Thursday, October 27, 2016

An Open Letter to Steve Bartman '99

Thirteen years have passed since Steve Bartman infamously reached for a foul ball from the stands in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series with the Cubs on the brink of appearing in the World Series. And, his name is still trending. The subject of endless jokes and memes, not to mention a great Halloween costume, it's fair to say that Bartman was a scapegoat created by the media—one that still draws our attention. 
I too delighted in my far share of retorts at Bartman's expense. Were I in attendance at Wrigley that fateful night, I sincerely hope I would have refrained from chanting "asshole" in his direction. I doubt that I would have thrown anything at him, but I recognize a mob mentality can be a scary thing.

I love asking folks if they know where he went to college. And I let them guess...only to bemusedly share, "he is one of our finest." A graduate from the University of Notre Dame class of 1999, Bartman and I were in school together for one year. Though I did not know the Kennanite, part of me feels as though I do. And this that is why, I would like to offer an open letter to him—from one alum to another.

Dear Steve,
If Notre Dame alumni were to identify fellow alums they are most proud of, my guess is that many of us would readily name athletes and coaches. Joe Montana, Tim Brown, John Huarte, Bryant Young, Ruth Riley, Skylar Diggins come to mind as do Knute Rockne and Lou Holtz with their honorary degrees. I'm sure many others would name Father Hesburgh, Condeleeza Rice or Alan Paige. I would like to add a personal vote for Hannah Storm and honestly, one for you. I think it's time that fellow Domers and the public at large understand why.
Any baseball fan who thinks they would have reacted differently is short sighted. Yes, an attentive and well informed fan would have known the official ruling for what constitutes fan interference, but the truth of the matter is in a playoff game, the energy is super high. What fan doesn't want a foul ball?! We fans must recognize, we like the limelight too. 

Too often, opportunity does more than knock. In this case it was seeking to make a profit at someone's expense. That "lucky" fan who caught the ball sold it for $200,000 gained a tremendous windfall. Such easy money occurred at the cost of your personal safety, private persona and livelihood. You wanted none of it.

In spite of the fact you were offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to talk, make public appearances at card shows, and impart more about the incident you remained silent. Your choice is even more striking given the sheer magnitude of means by which we can share our side of the story. You could  simply defended yourself loud and proud, have taken the "jackass" option, the legal route, the "don't tread on me" approach, but you opted for another way: total and complete silence. Anonymity was the path you chose; maybe it was the one you had to....but honestly in today's litigious society, who does that?!
You have been misunderstood and misrepresented. People thought you came to the game with just your walkman, but instead you brought two friends... and yet you were escorted out of the stadium to safety, incognito with by one security guard. All those involved in the media that night, admit that they took this focal point of the game too far. Moises Alou's extreme reaction, the replay over and over and over, the zooming in on you—all point to the fact that an ethical line in the sand was crossed.

Good work bears good fruit. The little league baseball team you managed came to your staunch defense. They spoke of your character and virtue. Those fans around you gave a testimony that was no different. As reported in "Catching Hell" the fan who gave you his business card said: 
Of all of us there that night, including me for teasing him, Bartman had the most honor. He made a mistake. He admitted his mistake. He asked for forgiveness of the Cubs and of the fans. For all that, there's a lot of regret....for how his name was changed into a verb.
The security guard who brought you to safety said,
It was his total demeanor that has stuck with me all through the years. He was humble and kind....(she then breaks down in tears)...he was the perfect guy for this (the scapegoat). 
And Bob Costas opined 
Does anyone feel worse about it than him? 
It is a reminder that it could have been anyone of us sitting in that seat. Anyone of us could have stuck out our hand.
Your story is a human story, offering a glaring insight into the best and in this case the worst of what can come from our loyalty and passion. We care about sports and that's a good thing, but not at the expense of turning on our own....of scapegoating a vulnerable person....of thinking we are that different.

I am unsure whether or not you and I feel the same way about our alma mater, but given that you wore your class ring to the game, I believe you carry some sense of pride for Notre Dame. I would like for you to know that in your willingness to own what was a simple mistake, to issue a public apology to the team and the fans, and to remain silent all these years later reveals tremendous resolve, honor and class. You carry a tough story with you and were we ever to meet on campus, I hope you would share what that's been like. I hope the burden has been lighter than we might guess, that you've been supported by unsuspecting people and at some point laughed out loud and hard—Keenan Review included. Oh, and I hope the Cubs gave you season tickets...for life....maybe behind home plate.

Photo Credits
Bartman

At ND
Catching Hell

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