Bill Buckner: Why Steve Bartman Should Not Be in the Same Conversation
There are goats, and then there are goats. The Chicago Cubs are familiar with both varieties.
The first, I guess, would be the animal variety. Those who know anything about the Cubs (and baseball in general) know all about the dreaded Curse of the Billy Goat.
It began when a tavern owner was kicked out of Wrigley Field because his pet goat was bothering other patrons. The legend goes that his parting words were, "Them Cubs, they aren't gonna win no more."
That was back in 1945, and time has proven him wise. Most Cubs fans will tell you that the other kind of goat has a lot to do with that.
That kind of goat would be the scapegoat. The Cubs have one of these as well, and his name is Steve Bartman.
He was the guy who interfered with Moises Alou's attempt to catch a foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Cubs went on to lose the game and the series, and it was apparently all Bartman's fault.
Bartman is certainly not alone in the downtrodden realm of great baseball goats (of the second variety).
He has often been compared to former Boston Red Sox great (?) Bill Buckner, who infamously booted a ground ball in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that allowed the Curse of the Bambino to live on. Well, that and Calvin Schiraldi's pitching and Bob Stanley's wildness.
At any rate, the strange correlation between Bartman and Buckner has come to light again thanks to the new ESPN Films documentary about Bartman entitled Catching Hell.
I haven't seen it yet, but I hear Buckner features prominently—because, you know, we must be reminded that these two are strangely correlated.
This is not to say I have a problem with the film itself, mind you. I am forever indebted to Alex Gibney, the film's director, for his movie about Hunter S. Thompson, and I heard Gibney did quite well with Catching Hell, too.
Instead, my gripe is with the correlation itself. That these two guys are going to forever be labeled as goats is bad enough. Joining them at the hip is even worse.
All you have to do is consider the circumstances in which they became goats.
Let's start with Buckner. As unfairly as he was subsequently treated by the fans and the media, it must be acknowledged that Buckner should have fielded Mookie Wilson's ground ball up the first base line.
We can talk all we want about bad hops and about how Buckner shouldn't have been out there in the first place, but the fact of the matter is that fielding ground balls was in his job description at the time. He didn't deserve all of the blame for the loss, but he certainly deserved some of it.
As for Bartman, the one thing that has always struck me about his supposed interference with Alou is that he did absolutely nothing wrong.
All he did was stand up and react to a baseball that was ticketed for his general vicinity. Even if he'd somehow known that Alou was also ticketed for his general vicinity, there's simply no way he was going to bring himself to overrule his basic reactionary instincts.
Who's the bigger goat?
Just as Buckner is not solely responsible for losing the 1986 World Series, Bartman is not solely responsible for losing the 2003 NLCS. In fact, I don't think he should be labeled as a goat at all.
He was merely a guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's not a reason to vilify anybody—much less a guy who was merely trying to catch a baseball that he had every right to catch.
That's the fundamental difference between Bartman and Buckner. You can look at Buckner and say that he should have fielded Wilson's ground ball. In all fairness, you can't look at Bartman and say that he should have not fielded the foul ball that Alou was going to catch.
So the next time you get the urge to curse that rotten goat named Bartman—don't. It's not his fault the Cubs lost the 2003 NLCS, nor is it his fault that the Cubs are one of the most hopeless teams in Major League Baseball at the moment.
This is just how it is. You don't have to like it, but dealing with the reality of the situation is better than ignoring it.
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