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Savran: Shame on Chicago, which is due a curse

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Chicago is a city with broad shoulders. It's a perception, but it's based on the city's personality. Chicago is a "say what I mean and mean what I say" kind of place. A home to tough people in a tough town that enjoys what it can to the fullest and shrugs those broad shoulders during times that aren't so good. Which is why it was rather disarming to watch them turn on one of their own in an attempt to explain their team's collapse.

Steve Bartman went to Wrigley Field Tuesday night to celebrate what he and millions of Cubs fans hoped -- expected, really -- would be a pennant-clinching nine innings.

By all accounts, Bartman was a true Cubs fan, older than some, younger than most, who either wallows or revels in his team's futility.

I gather he was a true fan because of where he was sitting at the ballpark -- well down the left-field line -- and the fact he was wearing headphones to listen to the game while watching it.

I doubt you would have seen Ben and J-Lo doing the same in Fenway's front row.

Now Steve Bartman's life has been turned upside down, not because his beloved team has betrayed him again, but because his fraternity of fans betrayed him.

There's no joy in Wrigleyville, but they don't want to blame Casey for striking out, they want to blame a bespectacled 26-year-old who saw a ball and tried to catch it.

A normal human being doesn't sit there in the stands, chin buried in palm like The Thinker statue, pondering what to do next. He saw it and he tried to catch it. He violated no rule, nor did he violate Moises Alou's space. If Cubs fans are looking to affix blame, they need look no further than the third-base dugout at Wrigley Field.

Even after the play in question, the Cubs still had a chance to retire Luis Castillo, but Mark Prior walked him. Then the single by Ivan Rodriguez. Then the error by Alex Gonzalez, which completely unnerved the Cubs.

You could see the blood drain from their collective faces, much like it did with the Pirates in 1992 when Chico Lind booted that easy grounder in Atlanta.

The error wasn't devastating, but it had a numbing effect on the entire team. But even after the error, the Cubs still had the lead and control. They could have escaped the inning with at worst a 3-3 tie, but they didn't.

Steve Bartman wasn't responsible for that. Credit/blame goes to the imploding Cubs' bullpen.

Bartman didn't give up a three-run homer to Miguel Cabrera the following night; Kerry Wood did. Bartman didn't blow a 5-3 lead in Game 7; Wood and the bullpen did.

And finally, and forgotten in all of this, it wasn't Bartman who -- dare I say it -- choked after building a 3-1 series lead with the final two games at the Friendly Confines.

The Cubs did.

There's plenty of blame to go around here, not just within the Cubs clubhouse for blowing the NLCS, but also for this entire circus.

An accusatory finger should be pointed at the Chicago Sun Times. The paper embarrassed itself and humiliated any media outlet with a shred of conscience by identifying Bartman in print. It listed his name, where he lived and where he worked. The family immediately had to disconnect their telephone, and the police had to provide around-the-clock protection for the poor guy and his family.

The fact that he was abused at Wrigley right after the game was bad enough, but he began to receive death threats, for crying out loud.

No doubt they were from the same beer-sotted louts who read -- or just look at the pictures -- in that rag, which no self-respecting parakeet would want lining the bottom of its cage.

It's reasonable to believe Bartman might have to consider leaving his hometown to live a somewhat normal life.

Is this fair? Who at that newspaper made that decision? And why is he or she still employed? Surely there's a job opening at the National Enquirer.

The whole affair is a disgrace.

Chicago won't blame its team for choking. It certainly won't credit or applaud the resilience of the Florida Marlins, a resilience missing from the Cubs in moments when it was needed most. The truth is the Marlins won the series because they were tons tougher than the fragile Cubs. But the "fans" will spew their venom at a young guy who just went to the game to see his team win, and likely had the course of his life altered in the process. Shame on you, Chicago.

Well, at least they've got Kordell and the Bears. Oops -- sorry.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AAM (970).

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