World Champion PR
Cubs ease foul stretch of history with ring for Bartman
No one in sport has gotten more mileage out of their championship than the Chicago Cubs. The team won the World Series last year after a 108-year drought. They celebrated all off season, then opened this season on the road in St. Louis against the archrival Cardinals. That delayed and increased anticipation for the pennant raising and ring distribution ceremony at Wrigley Field. For players who called Chicago home in 2016 but moved to different teams in 2017, the Cubs held pregame ceremonies for each player when their new team played their first game at Wrigley this year. On Monday, the team had another ring ceremony for a fan who personally suffered from the team’s lack of success.
Steve Bartman unfortunately gained notoriety for what has become known “The Bartman Incident,” a missed opportunity to catch a foul ball that many – wrongfully – think caused the Cubs a shot at the World Series.
On Oct. 14, 2003, the Cubs and the Florida Marlins faced off in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. With the Cubs up three games to two in the best of seven series, the Cubs were in their best position to return to the World Series since 1945. In the top of the eighth inning, with one out and Chicago up three runs to zero, Bartman reached for a foul ball from his front-row seat at the same time as Cubs left fielder Moisés Alou stretched into the stands to make the catch. Neither Bartman nor Alou caught the ball, and the play should have been forgotten. Instead Alou pitched a fit and requested and was denied a fan interference ruling. The Cubs went on to give up eight runs in the inning. Between several replays and through the rest of the inning, television cameras continued to focus on Bartman broadcasting his image around the world. While Wrigley Field didn’t have video boards at the time, fans outside of the stadium began calling fans inside of the stadium to describe Bartman’s appearance. Soon, he was the bane of Cubs’ fans existence. A lifelong Cubs fan, he was escorted by security from the stadium for his safety as other fans threw drinks at him. Game 6 ended 8-3, and the Marlins punched their ticket to the 2003 World Series the next day, eliminating the Cubs with a 9-6 Game 7 win. After the game, Bartman’s name and address were made public and he was placed under police protection.
Following the NLCS, the Cubs issued a press release admonishing those who placed blame for the Cubs collapse on a fan rather than the players on the field. “We would also like to remind everyone that games are decided by what happens on the playing field—not in the stands,” it read. “It is inaccurate and unfair to suggest that an individual fan is responsible for the events that transpired in Game 6. He did what every fan who comes to the ballpark tries to do—catch a foul ball in the stands. That's one of the things that makes baseball the special sport that it is.”
Alou has vacillated on whether or not he could have caught the ball. In April 2008, he told the Associated Press, “You know what the funny thing is? I wouldn't have caught it, anyway.” In 2011 he told ESPN, “I'm convinced 100 percent that I had that ball in my glove.” Either way, he has said, “It's time to forgive the guy and move on.”
Still, for many Bartman was another link in the chain connected to the Cubs’ anchor of failure. The seat he sat in – Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 – even became a bit of a macabre attraction at Wrigley Field. In 2011, ESPN made a documentary film called “Catching Hell” about his vilification by fellow Cubs fans. Although offered the chance for media interviews, public appearances with the Cubs, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to participate in commercial endeavors, he has declined them, preferring anonymity.
During their World Series run last year, Bartman’s name was again resurrected with other “curses” the Cubs faced during their World Series drought, however, he declined opportunities to speak or be a part of any of related festivities, saying he “did not want to be a distraction to the accomplishments of the players and the organization.”
To their credit, the Cubs have tried over the years to coerce reconciliation, arguing Bartman is welcome at Wrigley and should be left alone. In 2011 team president Theo Epstein told ESPN, “It would be an important step, maybe a cathartic moment that would allow people to move forward together. I’m all about having an open mind, an open heart and forgiveness. Those are good characteristics for an organization to have, as well. He’s a Cubs fan. That’s the most important thing.”
Owner Tom Ricketts found the right moment on the last day of July, when he held a private ceremony to give Bartman a personalized Cubs World Series ring.
“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,” Ricketts said. “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 continues to be fully embraced by this organization. After all he has sacrificed, we are proud to recognize Steve Bartman with this gift today.”
After 14 years of seemingly being Chicago’s Public Enemy No. 1, Bartman accepted the Cubs engagement.
“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,” Bartman said. “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. Most meaningful is the genuine outreach from the Ricketts family, on behalf of the Cubs organization and fans, signifying to me that I am welcomed back into the Cubs family and have their support going forward. I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over.
“My hope is that we all can learn from my experience to view sports as entertainment and prevent harsh scapegoating and to challenge the media and opportunistic profiteers to conduct business ethically by respecting personal privacy rights and not exploit any individual to advance their own self-interest or economic gain.”
It’s an old sports maxim that losses magnify pain, while wins eliminate pain. No fan should be the pinpoint focus of hate and disgust like Bartman has been. In a public relations masterstroke, the Cubs led a reconciliation with one of their own. Eventually, he deserves one from his fellow fans. While it would have been nice to see Bartman honored publically, it’s understandable that he still craves privacy. Hopefully soon, he can be presented on the field, throw out a first pitch, or lean out of the broadcast booth high above home plate and lead the traditional singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. If Cubs fans are who they say they are – the best in baseball – they’ll give a standing ovation and warm welcome to the “friendly confines of Wrigley Field” to an individual who personifies the true experience of the ups and downs of being a Cub fan.