2 Idiots Debate: The Steve Bartman Question

8 years after he first fell into infamy, Steve Bartman is back in the news. In the first entry in the new wave of ESPN’s great 30 for 30 documentary series, Alex Gibney explores the concept of the scapegoat through the story of the 2003 Cubs’ collapse.

There is hardly anybody in the U.S. who hasn’t heard the name Steve Bartman, and has at least some vague notion that he was blamed for a loss. Like other sports scapegoats (Fred Merkel, Bill Buckner, Chris Webber), Bartman had a momentary lapse, upon which was piled a mountain of frustration that he had nothing to do with. Unlike all the rest of these figures, Bartman wasn’t being paid for his performance on the field, and became a part of the action by pure bad luck.

Although it could have been worse (Andres Escobar was killed for a blunder, the subject of another strong 30 for 30 doc), the reaction by Cubs’ fans was wildly overblown. So where does Bartman stand now? More importantly, is it possible for a Cubs fan still scarred by the ’03 and ’04 seasons to completely let go of his irrational feelings. I took up the issue with The Lanky Hippy.

The Lanky Hippy

Curious to hear how you, David Simon Cowell, are reacting to the rehabilitation of Steve Bartman. I remember when it happened, and how all rational people immediately saw how ridiculous it was, and how you, a seemingly rational man, went on angrily for some time about the painful death to which Bartman deserved to be subjected. It was the first time I realized that when it comes to Chicago sports you check your brain at the door (no wait, second time – in college, when the Bulls got eliminated from the playoffs and we were walking somewhere at night, you started kicking and punching random cars…)

David Simon Cowell

My feelings have obviously mellowed, but the idea that it wasn’t his fault at all is ridiculous. It was clearly fan interference (which, I guess, technically means the batter should
have been out, but I don’t think that should be true of the visiting team). To a smaller degree, he shares the blame with Alou (who I probably blame the most), Gonzalez, Baker and God. But, there’s no denying that it was the moment that changed all the momentum, and it was because he wasn’t paying attention (which is also true of other people around him, but, what can I say, life is unfair).

I watched the ESPN doc last night, and it was really well done (as is pretty much anything Gibney does). I agree that to put it all on Bartman is unfair, just as it was for Buckner in ’86. It shouldn’t still affect his life, and I highly doubt it does in any meaningful sense, except for being well known. Honestly, I think if he’d just done an interview or press conference by this point, the interest would be much lessened. But he’s obviously too much of a toolbox to do anything but a pseudo-J.D. Salinger.

To me, the people who came off the worst in that doc were his “friends”. To ignore him sitting there, and then leave without him? But when you’re friends with the kind of dork who wears headphones when he’s at a game with other people (or at all, really), maybe that’s par for the course.

I would say I agree with what Michael Wilbon said. I realize that I blamed him too much, but I don’t feel badly about it at all.

L.H.

I have difficulty accepting any answer other than, “yeah, it’s interesting how competitive passion can so distort our reality. I was so completely wrong to feel that way. 100% mea culpa. I am a horrible person and the only thing keeping me from killing myself is the conviction that I can at least contribute a small measure of atonement to the world by dedicating my every living moment to charity and the service of others.”

I mean, really? I would call it a huge stretch to say that was obviously fan interference. I just watched the YouTube clip 20 times and am convinced the ball would have landed in the stands or on the thick railing on front of the stands. Alou was reaching into the stands while every fan was reaching for the ball. Then he pouted like an utterly pathetic little bitch.

Any feeling of resentment towards Bartman is completely unfounded. Douchebaggery and headphones are irrelevant. And you downplay the effects on this poor vulnerable nerd’s life – becoming a total pariah and punchline, not to mention the target of true anonymous hatred, for literally no reason whatsoever? Buckner was a professional baseball player who let a slow ground ball go through his legs at a key moment. Bartman was a random, blameless victim of egregious mob mentality.

I haven’t seen the film, by the way. I have always felt this way, and can only thank the zeitgeist for making these irreproachable sentiments relevant again.

D.S.C.

Your surprise isn’t surprising, given that you grew up in a place whose sports heritage dates all the way back to the ’80s [L.H. is from the pseudo-state of Arizona]. Even Bartman knew that he carried some guilt, and that an apology was required. That said, he gave it, and hasn’t done anything to cash in on his (admittedly minor) mistake.

You should watch the doc. It pretty much proves that a.) his hand was over the mark for fan interference, and b.) Alou would have definitely caught the ball.

It was obviously a brainfart and an understandable mistake, like everybody makes five times a day, just on a much bigger stage. However, if you fuck somebody over understandably and by accident, you still fucked somebody over.

Bartman obviously didn’t deserve a tenth of what he got. My only disagreement is that to say he did nothing wrong is ridiculous. As a Cubs fan, he understood that he fucked over Cubs fans, and has acted accordingly. It’s over, and there are many others to blame much more for 103 years of mind numbing futility. But he played a minor part, and to pretend otherwise because he didn’t mean it, or because others did the same thing, is just as much bullshit as putting it all on him.

So, can you get a Cubs fan to act rationally, even after 8 years? Yeah, right.

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