. Another season of the epic silence maintained — for those lucky few in blissful ignorance — since the eighth inning of game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship series, with the Cubs up 3-0 over the Marlins, when Bartman, tried to catch a foul ball and perhaps, maybe, kept Moises Alou from doing so. The Cubs folded, as they tend to. Bartman had to be escorted from Wrigley Field by security while fans pelted him with trash.
     He issued an apology the next day, and since then has kept mum.
     Bartman had nothing to apologize for. It would not have been the final out. The Cubs blew it all on their own.
     If Bartman had truly intruded upon the play, the umpire should have ruled spectator interference and called the batter out. Yet nobody blames the umpire. The public doesn't even know his name.
     We all know Bartman's name, which is the problem, and this would have melted away long ago had Bartman done what most people do — babble into any convenient microphone. Instead, Bartman refuses comment.
     Noble, perhaps. But also a red cape waved before the foaming bull of the media which, like nature, hates a vacuum.
     I'm writing about this now because I assume the young, talented Cubs team will be in contention again next year, the media will grab its harpoon and set out once again in pursuit of Bartman.
     Maybe, in the quiet of the post-season lull, a seed of sense can be planted.
     What could Bartman possibly say that would reward the media for its dozen-year quest? He could have lived the existence of Job, squatting in dust at the gates of the city, and express it with the eloquence of Joseph Conrad describing Lord Jim's wanderings around the South Seas, trying to escape his shame, and frankly it would still be inadequate. Silence is his best option.
     It is also his right. The way Bartman is being treated is a category error. He's being presented as a kind of baseball goat — an ESPN film in 2011 compared him to Bill Buckner. But Bartman is not a player who muffed a play. He's a fan, or was, before all this started. He's allowed to grab any fly ball that comes within reach. Yes, he might have pulled back. And Moises Alou might have sprouted wings and flown. Both are violations of human nature.
     Bartman should instead be included in that realm of anonymous individuals who are pushed unwillingly into publicity, along with modest heroes and crime victims. We have civil rights in this country, and hounding innocents is un-American.
      His silence has a kind of nobility though, as with noble acts, there is a cost. By not talking, he inadvertently keeps the thing alive. Were I his PR adviser, I'd say spend an hour with Carol Marin and be done with it. As long as he maintains his silence, he'll have ESPN reporters leaping from the bushes. The only way to end it is to feed the beast.
     I thought I would float this past his camp, so phoned his spokesman, lawyer Frank Murtha.
     Why doesn't this ever go away?
     "It somewhat baffles me," he said. "If I thought we'd still be talking about it 12 years 

later. ..."
     Instead the story resonates, and not just in sports media.
     "The thing most disturbing in this cycle is The Onion," Murtha said. "That's just outrageous."
     The satiric web site ran a bit where Bartman pleads to be killed in order to lift the Cubs curse. In this post-Charlie Hebdo period, you can see how this might worry Bartman.
     "What are the boundaries of satire?" Murtha asked. "Given the world we live in, people do horrendous acts. We still have some security concerns. We've had actual calls, to his place of employment."
     So for the record. ...
     "Steve won’t be interviewing with anybody about it," Murtha said. "When and if he chooses to speak or comment about it, it will be at a time and place and medium of his choosing. Not to say that time will ever happen."
     I hope he does, simply to make this go away. Because otherwise, it will never end.

40 comments:

  1. I am a mere dilettante on the topic of Cubs arcana, it seems just so, arcane. Perhaps the perspective of an unbiased outsider may be of some help. One of the Cubs fan traditions I admire most is once a baseball has been contaminated by touching an opponents bat, rather then keep the ball as a souvenir, they toss it back into the field. Well this tradition was broken when attorney Jim Staruck not only kept the ball, he sold it for over $100,000 dollars. Now that the ball is destroyed, the conundrum is figuring out how to undo this new curse.

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  2. Curses, scapegoats, excuses...hogwash! The Cubbies are only lovable as the losers that they are. So their young players all had a good year. Whoopee! One and done. Don't change a thing you baby bears. We love you most when you come up short. We're in in for the beer!

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    1. Um..sorry, Anonymous, but I wouldn't use the expression "one and done" to describe the state of the current Cubs. In fact I just read today that some odds-makers have them as favorites to win it all next season. Not that I necessarily agree with that prediction, but they should surely be in the hunt for the next few years, at least.

      As for Bartman, I agree with NS that he should just sit down with a journalist and have that conversation, so we can all have closure on what should never have become a defining moment in the first place. I've never known a fan to back away from a ball, foul or otherwise, that was within reach.. Bartman just happened to be the scapegoat that day, not only for just that one play, but seemingly for 100 plus years of Cubs' futility, all placed squarely on his fumbling fingertips.

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  3. You are making John Kass very happy because this topic amuses the Orland crowd so much. Also, the umpire should not have called interference since Alou was reaching INTO the stands, there is no interference IN the field of play.

    Finally, l like how previous poster asks SB to sit down for the public's closure. He owes the public ZERO.

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  4. I disagree that a private citizen, who wishes to remain a private citizen, will "make this go away" by sitting down with a journalist. Rather, his doing so will widen the pool of people who are aware off his current physical appearance (assuming that it is broadcast, or, if in print, accompanied by a photo), unquestionably bringing him harassment, while doing little to change the minds of those who are adamant in their condemnation. If fans are still talking about the ridiculous concept of a curse stemming from a spurned goat so many decades ago, I doubt they'll be letting this one go so easily. Honestly, what could the poor man say that would alter a thing?

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  5. Bartman became the scapegoat because he was wearing those dorky headphones & was listening to the game on a seven second delay, so he had no actual idea of what was going on, on the field, but simply stood up & was parroting the actions of those around him.
    He got & still deserves every bit of dislike, not for touching the ball, but for being a jerk listening to the radio, while at the game!

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    1. Without having any personal knowledge on the topic, it seems likely to me that he was listening to the radio for the analysis rather than the play-by-play. I remember seeing people with transistor radios when I went to games as a kid, so it's hardly a recent or rare practice. He was watching the game, I assume, so there's no reason to think he couldn't have been fully aware of what was going on. I can't defend his dorkiness, of course.

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    2. Except, that those over the ear headphones combined with how loud he had to have the radio, meant he really didn't know what was going on, because when the foul ball was hit, he was listening to the play by play that was seven seconds late.
      He couldn't hear the crowd, just the radio.

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  6. Replies
    1. It's not a re-run, I just didn't run it the same day it ran in the paper, because I was in mid-shape frenzy.

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    2. OK, have it your way. I will push back on your pushback to the "media keeps it alive" meme: I haven't heard his name mentioned by friends or family while talking about the Cubs or life in general. There is no clamor from the readers to hear about him, is there? It is as tedious as the billy goat, etc.

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  7. "In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the press." Oscar Wilde, "The Ideal Husband."
    Sorry Neil, but counselling continued silence is the best PR advice. An hour with Carol Marin would benefit only Carol Marin.

    One of the best literary treatments of what we now term "urban legends" -- misunderstandings firmly nailed into the public memory -- is in Josephine Tey's mystery titled "The Daughter of Time." Her detective, laid up in a hospital, encourages a young visitor to dig into the oldest of cold cases with the intent of clearing King Richard III of the crimes attributed to him by those Tudor propagandists Thomas More and Bill Shakespeare. As they mutually discuss the reasons why the much maligned sovereign probably didn't order the murder of the young prices in the Tower, Inspector Grant alludes to other famous instances of events that did not occur as now generally believed. All lending some credence to Napoleon's query: "What is history but a fable agreed upon?":

    Tom Evans

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  8. Of course Mr. Bartman owes us nothing. To clarify my previous comments, if I were Steve Bartman I would WANT to go on record and defend myself, not because of any feelings of wrongdoing or because I owe the public an explanation, but to make it clear how wrong it's been to continually blame "me" for the Cubs' losing that game. I wouldn't be able to just let this go away without "me" having the last word, but, obviously, Mr. Bartman (and many others) don't feel the same way.

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  9. The only people who write about him in Chicago are Kass and Neil. It should trouble Neil to be in that group.

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    1. It doesn't, and I'll tell you why. I was asked to tackle the subject, in reaction to Kass, no doubt, and did so in my capacity as dutiful employee. They don't ask me much, and I like to be agreeable, so that when the magic circle of employment contracts, as it does from time to time, I'll still be on the inside. That might seem terribly timid to you, but as I keep reminding people, I don't run the place, I just work here.

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    2. Your candor is refreshing and appreciated. Please don't write about the Willis family, though.

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  10. Or else the people who obsessively hate him could, you know, get lives.

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  11. He has talked, he issued a statement the next day and said he was sorry from the bottom of his broken Cub fan heart. That's all he should ever have to say or do. That play did not determine the game. There was only 1 out when this happened. Even if Alou caught it, they still needed another out.

    He could have profited big time off this - but he doesn't because he's just a Cub fan and wants to forget it as much as we all do. You think he wants to live in some mansion with pockets full of ill begotten $$$ to remind him of this as you might say 'everygoddammedday?' - ATRAIN53

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  12. I hope someone asks Neil to tackle the Fox Lake / GI Joe coverup, which Kass won't touch since it may hurt his base.

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    1. Are we all comfortable it wasn't suicide, but rather two unseen assailants who aren't now being actively sought? I see (just now) that the FBI is investigating the victim's mental state. Considering all the forces brought to bear (in financial and manpower), and the easy reaction to a cop’s supposed coldblooded murder of those who mock #BlackLivesMatter, any other determination would cause people some cognitive dissonance, and the Kass crowd can’t have that.

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    2. I despise Kass as much as anyone, but in the interest of fairness, I feel compelled to point out that he did indeed write a column raising, even if somewhat obliquely, the possibility that the cop shot himself.

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    3. I saw that, too. His crowd doesn't understand oblique things unless they are dogwhistles.

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    4. The cop committed suicide, but the Fox Lake Department spent months & I have no idea how much money to disprove that, even though they knew within 48 hours that it was a suicide.

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  13. "The only way to end it is to feed the beast." Uh, because the media beast is best known for being promptly sated?

    "this would have melted away long ago had Bartman done what most people do — babble into any convenient microphone" In the pithy words of a columnist we all appreciate -- pretty to think so.

    Coey pretty well nailed it at 7:49, then it was good to see Tom Evans' professional opinion as a former ad man.

    Sandy says "I would WANT to go on record and defend myself". Reasonable people who were watching at the time or who look into it now realize that he needs no defense. The type of person he's defending himself against won't be persuaded, regardless. And he DID go on the record, simply and contritely explaining what happened and how bad he felt about it, at the time.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs2003/news/story?id=1638975

    Perhaps "to feed the beast", he should just reissue his original statement whenever Jack Kass or the powers that be at the Sun-Times decide to trot his name out. But I certainly wouldn't and don't believe for a second that anything he did or said would lessen some folks' misguided interest in berating him.

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    1. Right, Jakash, and I hope everyone here understands that when I said I would want to go on record and defend myself, it would not be for any consciousness of guilt.

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  14. It's so incredibly crazy how Bartman was treated, no way did he deserve any of it. He really needs to be left alone. What could he say that is of any real significance or interest? It blew my mind when someone started a Kickstarter to try to get him to the Wild Card game. Perhaps he feels the media is like a stray cat, feed it and it just keeps coming back.

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  15. It’s comical to see media folks cite the never-ending publicity of trivial matters, all the while being the cause of the never-ending publicity of trivial matters. Of course, as you say, it is true that “most everything in the public eye is only there because the media keeps bringing it up.” This evades the underlying question, which is: WHY is it that the media finds it necessary to keep bringing up trivialities?
    Do you really think that this is “unfinished business?” It was a foul ball, 12 years ago, for which he apologized (even without considering that he had nothing to apologize for). What do you want from this poor mope? To explain his psychological motivations as he was sitting in the stands? Or what kind of childhood he had? Or how, had he not reached for the ball, the Cubs coulda - woulda - shoulda not blown that game, nor blow the next one?
    It’s not true that without Bartman giving an interview “it will never end.” Sure it will, just as soon as the media decides it doesn’t have to keep trivial matters alive.




    It’s comical to see media folks cite the never-ending publicity of trivial matters, all the while being the cause of the never-ending publicity of trivial matters. Of course, as you say, it is true that “most everything in the public eye is only there because the media keeps bringing it up.” This evades the underlying question, which is: WHY is it that the media finds it necessary to keep bringing up trivialities?



    Do you really think that this is “unfinished business?” It was a foul ball, 12 years ago, for which he apologized (even without considering that he had nothing to apologize for). What do you want from this poor mope? To explain his psychological motivations as he was sitting in the stands? Or what kind of childhood he had? Or how, had he not reached for the ball, the Cubs coulda - woulda - shoulda not blown that game, nor blow the next game?



    It’s not true that without Bartman giving an interview “it will never end.” Sure it will, just as soon as the media decides it doesn’t have to keep trivial matters alive.




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    1. Yes, save us from the parabola talk, please. ;)

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    2. Triangle, hexagon and octagon are on the way. You don't have to read them; God knows most people don't.

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  16. The media brings up trivialities because people are interested in them. As many times as I've said it, I'll say it again. I'm trying to write a column that interests people. That is my value, first, secondly, it should interest me. But left to my own devices, I would write columns like last week's about the parabola. The Bartman column was by far the most well-read piece I did last week, and its numbers this morning are surpassing anything else. Twice as many comments as Mondays column about policy in China and Illinois. So don't blame the media for being trivial. Blame yourselves. Not that I think blame is due -- it's called being human.

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    1. Isn't that a good argument to turn an entire newspaper into gossip, astrology and sudoku?

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    2. Is anyone really interested in sudoku?

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  17. I don't see any reason to believe that if he talks about the incident it will go away-might make it worse, depending on how he handles the interview?

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  18. Bartman is just a scapegoat for the real cause of the Cubs' failure. We have all this talk of curses and doom and nobody mentions that the Cubs' star that year was a notorious cheater. So were the baseball gods mad at Bartman for wearing headphones, or mad at Sammy Sosa, and the team that embraced him, for being a disgrace to the game? Cheaters don't deserve to win, folks and the baseball gods made sure it didn't happen. So you can blame Bartman for some imagined transgression, but it would be more honest to admit that you are dishonest, shallow, and disappointed that cheating didn't get you as far as you'd hoped.

    So interview Sosa about what a disgrace he is. He simply did not deserve to win. It's obvious to gods and men. That's the heart of the matter.

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  19. So, Anonymous, what do you have to say about Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Manny Ramirez? I guess the baseball gods must not have been paying attention when they cheated and also got to the World Series.

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  20. Ask the baseball gods, don't ask me. Could be that Sammy's cheating was more flagrant, or that the fans who adored him were more obviously turning a blind eye because they were more desperate to feel a sense of self worth than fans of normal teams are.. Anyway, two wrongs (or five) don't make a right, SandyK.

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  21. Did you watch the game? That play completely changed the momentum. All the same, Bartman should not have been treated the way he was.

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  22. Yes, that play changed the momentum. The Cubs immediately choked so badly it was hard to watch. But did Bartman incite the baseball gods? I don't think so. Did Alou's girly tantrum upset them? More likely but I don't think so. Did our cheating hero's desire to become a god himself bring doom upon him? That's my bet.

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  23. Well this world series win should ease Bartman now

    but I won't forgot how ignorant the Cub fans or some fans were toward the White Sox when we were doing well

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