Leave it the Chicago Cubs to make the most of a busy Monday. Yesterday, as Major League Baseball’s defending world champions closed a trade-deadline deal to bring in some help across both sides of the plate — acquiring relief pitcher Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers — the Cubs also handled another piece of unfinished business: The Bartman Incident.
The Cubs announced on Monday in a statement to WGN that the Ricketts family has gifted Bartman with an official World Series Championship ring to recognize the sacrifices he has made and bring closure to “an unfortunate chapter.” Steve Bartman, who was made into an unwitting scapegoat during the 2003 National League Championship Series playoffs, was presented a personalized 2016 Cubs World Series ring Monday by the Cubs and the team chairman Tom Ricketts.
“On behalf of the entire Chicago Cubs organization, we are honored to present a 2016 World Series championship ring to Mr. Steve Bartman,” the ball club said in an official statement. “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.”
It also marked the first time since October 2003 in which Bartman issued a public statement of any kind.
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“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,” Bartman said. “I am fully aware of the historical significance, and appreciate the symbolism the ring represents on multiple levels.”
Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan from Chicago’s north suburbs, was initially blamed for ending the Cubs’ highly touted World Series run 14 years ago. During Game 6 of the NLCS on October 14th, 2003, Bartman was sitting in the front row along the far third base side, when he reached for a pop-up foul ball being chased by Cubs left fielder Moisés Alou. Bartman’s attempted contact deflected the ball, causing Alou to miss his catch, and to shout in anger and claim fan interference.
Playing to superstitions and the worries of many a Cubs fan, the home team immediately experienced a legendary collapse in form right after Bartman inadvertently and unintentionally got involved.
With a 3-0 lead against the Marlins and one out in the eighth inning — five outs to go in the game, and five outs to reach the World Series— ace pitcher Mark Prior gave up three runs while shortstop Alex Gonzalez also botched a double-play opportunity, tying the game 3-3. After the Cubs replaced Prior, two Cubs relief pitchers subsequently gave up five more runs, letting the Marlins rally back to win, 8-3. Making matters worse, the Cubs also lost Game 7 at home, 9-6, which sent the Marlins on to the 2003 World Series and sent the Cubs home for the season.
After the Cubs had bungled their closest step toward a World Series since 1945, the event became quickly became known throughout the media as the Bartman Incident, with the game and its aftermath recounted in the 2011 ESPN Films documentary Catching Hell.
In accepting the ring, Bartman added that he “will not participate in interviews or further public statements,” while also thanking the Ricketts family and the Cubs organization for its kindness after the team’s great achievement.
For the Cubs and its huge fanbase, closing this chapter with Bartman is an apropos coda. It comes at the right time, no better time, after a 108-year championship drought and a long-awaited world title.
Putting it in perspective, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Madden mentioned Bartman in his comments at the “Try Not To Suck Classic” charity golf outing in suburban Chicago, Monday, during the scheduled Cubs’ day off. Maddon eluded to the 2003 NLCS game and also the impact of the Cubs’ gesture.
“I’m very happy for him, happy for the Cubs, and happy for Cub fandom.” Maddon said, as reported in the Chicago Tribune. “This guy suffered way too long for that particular moment. To pin all that on one fellow, I always thought, was unfair.”
Maddon also said he hoped Bartman could move on from any internalized tension, saying he could “wrap that thought around some kind of a rock and then throw it into the lake and then move forward from there.”
Over the years and leading up to the Cubs’ World Series triumph last fall, Bartman’s name always remained in the psyche of the Cubs Nation, as well as in the lexicon of baseball and popular culture. Year after year, baseball writers and fans have often suggested Bartman be invited back to Wrigley Field to throw out a first pitch, while Cubs players like former pitcher Kerry Wood have tried in vain to speak with him. Moreover, local writers in Chicago attempted to reconcile the episode that ensnared Bartman on its 10 year anniversary, while one famous award-winning columnist even apologized publicly to Bartman.
Comedy, too, took up the matter. The 2003 game’s incident was itself lampooned readily by late night hosts like Jay Leno, and was later satirized in a 2006 episode of the Fox Network comedy show, Family Guy. Even The Onion got involved, humorously reviving Bartman’s ghost in a mock editorial titled, “You Must Kill Me to Break the Cubs’ Curse.”
Equally too, fans of all stripes have replayed the Bartman Incident in their heads, while also learning to appreciate it as a necessary part of Cubs folklore.
One such fan is Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who grew up just outside Chicago in Libertyville, Illinois. Morello, who said he attended his first Cubs game at age three, became a regular at Wrigley and continues to return for games despite living in Los Angeles and regularly touring with his current band Prophets of Rage.
Over his early and “formative years as a Cubs fan,” Morello said he went to the Friendly Confines often with his single mother and his Aunt Isabel, both diehards, attending a slew of important games from division title wins to Burt Hooten’s 1972 no-hitter. Yet Morello states that the Bartman game is as important as a part of Cubs history as the old Curse of the Billy Goat had once been.
“I was there for the Bartman game, about 25 rows back, and was there also for Game 7 [of the 2003 NLCS]. I’ve been there, like all Cubs fans, through the highs and the lows,” says Morello, speaking by phone to Rolling Stone last fall, just before the MLB playoffs started. “I hope that if that day ever comes — winning a World Series — if would be nice if [Bartman] were right there in the championship parade.”
As it stands, the man formerly known as the North Side’s most infamous baseball fan is now, finally, a welcomed fan. But much to the chagrin of baseball fans very curious about him, Mr. Bartman remains elusive.
Even after Monday’s makeshift ring ceremony, Bartman, much like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, has not been spotted in public, nor photographed in well over a decade.