“… and is livid with a fan!”
“That was it. That was the moment.”
Cubs fans are fatalistic at heart. I remember. I was a diehard in my youth. You don’t look for the breaks that are going to go your way. Instead, you know the moment it will all fall apart.
My friends told me there were still five outs to go, that there would still be a Game 7 if the Cubs somehow lost this one. It didn’t matter. The Babe. The goat. The black cat. And, now, this fan down the left-field line.
“That was it. That was the moment.”
I wasn’t surprised when Alex Gonzalez booted the ground ball. I didn’t blink in eye as Mark Prior was left on the mound. When Kerry Wood couldn’t save Chicago in Game 7, I just accepted that I was going through what so many generations of Cubs fans had experienced before me.
The Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. In a cruel twist of fate, my Grandpa Bastian was born in 1909. He was a big a Cubs fan as they come, and he never saw them win a title. My dad was born in 1941, so he doesn’t remember their last trip to the Fall Classic in ’45. I came along in 1982 and now have a son of my own.
Four generations without knowing what it’s like to cheer on a champion.
These days, I live in Cleveland, covering the Indians for MLB.com. I no longer live and die with the Cubs. I don’t even consider myself a “fan” any more. I am, however, a fan of baseball more than I probably ever was throughout childhood. I just don’t root for one team. This freedom allows me to not only do my job objectively, but to find beauty in the nuances within any game I watch.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Bartman Game: Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. This is what we call “burying the lede” in my line of work. I didn’t mention Steve Bartman high in this post, because this isn’t really about him. He became an unfortunate symbol for more than a century’s worth of misery. Bartman became my generation’s Billy Goat. He was just someone to blame.
That’s human nature. Ten years can bring plenty of perspective, though.
It was so easy to blame Bartman at the time for reaching out and possibly interfering with a foul ball that Moises Alou may or may not have caught. When Alou slammed his glove to the ground and yelled, though, the outfielder made it clear where the fault rested: Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113.
“Again in the air, down the left field line. Alou… reaching into the stands…. and couldn’t get it and is livid with a fan!”
It didn’t matter that other fans reached out for the ball, too. And the rest of us practically ignored the mistakes that followed on the field. The Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat and now the team had its scapegoat. That night, during my walk back to our house off Michigan State’s campus, I physically tore my Cubs hat apart in frustration.
One of my professors actually sent out an e-mail to our journalism class with the subject line: “Jordan needs a hug.”
I wasn’t angry at Bartman, specifically. Bartman just provided the moment, the moment after which everything fell apart. I was frustrated for my grandfather. I used to lie on my belly, feet up in the air, chin in my hands, watching Cubs games on WGN while my grandpa sat quietly in his recliner. There was a silent bond there, and I felt pain for him and the rest of Chicago’s fans that night.
It seems fitting that I’d wind up a baseball writer in Cleveland, which hasn’t had a World Series winner since 1948. Believe me, Tribe fans. I can reach back to my days as a fan and relate.
On Sunday night, when David Ortiz launched a game-tying grand slam into the Fenway Park bullpen — with Torii Hunter tumbling over the wall and a bullpen cop thrusting his arms into the air in celebration — I was reminded of just how awesome baseball can be. One day later, on this anniversary of that game in ’03, I’m reminded of how miserable it can be as well.
No one should still blame Bartman, though. He was a true fan with a great seat, listening to the game on his headphones while watching it unfold before him. I can’t imagine what kind of feelings ran through him as he listened to the broadcast moments after he reached for the ball. It’s easy to say we wouldn’t have lunged for it. I won’t say that. I probably would have tried to make the catch, too.
I remember being disgusted that he left Wrigley Field with a jacket over his head like a criminal, and that one of Chicago’s papers printed his personal information in the following days. As painful as that moment was, he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.
The reality is that the anniversary stings because the Cubs haven’t won a playoff game since ’03 and the franchise has slipped back to its familiar ways. It stings because — two years later — the crosstown rival White Sox won the World Series. It stings because my generation of Cubs fans now had their own moment of misery.
Someday, this will all make things that much sweeter when the Cubs finally do win a championship.
I just hope Bartman is alive to see it happen.