It's March Madness and everyone is doing brackets. Lots of people are taking part in an office or family pool, and are all pissed off about the state of their actual NCAA brackets. Others are using this time to create their own versions of a tournament. The Cubs did their bunting tournament, Sarah Spain over at espnW put together a Bracket of Awesome, and someone did a tournament of beers that can be found in Walt Disney World. There are hundreds of other homages to the tournament running around out there. Fun right?
So ESPN Chicago decided to do a tournament of their own called Chicago's Public Enemy No. 1 and seeded our 16 Chicago sports villains to see who we all hate the most. Ok, it isn't as positive as the other tournaments I mentioned, but when you are talking about 16 people from Chicago sports that people hate, you have to figure those people have got to be pretty used to being the villain, and in some cases actually relish it.
The list includes: Bill Laimbeer, Bill Wirtz, Brett Favre, LeBron James, Milton Bradley, John Starks, Jerry Krause, Michael McCaskey, Albert Belle, Forrest Gregg, Reggie Miller, Cade McNown, Sammy Sosa, Isiah Thomas, Rex Grossman and…. Steve Bartman.
Laimbeer and Gregg intentionally tried to injure our players. McCaskey, Wirtz, and Krause oversaw the decimation of proud franchises under their watch. Bradley and Belle were assholes who never really lived up to their contracts. McNown and Grossman were full of ego and failed potential. Favre, Thomas, Miller and LeBron were good-to-great players on teams that were constant thorns in our sides. Starks was a dick, who managed to have some of his best games at our expense. Sammy Sosa cheated and quit on his team (I'm assuming that is the reason he is included). Steve Bartman happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Every other person on this list did something purposeful and real in their chosen career field to earn Chicago fans' dislike. It comes with the territory of being involved in sports. If you are a rival, people won't like you. If you perform poorly as a member of someone's favorite team, people won't like you. Steve Bartman went to a playoff game and touched a ball that was out of play and may or may not have been catchable by Moises Alou. He did what 99.9% of other sports fans in that situation would have done. He did what everyone else in that section that night tried to do. So why would he get included in something intended to determine who Chicago fans hate most?
Couldn't find other villains? Without even digging into Bears, Sox, Bulls, or Blackhawks lore, I can think of plenty of people who should be included instead of Steve Bartman. What about Steve Garvey? What about Dwight Gooden? What about Will Clark? What about Larry Himes? What about Todd Hundley? How about Alex Gonzalez, who actually botched the play that would have, at minimum, cut the bleeding by getting at least one out that same night that Bartman became famous? No, ESPN has to go and drag Bartman back out for another round of whipping from meatballs who actually think he is to blame.
In their little match-up preview, they even say,
Much of Cubs Nation has long since forgiven Bartman, who apparently has not been seen at a game at Wrigley since.
So why the hell is he even included if we all forgave him? How is Bartman even in this tournament, much less getting votes? Because ESPN (and other members of the media) can't let it go. He's an easy target because he steadfastly refuses to come out and say anything in his defense. Hell, Steve, at this point come on out and make some damn money off of this. They're never going to let it go. You have to know by now that they won't. It's been nine years and I'm already sick of the stunts they have pulled to try to capitalize on your ill-gotten fame. I may have to move and completely shut down my internets when the 10-year anniversary rolls around. That is going to be an epic example of douchebaggery in the name of journalism.
Look at what they have already done. ESPN had to go and dredge up Bartman for their 30 for 30 series because they knew it would get ratings. Sure, Bartman refused to participate, but that didn't stop ESPN from schlocking it all together with some tacked on references to Boston so they could also get the East Coast crowd to watch. ESPN also once sent a reporter to stalk Bartman at his house and then ambush him in the parking lot of his place of employment. You think I'm exaggerating?
Finally, as the street comes to an end, I see the Bartman home. Tucked back into a wooded lot with mature trees and curious squirrels, the white bi-level home looks warm and inviting. Four vehicles sit in a circular driveway, two of which — a shiny black Acura and a generic black pickup truck — look like they could belong to a man in his late 20s. Inside, the house appears quiet. The drapes are drawn. The doors and windows are closed. I park across the street and wait. A neighbor eventually walks outside, picks up his morning paper and stares at me, likely wondering why this rental car with Kentucky plates has been sitting in front of his house for more than an hour. That's the moment when I flash back to something Cohen told me earlier in the week. "I'm not going to say people don't drive by, but I don't pay attention," he said. "It's a quiet street — everybody looks out for everybody else." I feel like a stalker. More dirt-digging private investigator than entrepreneurial journalist. More People Magazine than ESPN. Hoping to quell the neighbor's suspicions and avoid a loitering ticket, I drive off and find another spot at the end of the street to wait.
His car and mine are the only two left on the roof of the garage. I worry that he saw me hovering and left with a friend. I wonder if he went out for beers with a coworker. Maybe his car died and he caught a ride home. Or is he really staying this late on the final day of the work week? I decide to wait one more hour. I've come this far, why quit now? Fifteen minutes later, the door again swings open. This time, it's Bartman. I jump out of my car, walk over with my hand extended and introduce myself.
Who does that? ESPN does, that's who.
As we all know by now, Steve Bartman has refused every single request to speak on the subject of Game 6 or any other subject. All he wants is to be left alone, but what ESPN wants, ESPN is going to get. You begin to see why they have absolutely no problems advancing the fame of known wife-beaters, sex offenders, and other criminals that are good at sports, because any entity with the hint of a soul or spark of humanity left would leave this man the fuck alone. But ESPN will savage Bartman's name like piranha that smell blood in the water because that is their primal instinct. Piranha have no remorse after gutting a victim who happened into the wrong part of a river, and ESPN has no remorse for what they do to Bartman at every opportunity.
You'd think they would move on to a target that at least tries to self-righteously defend himself, or someone who figures they might as well cash in on whatever unwanted fame has befallen him. That is at least a little sporting. But ESPN seems content to continue to just keep bludgeoning this guy who refuses to defend himself.
There is nothing more to see here folks. Nothing. Nothing new has developed since Bartman made his one public statement and then tried to dissolve back into anonymity:
"There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last 24 hours. I've been a Cub fan all my life and fully understand the relationship between my actions and the outcome of the game. I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moises Alou, much less that he may have had a play. Had I thought for one second that the ball was playable or had I seen Alou approaching I would have done whatever I could to get out of the way and give Alou a chance to make the catch. To Moises Alou, the Chicago Cubs organization, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Cub fans everywhere I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan's broken heart. I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends, and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs."
That statement makes you want to cry. He felt terrible about it. He practically takes the blame for what happened next onto himself even though his deflection likely didn't matter in the slightest. ESPN sees only the need to try to dig more out of him than the soul-baring his statement already provided. The bitch of it is that it isn't because they actually think some new statement or interview from Bartman would actually bring closure to the situation. If someone at ESPN actually thought that Bartman was hiding some insidious plot to sabotage the Cubs' playoff run, you might understand their actions. They would be digging for hidden truth. But the fact that the statement should stand on its own as a final comment about the incident doesn't register. There has to be more, and wouldn't it bring massive ratings? That is what drives them.
So ESPN has already succeeded in doing what they set out to do. We are talking about their site and their brand. I am feeding the beast with this blog post. Not that it matters. It's already been a subject on Twitter and Facebook, and I'm sure this won't be the only blog to talk about it.
Then when this dies down, ESPN will go back to finding other ways to drag Steve Bartman's name out into the street and beat it to death because they could give a shit that the guy never did anything wrong. Some day, at Steve Bartman's funeral, there will be some prick with an ESPN microphone shoving it in the face of any friend or family member too slow to avoid them, asking if Steve died regretting what he did in Game 6. Bank on it.