I had completely forgotten about this column, when Ald. Joe Moore reminded me of it. I was going to post it only if the Cubs punted the pennant. But they didn't punt, they nailed it, something we need to remind ourselves should the World Series victory elude our grasp.
I'm posting it anyway because it speaks to the Bartman question, which is with us far more than I would have thought possible, between people who want him to throw out the pitch before a game — a bad idea; what if we then lost? — to that vindictive dick holding up a large "Bartman for President" sign in the first row along the third base line at Progressive Field, one of those details that magnified the horror of Tuesday's loss to the Indians. I'm proud that, back when people were calling for his head, I stood with the star-crossed fan whose only sin was doing what anybody would have done.
I thought of Mrs. O'Leary when this Steve Bartman story broke. As the world knows, he's the 26-year-old fan who deflected a ball that Moises Alou might -- and here I want to emphasize the word "might" -- otherwise have caught.
Bartman was guiltless, only doing what fans at the ballpark do. The ball comes to you, you strain to catch it. Happens every time. The fans around him were reaching too -- any one of them, or us, could have done it.
Yet people blamed him. Why they should blame him and not, oh, Alex Gonzalez who muffed an easy double play shortly thereafter, is a mystery. If I were Gonzalez, I'd send Bartman a fruit basket at Christmas.
Rather than vilify this young man, we should embrace him. He is one of us -- he was a fan, at the ballpark, in his baseball cap, cheering on his team. He bothered to get a ticket and go -- did you?
Why do we need a villain? I didn't see the Cubs dogging it. Kerry Wood says he choked, but the only reason he had a lead to protect was because of his own home run.
We need to remember: Baseball is a machine designed to break your heart. I think that's why I generally keep it at arm's distance — there is enough heartbreak in life without caring about a game.
But I was surprised, when the moment came, that I did care. A lot. Call it Johnny-come-lately fandom, if you like. Still, I was glad to have been drawn in. Even though I must have looked like a fool Wednesday night, perched on the edge of the sofa, in my sweats and old Cubs cap and my Little League mitt — for luck, or in case a ball came flying out of the TV.
"That's it boys!" I shouted, when Wood hit his home run. "They'll never beat us now."
My wife, wiser, wouldn't watch the game with us. "I can't bear to see them lose," she said.
But I had hope. That's ridiculous, isn't it? And you know what is more ridiculous? I still do.
Who are the losers?
Let me ask this: If the Cubs are such losers, what are the Braves — we beat them earlier in the play-offs, remember? How about the Pirates, or any other team that didn't even make the playoffs? What are they? Sure it's frustrating to get so close to the dream.
But that's also the essence of baseball, isn't it? Remember "Field of Dreams"? Remember Moonlight Graham? The Burt Lancaster character wasn't a former Yankee. He wasn't a swaggering slugger who regretted a muffed play in his chain of glory. He was a guy who never got a chance to bat.
Build Bartman a statue
That's baseball. Sure, we lost, and it was heartbreaking. But the thing to do when your heart is broken is to hold your head up and claim your pain. Don't be too dumb to be proud. Turning Bartman into Mrs. O'Leary would be wrong. He is us. We need to fold him under our wing, because he is the vehicle chosen by Fate, and Fate rules baseball. If you think that the Cubs would have won without him, then you don't understand. Fate is more resourceful than that, and if it doesn't get you one way, it gets you another.
Besides, what is Bartman's sin compared to the die-hards who are now losing faith? We're through, they seem to say. Boo hoo. Forget about the Cubs. We're done. Let the Tribune tear down Wrigley Field, like they've always wanted to do, and build whatever gross and gargantuan Col. Robert McCormick Memorial Stadium that looms in their corporate dreams.
If baseball is all about winning, why not go be a Yankees fan? They win every year. Your team will never be far from a Series.
Life goes on. The Cubs had a season in 1970. We are facing a long winter now. But spring will come. In February. In Arizona.
Let me tell you something. I was on the couch watching Wednesday. With my two boys, who, like their dad, are not big fans. At one point during the game my 6-year-old said something he had never said before.
"Daddy," he said. "Can we go to Wrigley Field?" I said sure, in the spring, I'd get tickets. "No," he said, "I mean, can we get in the car right now and drive there?"
I told him we would wait until spring. We'll be there. And so will you. The Cubs will recover from this. Chicago will shake it off.
I wrote the editorial that was supposed to run after the Cubs won the pennant. It was beautiful. I know that by saying this I'm reinforcing my reputation as my own most ardent admirer. But it was. My mother cried when I read it to her. I cried when I wrote it. It was about what binds a city together, the years of waiting ended, the iron faith of little boys grown old rewarded, building to a joyous crescendo of how great it is to win.
I read it one more time and then tucked it away. We'll use it next year.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, Oct. 17, 2003