Published August 5, 2017
Try as I might, I can’t help but see Steve Bartman as wearing the World Series ring that Ernie Banks never got to wear.
Or Ron Santo. Or Billy Williams. Or Ferguson Jenkins.
Or Hack Wilson. Or Phil Cavarretta.
Want me to go on? Because the list of Chicago Cubs superstars—some of them are in baseball’s Hall of Fame—who never even played in a World Series, let alone won one, reads like a Who’s Who of the sport’s greats.
The Cubs honored the beleaguered Bartman—the most hated fan on the north side of Chicago for years—with a genuine, official 2016 World Series ring earlier this week.
It’s largely being portrayed as a feel good story. It’s supposed to be warm and fuzzy.
But it’s wrong, on several levels.
Let’s start with the fact that this shouldn’t even be a thing, although that train left the station 14 years ago. The notion that a baseball team’s fan has undergone so much abuse that he needs to be made up to with a World Series ring, should be unfathomable. The idea that the Cubs minted a championship ring for a paying customer because of death threats to that customer is pathetic.
We all know the story of Bartman, whose interference—legal, mind you—of a foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley Field prevented Cubs outfielder Moises Alou from possibly making a catch that would have been the second out of the eighth inning in a game the Cubs were leading the Florida Marlins, 3-0. A win would have propelled the Cubs into the World Series, their first since 1945.
Bartman was vilified and became persona non grata at Wrigley Field. Hell, in Chicago proper.
None of it should have happened, of course. In a perfect world, there would have been some boos, but then the Cubs would have made some plays, gotten out of the inning, and celebrated a pennant on their home field a short while later.
Instead, the Cubbies collapsed, which, as any fan of the team would have told you at the time, was so Cubs-like.
Yet despite the Keystone Kops act that the Cubs put on in the rest of that eighth inning, despite the franchise’s inglorious history of failure, the fans’ venom was spewed onto Bartman.
It was terrible. It was unconscionable. And every Cubs fan that took part in the destruction of Steve Bartman should be awash with shame.
I get all that.
But the Cubs shouldn’t have given Bartman a World Series ring.
Besides this gesture never being needed to begin with, the Cubs have cheapened their accomplishment, which was the team’s first world championship in 108 years.
They’ve cheapened it by kowtowing to an ugly chapter among many ugly chapters that fill the Cubs’ book of encyclopedias, which includes a fan base that believes in Billy Goat curses and ill-timed black cats and a number of other ridiculous myths that they feel have conspired to prevent the Cubs from tasting champagne over the decades.
The presentation of the ring to Bartman was designed to be the ultimate mea culpa to a wronged individual, but it actually is sending the message that only a world championship could have possibly made things right again. As if the Cubs are now conceding that last year’s team was also playing in part to put the Bartman incident (it has its own Wiki page) behind everyone.
It’s also wrong because no fan should ever be wearing a championship ring. Yet in this world of “participation trophies,” we’ve gotten used to the idea of presenting awards with little to no accomplishment behind them. The World Series ring for Bartman is the ultimate participation trophy, because there was no participation.
Bartman’s life has been hell since that night in October 2003. No question about that. The Cubs have reached out to Bartman in the past, and he’s basically told them to perform an act on themselves that is physically impossible.
I have a Facebook friend who suggested that Bartman should wear the ring on his middle finger. Good one.
Bartman is a victim. I will concede that fact. The Cubs played the fools after the incident that night. They committed errors left and right. They imploded. Bartman wasn’t the reason. True championship teams play through adversity, not point to it as why they didn’t win.
The Bartman thing should have been a footnote, nothing more. If the Cubs would have taken care of business in Game 6 and appeared in the World Series against the Yankees, nobody would have remembered who Steve Bartman was.
So we can agree that Bartman was wronged. We can agree that his story is a cautionary tale, held up to illustrate, sadly, some of the worst in human nature.
But I can’t get behind the ring.
Again, I point to Banks, Santo, Williams, Jenkins, Wilson, Cavarretta et al, who toiled for years for the Cubs but who never tasted the ultimate prize. Banks, for one, has long been the poster boy for Hall of Fame players who never won a championship.
And the Cubs would hand out a ring to a fan? Someone who never set foot on the field? Someone who never put on the uniform? Someone who never competed for one moment?
Bartman, for his part, issued a statement after unexpectedly receiving the ring that mentioned, among other things, that he felt undeserving of the honor. He’s right.
But his words were eloquent, though tinged with sadness because of the senselessness of it all. All of this emotion for what? All of this hoopla for what? Why was this necessary?
Teams can give championship rings to anyone they damn feel like, I understand that. Doesn’t make it right, but it’s their prerogative.
The ring for Bartman, who, despite everything, is still just a fan, takes away from the accomplishments of Rizzo, Arietta, Bryant and the rest. It takes a dump on the toil, tears and sweat of those who played for the Cubs for years, who would have killed for that ring.
The Cubs don’t see it that way, of course. And maybe you don’t, either. I get the feeling that I may be in the minority here.
Look, I know this world is crying for feel good stories. We’re bombarded everyday with the worst that life has to offer, in the forms of racism, abuse and social unrest. It’s tiring. Just spend two minutes on social media.
I’m not suggesting that the Cubs shouldn’t try, again, to make amends with Steve Bartman. And I agree that this is probably as good a time as any to do so, given the fact that the team is defending world champs.
But don’t give him a World Series ring. Don’t present him with the very same thing that dozens of great Cubs players busted their ass to get but never did. Don’t over correct.
Bartman has been tormented since October 14, 2003. That’s true. But you don’t think that Ernie Banks, who also endured the stress of playing in the Negro Leagues, headed home every fall for 19 big league years with his stomach in knots? You don’t think that Ronnie Santo was kept up at night, wondering what the heck he had to do to help the Cubs win? You don’t think it bothered them, and others, to no end, to be associated with abject failure, despite their individual greatness?
The Cubs’ crack PR staff could have come up with some other way to reach out to Bartman in an act of public goodwill. A measured response that would have balanced the need to recognize his pain without diminishing the players’ accomplishments.
But they over corrected and went with the ring idea.
You may feel that it’s right and just. You may look at the ring as a way of giving that middle finger to the fans whose mob mentality drove Steve Bartman out of town and into seclusion.
I see the Bartman ring as cheapening the pursuit of the very prize that started all this nonsense. It gives unjust legitimization to a black mark on a franchise that’s filled with them. It’s telling the world that the Cubs’ elusive World Series championship, with its 108-year wait, has to now share the limelight with this ridiculous, abusive, mean-spirited treatment of a poor slob who reached for a foul ball.
It was a swing and a miss.