Restoration is always a beautiful thing. For the Chicago Cubs, it took more than a century – 108 years to be precise – to restore their former glory as World Series champions. But it took them a mere fourteen years to renew the dignity of a man so closely associated with their unparalleled run of loss and misfortune.
It wasn’t one of their former players or managers or team owners – it wasn’t a trainer or a scout or a front office big wig, or anyone directly associated with the franchise.
It was a mere fan.
Steve Bartman – the man often blamed for causing the Cubs to lose the 2003 National League Championship – has been awarded a World Series ring by baseball’s reigning champions. After reaching into the field from his seat down the left field line and deflecting a foul ball that may well have been caught by the Cubs left fielder – with Chicago just five outs away from reaching the World Series – Bartman was verbally abused, attacked and pilloried mercilessly by overwrought Cubs’ fans. He was run out of the park and reduced to tears and has since been the subject of endless pathos. He remained in the Chicago area and kept as low a profile as possible, but has not returned to his beloved Wrigley Field since the ugly incident.
What so many people chose to overlook about the play in question was that the Cubs were not only less than two innings away from the World Series, but had a 3-0 lead at the time. But after the Bartman play, the Cubs’ shortstop booted an easy double play, and their pitchers surrendered eight runs before that infamous top of the 8th inning ended and went down to inglorious defeat. They lost again the next night, and the then-Florida Marlins advanced to the World Series instead.
Indeed, though the Cubs’ meltdown on that fateful night was hardly Bartman’s fault, he bore the brunt of the Cub fans’ furor. That all changed when the Cubs made their dramatic gesture on Monday:
“On behalf of the entire Chicago Cubs organization, we are honored to present a 2016 World Series Championship Ring to Mr. Steve Bartman. We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story that has perpetuated throughout our quest to win a long-awaited World Series. 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. After all he has sacrificed, we are proud to recognize Steve Bartman with this gift today.”
While records dating back to the start of World Series play in 1903 (fittingly, an even 100 years before Bartman’s interference) are incomplete, this is likely the first time a major league team has awarded a World Series ring to a fan. Given his heartache over the last fourteen years, there could hardly be a more worthy recipient.