By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Most Chicago Cubs fans (and foes) who were alive in 2003 know of Steve Bartman – the fan who leaned over the railing and deflected a potential Cubs’ foul ball catch during the National League Championship Series. He became the scapegoat of the Cubs’ loss in the series and received endless harassment from frustrated fans. Opportunistic media outlets tried to capitalize on Bartman’s story; he and his family were barraged with unsolicited visits and phone calls for years. Bartman silently endured the disruption to his life and never spoke publicly about the ordeal, until recently.
In July, the Cubs presented Bartman with an official World Series ring. Although Bartman probably had about as much to do with the Cubs’ long drought as the legendary billy goat curse, he seemed to take the gift as a kind of apology for the consequences of his scapegoat status for the better part of 14 years.
He decided to speak out in a one-and-done statement to WGN.
Bartman said in his statement, “I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society. … Moreover, I am hopeful this ring gesture will be the start of an important healing and reconciliation process for all involved.”
I feel like the incident, and Bartman’s reflection, illustrate the idea that people always seem to look for someone or something to blame when something goes wrong, even when there are many factors involved. It also speaks to the importance of mercy.
It’s a lot easier to forgive someone once the negative consequences of their actions no longer matter. Baseball is just a sport. Fans should have forgiven Bartman immediately, and I’m sure a few people did let it go. But in the collective conscience, it seems Bartman could not completely be forgiven until the Cubs won a World Series. He suffered for 14 years because of a grudge. He would have suffered longer had the Cubs not won the World Series last year.
Father Marty Goetz, pastor of parishes in Des Moines County, is a proud Cardinals fan, but admits to watching a documentary about Bartman on ESPN a couple years ago. “It was amazing listening to all of those people … that were still upset, and dare I say, harboring feelings of anger and hate.”
As one of Pope Francis’ Ministers of Mercy, Fr. Goetz observes that we all have the potential to be like these angry fans when we feel someone has wronged us. “All of us are tempted to strike back at the offensive driver. All of us are tempted to hold on to resentments even to the point of allowing precious relationships to be severed. What happens when we hold onto something for so long is that the people we ‘hate’ or are angry with still hold power over us.”
“We have all done things and said things we regret. We all have a past – I know I do! But remember what Jesus did throughout His ministry. His first words are words of forgiveness, words of peace, words of mercy. No judgment. No condemnation,” Fr. Goetz said.
So next time someone wrongs you, don’t wait 14 years to let it go. Pray about it, give it up to God and move on.