Ethics Hero: The Chicago Cubs Organization

This was a wonderful gesture of kindness and reconciliation. It won’t mean much to those who don’t follow baseball, and that is Reason #478,653,222 why it’s a mistake not to follow baseball.

I’ve written about the Steve Bartman fiasco several times, both here and on the currently off-line Ethics Scoreboard.  I am not in the “Steve Bartman was an innocent victim of circumstance” camp, though he was a victim of moral luck. He was an  incompetent baseball fan, not paying sufficient attention to the game and interfering with it as a direct result. On the other hand, for members of the 2003 Cubs to use him as a scapegoat for their blowing a lead,  the game, and the play-offs, and for Chicago fans to hound him out of town and into hiding, was far worse than his negligence, the most disproportionate and vindictive treatment of a fan in sports history.

Here was my summary of the saga to date before the Cubs finally won the World Series after more than a century of failure:

Bartman, for those of you who have lived in a bank vault since 2003, was the hapless young Chicago Cubs fan who unintentionally interfered with a foul ball that might have been catchable by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou in the decisive game of 2003 National League Championship Series. In a perfect display of the dangers of moral luck, Bartman’s mistake—it didn’t help that he was wearing earphones and watching the ball rather than the action on the field—began a chain of random events  that constituted a complete collapse by Chicago in that very same half-inning, sending the Miami Marlins and not the Cubs, who had seemed comfortably ahead, to the Series. Bartman, who issued a sincere and pitiful apology, was widely vilified and literally run out of town. He then became part of Cubs and baseball lore, one more chapter in the sad saga has been called “the Billy Goat Curse,” the uncanny inability of this team to win it all.

Yesterday the Cubs announced that the team had privately awarded Bartman  an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring as a special gift from the the Cubs organization. These things contain 214 diamonds at 5.5 karats, three karats of genuine red rubies and 2.5 karats of genuine sapphires, and are worth about $70,000. Even so,  the symbolism is worth far more.

Tom Ricketts, the Cubs owner, issued a statement: Continue reading

Sorry, Steve Bartman, But It’s Impossible To Leave You Alone

As the Chicago Cubs plowed their way to the World Series and a possible end to their 108 year failure to win a World Series, numerous sports writers, including some I thought were smart enough to know better, set out to prove their compassion, sensitivity and gooey caramel centers by arguing that the news media and fans should “leave Steve Bartman alone.” Bartman, for those of you who have lived in a bank vault since 2003, was the hapless young Chicago Cubs fan who unintentionally interfered with a foul ball that might have been catchable by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou in the decisive game of 2003 National League Championship Series. In a perfect display of the dangers of moral luck, Bartman’s mistake—it didn’t help that he was wearing earphones and watching the ball rather than the action on the field—began a chain of random events  that constituted a complete collapse by Chicago in that very same half-inning, sending the Miami Marlins and not the Cubs, who had seemed comfortably ahead, to the Series. Bartman, who issued a sincere and pitiful apology, was widely vilified and literally run out of town. He then became part of Cubs and baseball lore, one more chapter in the sad saga has been called “the Billy Goat Curse,” the uncanny inability of this team to win it all.

Over time, even Bartman’s tormenters came to see that holding him responsible for the team’s failure was cruel consequentialism at its worst. Alou, who had sicced the Furies on Bartman by angrily pointing at him after the incident from the field and later told everyone that with the interference, he would have caught the ball, even came out ten years later–five years!—to say that he wouldn’t have caught the ball, and Bartman wasn’t to blame. (I wrote about that epic example of barn-door locking here.) Now, NBC’s Craig Calcattera and many others are beating a new drum: nobody should write about or talk about Stave any more, because it’s so unfair. Continue reading

Now THAT’S An Unethical Baseball Fan.

WARNING: Click “Cancel” when the clip is over, or you will see a series of unrelated videos of dubious motive. I’m sorry; this is the only YouTube version of the incident.

Let’s list the ways this fan proves he’s a jerk:

  • He doesn’t clear away so the player (Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez) can make the catch. Technically it isn’t interference if he doesn’t because the ball is officially out of the field of play. But good fan sportsmanship dictates that a fan, even of the other team, should allow the catch to be made.
  • He not only doesn’t clear away, he competes for the catch. This is a fan actively interfering with the game, and treating a souvenir as more important than the game it would be a souvenir of—which means he’s an idiot, as well.
  • Then, after the catch, this guy tries to wrestle the ball out of Gonzalez’s glove…to steal the ball, in fact. As long as a ball isn’t abandoned by a player, lands in the stands, or is tossed to a fan, it belongs to the MLB.
  • In the alternative, as some have argued in his defense, he may not have noticed that he was wrestling with a player in the heat of the moment. I don’t believe that for a second, but let’s say it’s true. Any fan who sits that close to the field in a baseball game is obligated to know what is happening every second. Obligated. This is the Steve Bartman Rule, and you don’t want this to happen...
  • After the incident (I think Gonzalez told him to let go or he’d be very sorry), the guy took a bow. This is the final qualification of a fick.
  • He embarrassed Red Sox fans everywhere. There is nothing wrong with wearing your favorite team’s hat in another team’s park (contrary to the assertion of sportswriter Craig Calcattera and some of his Boston-hating readers), but like any other badge of allegiance, if you are in public and wearing a Red Sox cap, you represent the fan base, Red Sox Nation, as it is called in Boston (unfortunately), and that means that acting like a jerk reflects on more than just you. I just had to point out to a guy on another site (who wrote, “Typical Sux fan”) that the commenter is a bigot.
  • He also embarrassed his girlfriend.

That’s seven, and preserved for posterity.

Oh, by the way, he was kicked out of the stadium.

Good.

Better Never Than Late: Steve Bartman’s False Exoneration

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game TwoMy mind is much on the baseball play-offs today, an unavoidable hangover from last night’s amazing and exhilerating Red Sox-Tigers game, in which Boston went from hitless, five runs down and doomed in the 6th inning to miraculously victorious in the 9th thanks to a storybook grand slam by David Ortiz (you can see the immortal end result of that mighty blow in the photo to the left). It is 10 years to the day from when another remarkable play-off game occurred, infamous in Chicago, in which a fly ball foul that wasn’t caught by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou led to a furious rally by the Florida Marlins that resulted in the hapless Cubs being denied a trip to the World Series—the team’s first since 1935— that their fans thought was in the bag. The reason Alou missed the ball, or so the legend goes, was that a clueless Cubs fan wearing earphones reached out and deflected the ball. That fan, Steve Bartman, was awarded instant villain status. It was accompanied by media attacks and death threats, and poor Bartman left the city and may well have joined the witness protection program or jumped into a volcano. Nobody has heard from him in many years.

There is an ethics lesson in what happened to Bartman: one is never truly a bystander, and you have a duty to pay attention to your surroundings and to be ready to act. If you are present, you can make a difference, and might be needed, even it it is only to get out of the way. Call it the Duty of Life Competence.

The following post, however, is not about Bartman as much as it what happened to him, and how someone who could have come to his aid waited five years—too long—to do it. It was first posted on The Ethics Scoreboard in 2008:

Continue reading