I’m embarrassed. Hopefully we’re all embarrassed. Because we’re just as human as he is.
“He” is Steve Bartman, who went from being a normal guy to the world’s most infamous fan to having ESPN air a documentary, “Catching Hell,” that recalled the whole unfortunate thing. And “we” are Cubs fans.
Most likely, people from across the nation who watched the film Tuesday night came away with the impression that Cub fans are the biggest assholes ever. And you know what? They’re right, at least when it comes to the dark day of Oct. 14, 2003. Everyone one of us became animals, directing our venom at someone who could have been any one of us.
I was over a hundred miles away, still at school in Bloomington, Ind. when it happened.
I was watching Game 6 alone in my room — not because I’m a loser (not that I’m not a loser, but at least this wasn’t the reason for this particular scenario) but because the intensity of the game was too much for me to be in a room with another person. I didn’t need them distracting from my focus, and I especially didn’t need the risk of them accidentally becoming injured by some flying object. (I did at least keep the door open if anyone wanted to drop in, so it wasn’t totally anti-social).
Everything was gravy. I even called my old internship boss — who was at the game in the press box — during the Seventh Inning Stretch and neither of us could believe what we were witnessing. Oh, if we only knew.
As soon as that Luis Castillo foul ball hit poor Bartman’s hands, I acted like every other idiot, including Moises Alou.
My mouth unleashed a torrent of consecutive f-bombs that still has not been surpassed to this date. It was probably somewhere around 21 straight. It didn’t matter that the Cubs were still only five outs away from the World Series, the Marlins hadn’t done jack yet, or that there was still Kerry Wood to pitch in Game 7. At that precise instant, I had seen enough Cub games in my life to know the plane had crashed into the goddamn mountain.
That’s what ordinary sports fans can’t fathom about the whole situation. Cub fans are not normal. Anyone else would have brushed the thing off. No big deal. But for weirdos like us it was a disaster.
Even before Alex Gonzalez muffed the double play and became the real goat of the situation, I knew it was over. And I wasn’t the only one. All that bad energy must have descended over the place and trickled into the back of Gonzalez’s mind. The guy was typically as sure-handed as they come. Hell, even as I watched the movie eight years later, I somehow thought he was going to make the play and bent over with a loss of breath when the ball clanged off his glove.
Anyway, as things unraveled in the eighth inning, I blamed the guy in the hat and headphones. I remember being glad when I saw he was being doused in beer. And feeling that emotion, even if only for a few brief moments, is probably the worst thing I’ve ever done as a human. Yet having your hopes and dreams dashed so many times before, then getting swatted down again in such an absurd manner made it impossible to be rational at that moment. Reliving that feeling brought a shame that writing this post still can’t shake. I imagine that everyone who was there chanting “asshole” and doing the actual dousing shares the same sentiment. At least I hope so.
Any hostility I held for the-yet-to be revealed Bartman was gone by the time I had aimlessly wandered a mile-and-a half to my buddy Sean’s apartment, where both of us slumped against the outside of the building trying to figure out what had just happened.
I remember knowing Game 7 was irrelevant, while he held on to some hope though seemingly aware it was vain.
“Well, I mean, we’ve got Wood going tomorrow,” I sort of recall him reasoning.
“It’s over,” was my glum, staring-at-the-cement response.
The next day, I never hoped I was more wrong about something in my life, and not just for my own selfish reasons. By that time, Bartman’s identity had been tracked down by the Chicago Sun-Times, and my reaction was “My God! What have we done?”
That guy, who I was so angry with less than 24 hours before, was suddenly the person I felt sorriest for in the world. He never asked for this. For Christ sake, he’s all of us! I wanted nothing more than a Cubs win just so he could be the same guy he was two days before.
But it was over. I can’t remember a damn thing that happened after Moises Alou hit a homer to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead in Game 7. I recall pulling a blanket over my head, then walking so forlornly around the perimeter of IU’s campus that two girls asked if I was OK.
“No,” I croaked. “The Cubs lost.”
Everything else was drained in a haze of Wild Turkey with no chasers.
And it’s been over ever since, as the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs in ’07 and ’08. The residue of ’03 especially carried over in 2008, when Wrigley felt like a morgue in Game 1 of the NLDS even though the Cubs had home-field advantage for the playoffs.
As a Cub fan, there is a lesson to be learned from watching “Catching Hell.” It’s time for all of us to grow up. If we didn’t have this woe-is-us attitude, none of this shit would have happened in the first place. It’s such a bad paralysis that it allowed us to eat one of our own. That’s far more humiliating than going more than a century without a title.
If for some unknown reason the Cubs find themselves in this position again by the time I need to use a walker, let’s try to keep things in perspective. IT’S THE CUBS. We’re not supposed to be good. Treat the playoffs as a gift, not a nightmare waiting to come true.
People are Cubs fans because of the joy you got from running home from school to catch the end of the game on WGN, or that first time they saw that ivy in person. None of that can be found in the attitude that has permeated Wrigleyville since the Bartman incident, and that’s the true shame of it all. We’ve become overbearing parents who meant well but turned our beloved child into a neurotic mess.
There’s no changing history. But there’s still a chance to change the mindset that allowed Steve Bartman to become the household name he never asked to be.