Preface: Every sports fans knows this event well enough and its run-up, so I’ll spare the reader a detailed account and skip to my analysis.
We’re nearing the 20th anniversary of this infamous sports incident, so let’s review how to avoid becoming a victim. 1) Know the ground rules on fan interference, especially if you have a front row seat. That’s a responsibility you have as a fan. 2) Stand up for your dignity at all times. Do NOT let yourself be abused for the sake of the team. 3) Give Fox Sports the middle finger when they keep focusing the camera on you after your fan mistake. I guarantee they will stop showing you on TV. 4) When the attention & scrutiny becomes too much, leave the stadium IMMEDIATELY. Don’t sit there and let fans hurl verbal abuse & beer on you. 5) Pick better friends. Evidentially, the two people to Steve Bartman’s right were with him, but never stuck up for him after the incident and completely abandoned him when they were escorted from their seats by security. 6) The next day, after you’ve been identified in the media, make a statement declaring your remorse for what you did, while also focusing the blame on the players & coaches in the field/dugout who failed. Make THEM own the responsibility for the Cubs losing, instead of absorbing the blame yourself. 7) Give the Marlins credit for a great rally. Just after the incident happened, Marlins LHP Mark Redman said to his team in the dugout, “Let’s make him famous.” They did. 8) If you’re gonna go for it (and I say don’t do it there!), then at least make the play. He missed badly, and that caught him more hell with Cubs fans. 9) Re-evaluate why you are a fan and what it means.
I’m one of those people who never hated Steve Bartman, or felt sorry for him. I felt like he needed to grow a pair. Recently re-watching the ESPN Film Catching Hell (2011) brought all these thoughts to me, and many of them weren’t mentioned in the documentary film. The film is a different experience now from when it was released, because the Cubs finally won it in 2016– thirteen years [!] after the Bartman incident.
In Catching Hell, there’s not enough awareness & discussion of Fox Sports singling out a spectator and making HIM the story, all in the name of bigger ratings. They kept going back & back to it, instead of focusing on the action on the field. Steve Lyons was a main culprit, and a good example of an ex-jock who isn’t qualified to be in a broadcast booth.
Furthermore, when Bill Buckner says he would violate baseball ground rules as a front row spectator if that situation came to him, I don’t believe him. I understand why he says it, but I don’t believe it, and neither should any baseball fan. Their experiences were completely different, and hard to compare, except that they were both made into scapegoats. ESPN has all the resources in the world available to them, and they still miss the story.
Catching Hell also had too much lame arguing that fan interference should have been called by the umpires. Two Cubs fans with too much time on their hands even made a 187-page legal brief on it, making their case for FI. Let me refute that weak stuff here. First, this was before video replay in umpiring, so the call on the field stands no matter what.
Second, at least half a dozen other Cubs fans were reaching into the field of play to catch the foul ball too. If hometown fans prevent their own player from making a play, and it’s too close to call on the field (as it was), then the umpires CAN’T bailout the Cubs. I’ve seen Yankees fans make way for Derek Jeter, etc, to make a play in the stands at Yankee Stadium. Same thing for fans at Fenway for their team, and of course they do the opposite when it’s an opponent going for the ball– and that’s their right as fans.
If Cubs fans weren’t ‘heads up’ like they should have been, then they deserve to suffer the consequences of their baseball ignorance. If fans turn a home field advantage into a disadvantage, then they only have themselves to blame– collectively. I believe Cubs fans hated Steve Bartman for two reasons: 1) his actions hurt their team’s cause; and 2) they know deep in their hearts they would have done the same.
Epilogue: After the Cubbies finally won the World Series in 2016, management & ownership did the right thing and sent Steve Bartman a World Series ring. By all accounts he was deeply moved & appreciative, while saying he didn’t deserve it. The truth is no one deserved it more. This guy who just wants to remain an anonymous Cubs fan took a bullet for the 2003 Cubs and was forced to endured shameful abuse from fellow fans & the entire media. No one deserves that.
The guy got too excited for a moment and did something he shouldn’t have done. No one died. This should have been the call, “Foul ball… out of play. Maybe some Cubs fans are a little too exuberant in their desire to catch a foul ball, as Alou is upset…” [replay, then live camera shot to the area– once. Then move on with the broadcast of the game].
Thom Brennaman’s call on Fox was similar to what I just wrote, but the producers in the truck kept pushing the cameras onto Steve Bartman, while color analyst Steve Lyons kept harping, “THAT could be BIG,” which gave Fox a compelling human narrative they could keep going back to, and they did. Steve Bartman should have sued Fox for malice. He may have, I don’t know, but he surely had a case. That’s why guys who looked like attorneys kept pushing their business cards in his face after his foul ball muff.
Being a sports fan is a dangerous thing, because it has the potential to become a drunken mob where things can get out of control. People are so passionate about sports that they lose their heads and do crazy thing they normally wouldn’t do. It’s the excitement of the game, the desire to participate and be a hero for 15 seconds, to be on TV, gambling & fantasy sports, etc. Some of that is vanity, or simply a natural desire to recognized for doing something good.
What the Steve Bartman incident teaches us is that if you get carried away with all this exuberance for sports in the form of fanaticism, it can come back to haunt you if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Network TV cameras pick up EVERYTHING now. If you get caught in that situation, refer to my checklist at the top to avoid becoming a victim of circumstance.