Seven years ago today, the lives of Steve Bartman and the Chicago Cubs became inextricably linked. It was a sad night, one I remember vividly – in a span of mere minutes, the Cubs went from World Series hopefuls to unlovable losers.
But beyond the emotions (which apparently are still running high), it is interesting to see how this has entered the collective memory of Cubs fans and other sports fans. The media is playing a role:
But fair or not, Bartman’s legacy remains intact, perpetuated by the national media. Fox Sports aired a promo for the 2010 NLCS that featured a freeze-frame shot of Bartman going for the ball. ESPN had scheduled Academy Award winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s documentary on Bartman for their “30-30” series to coincide with the start of the World Series.
But the film, entitled “Catching Hell,” was recently pushed back from Oct. 26 to some time in 2011 at the request of Gibney. No air date has been scheduled, an ESPN spokesman said.
In the narrative of Cubs fandom, Bartman has become an interesting figure, an innocent fan who became a scapegoat for the futility of a popular franchise. Why exactly do Cubs fans need or want a scapegoat? Why is Cubs management (the Ricketts) still even talking about the curse and wanting a manager who understand all of this backstory?
The narrative of sports is almost more important than the events or outcomes themselves.One important event can lead to a long-standing narrative of triumph or defeat. Particularly during the long baseball season, fans are consistently engaged with historical moments and what-ifs. To be a true fan means one truly has the ability to know the narrative and to fully buy into it as a story worth telling and retelling. And narratives between teams can be similar (though never exactly the same – the pain of Cleveland vs. the pain of Chicago Cubs fan is interesting to think about): Gibney is a Red Sox fan who became interested in the Bartman story because he saw similarities with what happened to Bill Buckner.
Even this Chicago Tribune article becomes part of the ritual: we must reconsider what Bartman means.