Steve Bartman, arguably the most tortured sports fan in history, has received a 2016 World Series ring from the Chicago Cubs – and closure on a life-changing incident from 14 years ago.
The hapless Bartman, an avid Cubs fan, was the fall guy for the long-suffering franchise’s choke in the 2003 NL Championship Series against the Marlins, reaching for a foul ball and preventing Cubs left-fielder Moises Alou from catching it.
Bartman was abused and intimidated by fellow Cubs fans, to the extent he had to be escorted from the stadium by security. The vitriol continued long after the game, however, as the incident cruelled the Cubs’ hopes of snaring their first NL pennant since 1945.
The Cubs would have been only four outs from closing out the series if Alou had taken the catch, but they instead lost Game 6 and the subsequent Game 7.
Bartman was effectively forced to live as a recluse in a saga that represented mob mentality in sports at its worst.
Chicago ended over a century of heartache last year by beating the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
The Cubs issued the following statement regarding the ring:
“On behalf of the entire Chicago Cubs organization, we are honored to present a 2016 World Series championship ring to Mr. Steve Bartman,” the statement said.
“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. While no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade, we felt it was important Steve knows he has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organization. After all he has sacrificed, we are proud to recognize Steve Bartman with this gift today.”
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) July 31, 2017
Bartman, who has not talked publicly since the 2003 incident, also issued a statement.
“Although I do not consider myself worthy of such an honor, I am deeply moved and sincerely grateful to receive an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring. I am fully aware of the historical significance and appreciate the symbolism the ring represents on multiple levels.
“My family and I will cherish it for generations. Most meaningful is the genuine outreach from the Ricketts family, on behalf of the Cubs organization and fans, signifying to me that I am welcomed back into the Cubs family and have their support going forward. I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over.
“I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society,” Bartman said in his statement. “My hope is that we all can learn from my experience to view sports as entertainment and prevent harsh scapegoating, and to challenge the media and opportunistic profiteers to conduct business ethically by respecting personal privacy rights and not exploit any individual to advance their own self-interest or economic gain.
“Moreover, I am hopeful this ring gesture will be the start of an important healing and reconciliation process for all involved,” he said. “To that end, I request the media please respect my privacy, and the privacy of my family. I will not participate in interviews or further public statements at this time.”
Bartman also thanked the Ricketts family, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and the entire organization for the gift and “for providing the City of Chicago and Cubs fans everywhere an unforgettable World Championship in 2016.”
Added Bartman: “I am happy to be reunited with the Cubs family and positively moving forward with my life.”
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was asked about Bartman getting the ring during a conference call on Monday.
“I think it’s great,” Hoyer said. “I think it’s impossible not to look at him in an incredibly sympathetic way. This is a guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and his life has been dramatically impacted indirectly by the Cubs organization and this franchise for 14 years. Us winning the World Series should wipe that away. I think by giving him a ring and showing him that sentiment, it helps to do that.
“I certainly hope that all that animosity and any scrutiny he gets, I hope that’s gone,” Hoyer said. “It should never have been there in the first place, and it’s not a high point in Cubs history that this unsuspecting fan had his life altered by that foul ball. I think giving him a ring and issuing a statement and us winning a World Series allows that to go away, and I think that’s wonderful.”
The ESPN ’30 for 30’ documentary by Bill Burr, Catching Hell, chronicles the incident and the fallout in poignant detail, and is a must-watch for any sports fan.