Call it historic, manufactured catharsis or a shrewd PR move.
Whatever you name the Chicago Cubs’ decision to give Steve Bartman a World Series ring, its symbolism brings closure to an ugly chapter in baseball’s annals.
Bartman is the fan who interfered with a foul ball during the eighth inning of Game 6 during the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. From there, the Cubs blew a three-run lead in the game, went on to lose the series and a chance to face the New York Yankees for a shot at the title.
Many fans turned on Bartman, as he became the scapegoat for the Cubs’ failure that year. He received death threats, went into hiding, declined six-figure offers to make public appearances and was even the subject of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary.
Time seemed to heal the wounds left from that incident, however. The notoriously media-shy Bartman even went back to Wrigley Field, attending games undetected by fellow fans.
Then, in 2016, the Cubs erased the team’s 108-year losing streak with a dramatic run to bring the World Series trophy back to Chicago’s North Side.
The celebration bled into the Cubs’ 2017 campaign, and this week, team officials announced that they would give an authentic, $70,000 championship ring to Bartman.
The Cubs issued the following statement:
On behalf of the entire Chicago Cubs organization, we are honored to present a 2016 World Series Championship Ring to Mr. Steve Bartman.
We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story that has perpetuated throughout our quest to win a long-awaited World Series.
While no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade, we felt it was important Steve knows he has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organization. After all he has sacrificed, we are proud to recognize Steve Bartman with this gift today.
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Bartman offered a rare public statement, thanking the Cubs and their front office management for the gesture:
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) July 31, 2017
Bartman took his opportunity in the spotlight to thank the Cubs’ owners and administrators, but also to remind sports fans that it’s just a game:
I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society. My hope is that we all can learn from my experience to view sports as entertainment and prevent harsh scapegoating, and to challenge the media and opportunistic profiteers to conduct business ethically by respecting personal privacy rights and not exploit any individual to advance their own self-interest or economic gain.
Moreover, I am hopeful this ring gesture will be the start of an important healing and reconciliation process for all involved.
Let’s face it: The brands we represent as marketers and PR pros all have their demons. What the Cubs can teach us in this situation is that it’s never too late for closure. If there are loose ends or a public misstep of which your organization or client is involved, it’s important to make it right.
It’s also a reminder that brand managers have an opportunity to curb the type of bullying that Bartman faced in the wake of that October night in 2003. Snark can quickly turn into mob mentality, especially when mistakes can be easily shared online.
And then there was the reaction from Scott Simon, a native Chicagoan who is the host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday” and whose sentiments are evident in the title of his new book, “My Cubs: A Love Story.”
In a telephone interview, Simon said the decision to give Bartman a ring made him feel as proud as he did when the Cubs won the Series last fall. Or even prouder.
“Cubs fans have been waiting for a moment like this,” he said. “Just to put their arms around the guy one way or another and say: ‘It could have been any of us; it just happened to be you. And we’re sorry for what happened to you.'”