Steve Bartman had something public to say this week, for the first time since being unfairly maligned as the villain in a foul-ball incident at Wrigley Field during the 2003 National League Championship Series.
His deflection of a ball that landed near the first row of left field line seating might properly have been ruled interference (and the third out for the Florida Marlins in the top of the eighth inning of Game 6). Instead, it foreshadowed how the Chicago Cubs lost their grasp of what would have been their first World Series appearance since 1945.
Bartman’s life quickly became a living hell, as he received threats, dodged stalking reporters and worked assiduously to stay out of the spotlight, and restore what was left of his privacy.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also In This Issue: Getting Running All Wrong; The Heartache of Hideki Irabu; Trump’s Baseball Follies; Netflix Doc on Russian Doping; Bob Gibson and Denny McLain; Remembering Ara Parseghian and Lee May
The Cubs announced this week that they had issued a ring to Bartman to commemorate their World Series title in 2016, ending a curse of 108 years. Bartman, who has refused to do interviews, make public appearances or cash in on his unwanted infamy, was humbled and offered a stirring response, issued by the club, which made its presentation to him in private:
“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. I am fully aware of the historical significance and appreciate the symbolism the ring represents on multiple levels. My family and I will cherish it for generations. Most meaningful is the genuine outreach from the Ricketts family, on behalf of the Cubs organization and fans, signifying to me that I am welcomed back into the Cubs family and have their support going forward. I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over.”
In this era of social media outrage and instant hot takes, would you care to guess what happened next? The Cubs were accused of being opportunists and staging a publicity stunt.
The Chicago Tribune was rather cheeky in its various articles, columns and even an unsigned editorial (really?). Linda Cohn of ESPN was especially harsh. And how about this peevishness from Filip Bondy, writing for The New York Times? Where, perchance, is the “anger” he insists still surrounds this saga? (Most likely between his ears.)
Yes, Bartman deserved an apology, but less from the Cubs and more from unhinged fans and media rebuffed by Bartman and his intermediary, Frank Murtha, for nearly a decade and a half.
Critics of the move would have done well to recall Will Leitch’s harrowing recollection of that dreadful night in October. Or watch the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “Catching Hell,” and especially the gauntlet Bartman had to endure while being evacuated from Wrigley by security for his own safety.
Thankfully, the Chicago Baseball Museum and Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post get what the Cubs were trying to do, and guilt had nothing to do with it. Vaccaro’s lead is pitch-perfect, as is what follows:
“The thing to remember always is just how gracious Steve Bartman has been these past 14 years. Perhaps that’s a commentary on how low our bar is set now and for how we define genuine celebrity.”
The grace of Steve Bartman, indeed, and we can be thankful this tale didn’t play out in the age of social media. Still, those in the media claiming to speak for Bartman haven’t done him any great favors by questioning the motives of the Cubs.
It may be the price Bartman is willing to pay for his continued insistence on being a regular citizen of a community that nearly hounded him from its ranks, and a media establishment that can’t abide by those who don’t wish to tell all.
Or anything at all.
A Few Good Reads
- The complicated life and sorrowful decline of Hideki Irabu is told by Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated;
- The closest I’ve ever come to running is covering a few 10k and 5k races, so I’m not particularly receptive to meditations on running. But Vybarr Cregan-Reid, a researcher at the University of Kent, has issued a compelling argument for finding meaning and beauty in running in his new book, “Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human.” In a Q & A with National Geographic’s Book Talk, he stakes a claim for “why we’re not running like we’re supposed to.” While even this is unlikely to ever get me to lace up running shoes, he makes some excellent points, including his reasons for hoofing it:
“One of the things I love about running is that I don’t do it to get fit. Getting fit is a byproduct. What I like is time offline so I like my runs to be really relaxing, not frenetic. As soon as I am counting the time in which I’ve done the last mile, or checking to see how many steps I’ve done, it starts to be less relaxing. Nobody checks their calorie burn after an hour’s meditation. And for me, running is more like meditation than it is like keep fit.”
- Remember those gadawful “rainbow” softball uniforms the Houston Astros once wore? There is an interesting backstory;
- More on threads, and specifically those worn in the American Ultimate Disc League;
- Once upon a time, undeterred by his role in the failure of the U.S. Football League, Donald Trump tried to start a baseball league that never got off the ground;
- Jon Hart writes about baseball “ball hawks” who travel around in search of home run balls, and tells the story of a retired plumber who once grabbed balls in three different major league parks in one day;
- From Wax Pack Gods, an appreciation of Rod Carew baseball card collections;
- Mark Whicker on the increasingly fragile state of NASCAR;
- Bryan Fogel’s “Icarus,” a new documentary on Russian doping, is the latest Netflix sports original, and he had to wait for rapidly occurring developments to finish a project that likely will have sequels;
- German television outlet ARD continues a series on athletes and doping, this one on African athletes for sale; the link is a rough but largely understandable translation into English;
- Bill Rhoden’s top five athletes of all-time are intriguing and likely to cause the kinds of arguments that never end, but isn’t that the point?
Sports Book News
- You’ve got to wait until October for what figures to be one of the best baseball books of the year, “The Year of the Pitcher” by Sridhar Pappu, a columnist for The New York Times, who retraces the magical 1968 World Series featuring Bob Gibson and Denny McLain. But the book is about that whole season, including Don Drysdale’s dominance, and rules changes that followed that were friendly to batters;
- On 16, the next Gelf Magazine “Varsity Letters” event in New York features Steve Rushin, author of the newly released “Sting-Ray Afternoons: A Memoir” on a program with other sports book authors;
- Madison Holleran was an accomplished runner and student at the University of Pennsylvania, and her still-mysterious suicide is the subject of a new book, “What Made Maddy Run?” by ESPN’s Kate Fagan.
Sports Media News
- Yahoo! Finance takes a look at the British owners who’ve done a major overhaul on The Sporting News, long after it went all-digital, but a chilling reality for old-time print readers (like myself) who still lament the “Bible of Baseball.” They’ve still got excellent writers, including baseball editor Jason Foster and college basketball scribe extraordinaire Michael DeCourcy; I just wish I could feel better about what the future holds for them and their publication;
- After a hiatus of a few years, longtime NBA writer Peter Vecsey is writing about the league again, and like a growing number of his peers has set up a Patreon account seeking donations from readers.
- Ara Parseghian, 94, lifted Notre Dame football out of mid-century mediocrity, guiding the Fighting Irish to two national championships and 95 wins in 11 seasons, trailing only the legendary Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy in winning percentage. Brought up at the “Cradle of Coaches” at Miami of Ohio, Parseghian personified the grit and determination that’s gone missing in recent years, following a promising start for current embattled coach Brian Kelly. The admiration for Parseghian also contained some bewilderment, including an infamous 10-10 tie with Michigan State in 1966 (Dan Jenkins’ memorable lead for Sports Illustrated: “Old Notre Dame will tie over all. Sing it out, guys. . .). The Irish still won the national title that year, and they did again in 1973, when Parseghian’s gamble against Alabama paid off handsomely. A funeral mass and memorial celebration takes place today at the Sacred Heart Basilica and the Joyce Center on the Notre Dame campus;
- Lee May, 74, was simply known as “the big bopper from Birmingham,” and had a swing and power to match a Major League Baseball career that included 354 home runs for the Reds, Royals, Orioles and Astros. It was his 1971 trade to Houston, from Cincinnati, that yielded “the Big Red Machine” Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham and Cesar Geronimo, key additions to a team that reached the World Series four times in five years, including titles in 1975 and 1976. May was later inducted in the Reds Hall of Fame: “I’ll always be a Red at heart, because that’s where I got my beginning.”
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 91, published Aug. 6, 2017. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website.
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