Admit it, if Steve Bartman were telling that story, you would want to know what happens next. If Bartman was reliving out loud that fateful night Oct. 14, 2003, after the Cubs blew Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Marlins, you would stop what you were doing and listen as long as he talked. So much intrigue still surrounds one of the most infamous moments in Cubs’ lore that the longer Bartman has stayed silent, the more the mystery has deepened.
Getting a World Series ring from the Cubs didn’t change that.
Bartman’s 15 minutes lasted 14 years, and counting. Nothing short of Bartman articulating his feelings about being unfairly vilified can edit his entry in the Cubs history books or bring him peace, finally.
Of all the exaggerated words said and written after the Cubs issued Monday’s oddly timed news release about the team awarding Bartman a ring, one echoed the loudest.
In this case, it’s a myth.
“We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story that has perpetuated throughout our quest to win a long-awaited World Series,” the Cubs statement read.
Added Bartman, in a separate statement: “I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over … I am hopeful this ring gesture will be the start of an important healing and reconciliation process for all involved.”
Hopefully, it is finally over but, as somebody familiar with the media species, I doubt it. Press releases seldom mark the end of sagas this compelling, no matter how much Bartman wishes it all would go away. It requires more.
An unsuspecting Cubs fan, Bartman did what anybody sitting in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 would have done that night. He didn’t ask for the nightmare that became his reality. He deserves the privacy he protects. He earned the right to be left alone after all the unwarranted abuse and attention heaped on him.
And, of course, everyone should let Bartman live his life in relative anonymity as he requested. But I can want those things for Bartman as much as any observer yet still know how unlikely they are to expect. You don’t have to necessarily believe Bartman should consider talking publicly to agree that, until he does, the media will have questions about his experience and perspective. Look at how much buzz Monday’s surprising news created in Chicago after the Cubs thrust Bartman into the spotlight he has spent more than a decade avoiding — and that was with nobody speaking into a microphone.
Time has passed since Moises Alou’s overreaction and Alex S. Gonzalez’s error and Bartman’s instinct but the prurient interest remains. And whether it’s locally or nationally, Bartman won’t truly achieve closure until media members no longer care how he feels about what happened. Reporters want what they can’t get, and pursue a story aggressively until getting it, before the chase ends and interest wanes. Where did Bartman go once he left the ballpark? What has he been doing all these years? Is he bitter about his mistreatment? How many disguises? Was he in Cleveland for Game 7?
Many people understandably don’t give a damn. But as long as some folks inexplicably still do, the most well-known Cubs fan ever is going to find it difficult being Steve Bartman, regular Cubs fan, until he answers some questions. And all he probably has to do is answer them once. That is as sad as it is true. But that is reality in the short-attention-span, social-media, viral-video world of 2017.
He can forget about a piece of jewelry providing closure. Realistically, in this day and age, that won’t happen until Bartman appears in the flesh and speaks in his own voice instead of a sterile 300-word news release. He should call Bob Costas or his favorite broadcaster with a Cubs connection and allow one 60-minute, anything-goes interview before returning to obscurity. Get it over with, for real.
All the people scoffing at the idea likely still would watch or listen to an interview with Bartman. The television or radio ratings would reflect that. Imagine the ovation Bartman would receive throwing out the first pitch or leading his fellow Cubs fans in “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Think of how much easier it would be for people to move on once they heard Bartman, saw Bartman, cheered Bartman.
Until that happens, it will be harder for some to humanize Bartman. To those people he always will be the guy in headphones and glasses, a symbol of a cursed Cubs past that no longer exists. He is the only one who can close the book on this unfortunate episode now that the Cubs chose to open it back up. He has a story worth telling that can be instructive, if he ever tells it.
Curiosity remains, like it or not. Until it’s satisfied, that closure everybody seeks will be as elusive as Bartman has been since 2003.