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The Turncoat Thu Oct 14 2010
Happy Anniversary, Steve Bartman. It was seven years ago today you brought more scorn upon yourself then Ozzie Guillen or A.J. Pierzynski could ever hope to. You weren't the only one who went after that ball. That fellow in the gray sweatshirt to your right and the guy behind you wanted that foul ball just as badly, you were just the only one who got in the way. The people to your left wisely backed off. Everyone in that section made the mistake of being a Cubs fan. Oh, the woe...
Alou probably would have caught that ball. Given that, you certainly did cost the Cubs an out. But you didn't cost them that game, nor did you cost them the championship.
I remember the game well. I remember the high spirits permeating Cubsdom before it. The Cubs had played so well throughout the playoffs that fall that it seemed like things would finally work out for us. Remember the NLDS that year? The sheer numbers of Cubs Nation at Turner Field were overwhelming. You could actually hear all the Cubs fans yelling "Whooooaaaaa ooohhhhh oooooohhhh!" while waving their hats back and forth at the Braves as victory became a certainty. Man, what a hoot! Cubs fans in Atlanta doing the Tomahawk Chop! We got our revenge for 1998 and were well on our way to The Series. I remember someone holding a sign that said, "WE GOIN' FISHIN!" because really, if the Cubs could topple the Braves, what chance did the Marlins and their $12 million dollar payroll have?
Yeah, everything was great until we got to that infamous day. Everyone was happy. My father scored tickets to that game at the last minute. He called and said, "Rick, all I ever wanted my whole life is to see the Cubs go to the World Series and now I am going to be at the game where they do it!" He was there that night at Wrigley with you. I talked to him afterward. He was emotionally drained. He sounded like he just witnessed a genocide first hand. He was the polar opposite of the man I talked to on the phone that afternoon. But you did not murder my dad's lust for life, Mr. Bartman, the Cubs did.
It wasn't your fault that the very next pitch Mark Prior threw was wild. He is a professional athlete paid the big bucks to perform under pressure. While your gaffe may have upset him, it was his job to get the ball across the plate. It wasn't your fault he was even there in the first place. That was Dusty Baker's. It was the 8th inning. It was the fewest number of outs the Cubs had come to the World Series in a generation. Where were the relievers? Prior should have been pulled the second he let Rodriguez get that RBI. Unless you had a phone under your chair that could call the bullpen, it seems unfair to blame you for that.
Then came the play I remember most: Alex Gonzalez bobbling a routine ground ball. At the very least, that should have been an easy out. That could have brought the Cubs to 4 outs to go with a 3-1 lead. He might have even had a nightmare-ending double play. I hope Gonzalez pays you regularly, or at least sent you some flowers. If it wasn't for you, he would be as remembered as Bill Buckner. After that came a two run double from none other than Derrek Lee to tie it up. Sleepy Bear Baker just sat and watched it all come undone. He got the Cubs to the door of the promised land and took a nap on its welcome mat.
And here is the thing about that game, Steve -- much like the '86 Red Sox and the infamous Buckner Game -- there was still a Game 7. Everyone laments how the Cubs only had 5 outs to go that night. Well, they had 27 more outs to get the job done the very next day. They lost that game too and you weren't even there. What separates the great World Series teams of history and the clubs we look back on forlornly is an unwillingness to give up. It's what made the 2004 ALCS so exciting (I mention it all the time because I loved it so, so much). The Boston Red Sox faced elimination game after game after game -- two games even went into extra innings. The 2004 BoSox refused to die no matter what happened and they went on to win it all for their city. The 2003 Cubs laid down and died like rats all because an over-enthusiastic fan wanted a souvenir. The Red Sox faced the most powerful and evil team sports has ever known. The Cubs lost to a backwater team that had only existed since Clinton's first term. They lost to a veritable minor league team and the fans blamed you.
So here is hoping the last seven years have been kind to you. You have eaten more crap than even a fly should ever have to, and all you were was the unlucky bastard that got in the way. The guy in the gray sweatshirt and Alex Gonzalez have slept well since then. You had to go into hiding. The Cubs have been to the playoffs twice since and still failed miserably without a Bartman to blame it on. God knows they will again.
Full disclosure: Rick Abplanalp has since parted ways with the Cubs to root for the White Sox.