Last night I lay awake wondering about Steve Bartman. I have no idea what brought it on, but the image of him being escorted out of Wrigley Field through a barrage of trash and violent threats just seeped into my consciousness for several sorrowful minutes. And that got me thinking about what it means to be a Cubs fan and second-guessing whether I wanted to be one in 2010.
Steve Bartman tried to catch a foul ball. He was one of about ten fans (and one Cub) to do so on that particular play. He didn’t catch it. Nobody did. He didn’t even get to keep the ball. As the inning unfolded and the Cubs collapsed, frustration boiled into rage, and people wanted to kill him. Not euphemistically. Had security not stepped in, Steve Bartman probably would have been killed. By Cub fans. Greatest fans in the world.
People say they love their Cubs, but that isn’t love. It’s beyond even fanaticism. It’s less excusable than insanity. That night, Cub fans (not a minority, mind you, but a significant bloodthirsty mob of them) behaved like savage idiots toward a guy who tried to catch a foul ball at a game of no real consequence. Greatest fans in the world.
I’m tempted to say that nobody wanted the Cubs to win that night more than I did. But I hope that’s not true. I don’t know. I’ve reacted to Cub tragedy in some pretty stupid ways. I’ve screamed, thrown things across the room, punched walls, beaten up furniture. I’ve behaved like a savage idiot, sure. So am I any better than the morons who wanted to tear Steve Bartman apart? Probably not at the time. I’ll never know.
I hope the incident taught me something about how much the Cubs should matter in my life. I want very badly for the Cubs to win a World Series, but I recognize it would change nothing but the conversations. I wouldn’t be a happier person in the long run. It wouldn’t improve my quality of life. It would be a euphoric distraction from reality, but it wouldn’t change reality.
Most fans, myself included, suspend disbelief in the truth that baseball doesn’t matter. Some of us make that decision consciously; others hypnotize ourselves to avoid ever acknowledging it, creating a grotesque marriage of entertainment and self-actualization, which is sad . . . but not uncommon. Still, all of us really want the Cubs to win. Does that make us great fans, the degree to which we want them to win?
No. Neither does statistical knowledge, appreciation of opponents’ skill level, color coordination, attendance percentage, or depth of loyalty. No, I think the best fans are the ones who maintain at least a basic level of human decency and perspective through it all.
The greatest fans in the world would have stopped security from ushering Steve Bartman away from the Game 6 madness. They would have demanded that his attackers—not the victim—be ejected from the scene. If that meant that half of Wrigley must be emptied, so be it. The greatest fans in the world would not be undone by a fly ball. The greatest fans in the world would react to blunders in the same way they would want their team to respond: with enthusiasm and hope. Are Cub fans the best at that? No, but we’re getting better.
Let’s face it, Cub fans have very little playoff experience. We’re really good at staying loyal to bad teams, but we need a little more practice facing postseason adversity. I hope the ’10s offer us plenty of opportunity, but as of now . . . we aren’t the greatest. We’re prospects at best.
Happy New Year . . . please.