Follow @neilsteinbergLife is not fair.
I hope I’m not spilling the beans to you. But the best competitor and the one who wins are not always the same person.
Baseball teaches us that. It isn’t just any player who whiffs to sink the Mudville Nine. It is the Mighty Casey.
The team whose pitcher racked up the most number of perfect innings in a game — 12, by Pirate Harvey Haddix — also lost that game, in the 13th.
And the Cubs … well, they’re in the playoffs now, still, in the second half of October. Acclaimed the best team in baseball, for all the good that does. Fans strode into the post-season confident in our champions who just needed to execute a few preliminaries, to sign some paperwork, the bill of lading for our long-delayed and much re-routed delivery of glory.
Then we felt a chill.
An apt moment to give reverence to Steve Bartman, to salaam before him, like a minor household deity.
You remember Bartman. He was just another fan at Wrigley Field on Oct. 14, 2003, at Game 6 of another National League Championship Series, this one against the Florida Marlins. One out, eighth inning. Luis Castillo drives one down the left field line. Moises Alou goes after it.
Bartman reaches for the ball and deflects it away from Alou’s open, yearning glove.
Not Bartman’s fault. He did what any fan does. Had his reach been fan interference, there is a rule in baseball — 3.16 “Spectator Inference on Batted Ball” — and the umpire could have called the batter out. He didn’t.
Follow @neilsteinbergNobody scored on the play; it was a foul ball remember. Had it been caught, there were still four outs to go. Plenty of time for the Cubs to collapse, as the Cubs will do, and lose to the Marlins 8-3, then lose the seventh game too.
Yet blame fell to Bartman, starting with Alou’s hissy fit, spreading to the fans in the bleachers, who booed Bartman, pelted him with garbage, so he had to be hustled out of the ballpark by security, the beginning of a baker’s dozen years of undeserved notoriety that began at that moment and continues to, well, this column.
Life, remember, is not fair.
Bartman, who did nothing wrong, continued doing so, conducting himself in a dignified fashion. He never gave an interview, never accepted the jumbo checks he was offered for endorsements and appearances. He works in my own leafy suburban paradise.
I’m only writing about him now because I drew the short straw. Journalism is a stylized form, like kabuki, and the Autumnal Tale of Bartman requires the seeker to visit The Mountaintop of the Seer Who Speaks for Bartman.
So I called Frank Murtha, sports attorney and Bartman family friend. For the past 13 years Murtha has served as spokesman for the most notorious Cub fan — mirabile dictu — without charging a fee.
I knew better than to try to pry details about Bartman; that never works, and what does it really matter? Instead I asked a more relevant question, something more interesting than whether Bartman has been to Wrigley or redecorated his den.
Why is the media obsessed with this?
“I can’t say,” said Murtha. “I’ve thought long and hard on that, and I have no clue. Baseball is baseball, the really morbid curiosity about this young man and this incident, now 13 years afterward, is really beyond understanding.”
The kabuki also demands that, while visiting The Mountaintop, I actually make The Request. Knowing the answer, you still have to actually ask. This is how I phrased it:
“Because I’m so special and wonderful and Steve so admires my work, might he, despite turning away every single media request up to this moment, decide to pour his heart out to me?”
“You’re special and wonderful and we all admire your work, but he has made his final statement,” Murtha replied, referring to his apology 13 years ago. “When, if, he chooses to speak publicly, it will be at a time and in a forum of his choosing, not anybody else’s. And at this point, that time has not arrived, for you or anybody else.”
Maybe after the Cubs win the World Series.
Should the day ever come.