By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) It was coming. For any Cubs playoff appearance since 2003 until they finally win a World Series, there will be the Steve Bartman talk.
Some of you reading this are decent people, if not mere non-psychopaths who understand a sports moment that has been repeatedly deemed inconsequential in retrospect. The rest of you are vampires, incapable of empathy and/or incredibly not self-aware. You use Bartman as a tickler for any various perversions rather than feeling for a human being who has been constantly and undeservedly tortured.
“I know it’s silly season again,” Frank Murtha told the Chicago Tribune in 2015.
It’s Murtha who since that fateful Oct. 14, 2003 day has been the man in charge of keeping Bartman — perhaps the most infamous fan in baseball history — invisible.
We are amid silly season again. It’s not enough to appreciate this specific Cubs team for its may aspects of greatness — one of which being completely psychologically and emotionally divorced from anything goat, called shot or Bartman. They put no value in that silliness.
“I’ve told the guys we have to talk about (the Cubs’ curse), because you can’t stick it in the back corner of a dark room and never acknowledge it,” NLCS co-MVP Jon Lester told the New York Times, as a Cub does when confronted by the coastal fascination with the nothing-burger of some perceived fault in the Cubs’ stars that they’re historical underlings.
“That’s how bad things creep in. This city has waited a long, long time. For whatever reason — a goat or a black cat — things haven’t worked out.
“But we’ve talked about wanting to be the team that wins the World Series — a Cubs World Series.
“There is a reality that we are facing. It is the team’s history. But history gets updated all the time.”
What could be updated, if people were less willfully dumb, would be Bartman’s status as persona monomania. Crazy as this might sound, not concerning oneself with what should be a footnote of a footnote isn’t that difficult. I’m only conscious of the guy when a mention of him is forced on me. Otherwise he’s out of mind because he’s very much intentionally out of sight. And — even crazier sounding, I know — I respect that.
As that Tribune piece explains:
If someone hoped to interview Bartman, the answer then — as it has remained each time since, no matter the outlet or angle or circumstance — was no. Murtha, who said he never asked Bartman to pay for his services, acted instead out of generosity as Bartman’s spokesman, as his de facto attorney when his name or likeness had been inappropriately used, as his first and last line of defense as weeks turned to months and then years.
This shouldn’t be hard to understand. A man who is no criminal and owes us nothing wants to be left alone. Unfortunately, so many people are so devoid of humanism that they get off on what, to any rational person, isn’t much of a peculiarity. So they must unearth this poor guy. He has to be a living exhibit to poke for our sick satisfaction. People with wide-reaching voices prey on this and exacerbate a mythos that’s in serious need of entombment behind miles of brick and ivy. It stinks extra foul when it’s not out-of-town stupid but instead being st(r)oked here at home.
A few days after that 2015 piece on Murtha, Tribune columnist John Kass penned his own Bartman retrointrospective with Murtha quotes. In it, Kass expresses his regret for being part of the piranha frenzy that went immediately in on Bartman that terrible 2003 night. Which is nice and all, but there isn’t much nobility in admitting wrong in a 900-plus word piece that includes A) mention of how much Bartman likes Kass’s work, B) fapping the desire to have a ceremony at Wrigley Field featuring Bartman despite Murtha reiterating in the piece that his client isn’t going to do any public appearances and, worst of all, C) continues to re-drag out the ghost of shameful Cubdom past.
Which Kass did again this Sunday as he called for Bartman to throw out the first pitch at an upcoming World Series game at Wrigley.
“Can you think of someone better?” he writes. “No, you can’t.”
I can think of billions of better options. Sammy Sosa would be my choice. Kass himself or even me or Donald Trump or a St. Louis Cardinal throwing out the first pitch — all horrible ideas — would be better than pushing for Bartman because we are literally anybody but Steve Bartman.
Even if you don’t consider the giant nationwide toilet backup that would occur should the Cubs lose a game or series in which Bartman appeared, this proposal is misguided. I get why Kass wants this and why many who read it reflexively think, “Yeah, that would be great.” There isn’t a conscious horridness to it.
Kass writes: “There would be justice in it, and forgiveness and redemption. Because if there’s one Cubs fan deserving of it, it’s Steve.”
It seems so obvious, right? That the best way to bury all the bad of the Bartman aura that some intentionally let hang around is to have the man himself publicly accept the big ol’ tearful collective hug.
The problem is that would involve Bartman’s willingness to center himself in a newer version of the silly season circus, which he decidedly has shown he won’t and has more than enough of a right not to. And yet that’s not good enough for the simpletons who can’t comprehend that Steve freaking Bartman doesn’t care about your stupid selfish feelings. Because that’s what the demand for the guy we’ve turned into a damn groundhog for our amusement to placate our aggressive curiosity is now — selfishness.
It’s not about forgiving Bartman. It’s not about making it right with a guy who volunteered coaching kids baseball who caught the worst of sports idiot wrath in American history. It’s not about his feelings. Nah, it’s about your own crappy absolution. It’s about him giving you permission to not have that mark on your flawed fan résumé.
He won’t grant you his blessing, and he shouldn’t, and it drives you nuts. Well, deal with it. And let it effing go.
Because obsessing over Bartman is the encapsulation of everything bad about Cubdom, of which — despite being the team being the current darlings of sports — there’s a lot. I’ve been a Cubs fan since I knew how to root for any team, and I learned years ago many of my fellow Cubs fans are annoying, lousy people prone to really bad group-think.
The fan fallout from Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS only crystallized it for me, and most of the fan base’s voluntary marriage with terrible history — a Helsinki syndrome of loving their own captive futility — births terrible traditions like “Go Cubs Go,” heinous celebrity ambassadors and losing their minds during every player slump or playoff game loss.
What would actually be honorable is recognizing the PTSD with which we collectively — Chicagoans, Cubs fans, Cubs haters and lazy national air fillers — riddled this man for likely the rest of his days regardless of the Cubs’ success. And then paying him back not with the “honor” of publicly ditching the embodiment of one of sports’ greatest sins, committed (and recommitted annually) not by him but you, but instead with respecting his dignity and desire to be left the hell alone. There’s a shred of your precious undeserved absolution. Not continuing to treat this human being as a holy grail of your own superstitious fallacies and narrative addictions.
“Nothing has changed,” Murtha said around this time last year when the Cubs were in the postseason, as they’ll likely be most of the years in recent future. “Steve … has one desire in all of this: at some point see it end.”
“It” not being curses or droughts. “It” being the selfish obsession with him. And it shouldn’t take a World Series title to put it to rest. I fear, should the Cubs win it all, it might only fuel the sociopathic demand for satisfaction.
My sympathies either way in advance to Murtha for the phone calls he’ll be fielding between now and the final out. And then between the day after and the next postseason.
And while I doubt Steve Bartman reads my column like he does others, just in case, sorry people won’t let this go, dude.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.