Chicago is the city of big shoulders. The Steve Bartman story is one of active hands. It began with dozens of them reaching into the crisp October air to catch a Luis Castillo foul ball during Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. In a just world, it ends with a ring being slipped onto one of those hands in the comfort of a Wrigley Field office 14 years later.
So now what do we do with ours? Do we clap? Do we pat the Cubs on the back for their kind gesture and proactive attempts at reconciliation? Or do we raise our middle fingers at an insultingly transparent public relations stunt that only accomplished the very thing Bartman has fought to avoid all these years?
By all indications, the 40-year-old forced into the shadows was earnestly moved by the gift but his statement suggests he has neither forgiven or forgotten.
“I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports,” Bartman said “but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society. My hope is that we can all 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.”
It’s that final sentence that causes the handwringing. One wants to embrace the moment as a healing one, the ring serving as a gaudy Band-Aid. But it’s responsible to harbor some cynicism. It’s reasonable to ask if this gift was more a cheating spouse alleviating some guilt than a star-crossed lover giving selflessly.
There’s one fly in the saccharine sweet storybook ending. The Cubs could have done this in secret. They could have done it without dragging Bartman, who has been dragged through more mud than Miss O’Leary’s cow, back into the spotlight.
Bartman has been in self-imposed witness protection since that foul ball slipped through his fingers and an entire city wrapped its hands around his throat, choking out any hope of a normal life. His saga reflects a cornucopia of sport’s most destructive elements.
Scapegoating. Irrationality. Hypocrisy. Lack of perspective.
All of these combined to create a vindictive stew of awfulness. Bartman has been simmering in it for a decade and a half. A kindhearted man in his mid-20s had his known existence ripped away by the very thing he loved.
Just because it was poetic doesn’t mean it’s less devastating.
Through it all, Bartman has proven himself to be the bigger man. People may have a problem with the way he’s handled it. They can quibble with the fact that he never grew a sense of humor and emerged from the shadows. These are the same people who ruined Bartman’s life in the first place — for the sin of doing what everyone would do in a similar situation.
So what do we do with our hands now? At the Cubs, I’d suggest we throw them up in exasperation. Without knowing how this became public, one cannot applaud the move. Without knowing the true motivation and if Bartman’s wishes were taken into account, it’s difficult to pat them on the back.
And for Bartman? We should keep doing the same thing we always have.
Politely wave goodbye as he lives his life away from the cameras. Occasionally place them on our chins in reflection when considering the cancerous elements of sports and human nature. Use them to point a finger at ourselves before others.
Most importantly, we fold them to pray Bartman is more at peace today than he was yesterday.