Associated Press

Steve Bartman to get a 2016 Cubs World Series ring

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WGN is reporting that Steve Bartman — the fan made infamous when he interfered with a foul ball during Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS — is receiving an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring as a special gift from the Ricketts family and the Cubs organization.

Both Tom Ricketts, the Cubs owner, and Bartman, have given WGN a statement. Here’s Ricketts:

“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.”

Bartman’s statement was long — it’s printed in its totality at WGN — but it begins thusly:

“Although I do not consider myself worthy of such an honor, I am deeply moved and sincerely grateful to receive an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring. I am fully aware of the historical significance and appreciate the symbolism the ring represents on multiple levels. My family and I will cherish it for generations . . .  I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over.”

We all know the story of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, which began with the Cubs leading the series 3-2 and needing only one win in two games at home to go to the World Series. Bartman, like many other fans in his section that night and like countless other fans at countless other baseball games before and since, went for a foul ball coming his way. The fielder — Moises Alou — probably had a chance to catch it (I say “probably” because Alou himself has changed his stance at that on numerous occasions over the past 14 years). Either way, the ball was not caught, the Florida Marlins mounted a huge eighth inning rally, went on to win Game 7 and, eventually, the World Series.

The game was played on a Tuesday night. It became known forever as “the Steve Bartman Game” before the sun rose on Wednesday morning. It could’ve been called “The Mike Everitt Game” after the umpire who didn’t call fan interference on the play. It could’ve been called “The Alex Gonzalez Game” after the would-be inning-ending double play the Cubs shortstop booted, prolonging the Marlins’ rally. Or “The Mark Prior Game” for Prior’s subsequent walk of Luis Castillo or “The Dusty Baker Game” for Baker leaving Prior in too long. When a team blows a huge lead in fantastic fashion they NEVER blame it on one single player or one single play, but the entire 2003 NLCS and the Cubs’ subsequent struggles after that have always, to greater or lesser degrees, been hung on Bartman.

That — and Bartman’s forced exile, which was occasioned by threats and his very public pillorying — has always been a shame. He messed up, but he never deserved the scorn he got. Nor the constant lazy references to that night back in 2003 whenever someone wanted to get a quick yuk or to sum up the Cubs various misfortunes. Past owners, GMs and managers never got the kind of guff Bartman got despite their far greater responsibility for the Cubs’ pre-2016 futility.

Now, at last, that all seems to be ending. It’s a shame that it took the Cubs winning a World Series for them and others to come around on Bartman, but I suppose it probably doesn’t matter anymore. That history, finally, is being condemned to history.

 

The earliest known baseball game to be commemorated. In England.

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If you’ve ever been to the United Kingdom, you’ve almost certainly seen buildings and parks and stuff with blue plaques on them. They’re historical markers which say things like “Lord Nigel-Hogg-Snootbury lived here, 1858-1869” or “Musician Ian Dexys, singer for the band The High Numbers, overdosed in this flat in 1970.” Stuff like that. They’re put up by a body called English Heritage, which manages all the old buildings and monuments and stuff in the country. You may be familiar with some of its portfolio.

I’ve made a lot of friends in the world of British baseball recently, which I suppose is what landed me on the press release for the latest blue plaque being unveiled. The subject: the first ever baseball game. And no, it’s not in Cooperstown, New York or the Elysian Fields in Hoboken. It’s in, of all places, Surrey:

Baseball, surely, is American? No, sorry, it’s English!

The first documented game was played in 1749 in Ashley Park, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey on the estate belonging to the wife of Charles Sackville, Earl of Middlesex, who also played in the match. Another of the players was his friend, Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George II . . . To celebrate this historical occasion exactly 270 years on, Walton Cricket Club in Ashley Park will be honoured with a Blue Plaque. The Blue Plaque unveiling will be a part of an all-day event on July 7,2019 hoping to attract 2,000 – 3,000 visitors. This will be the first time that baseball has been played on this pitch for 270 years! The wording on the plaque will read: “The Prince of Wales played in the world’s first recorded game of baseball on 12th September 1749 here in Ashley Park.”

This may ring a bell to longtime readers, as I wrote about this about six years ago when an author and researcher named David Block discovered a reference to the 1749 game in the Whitehall Evening Post. It read thusly:

“On Tuesday last, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Bass-Ball, at Walton in Surry; notwithstanding the weather was extreme bad, they continued playing several hours.”

Block has uncovered many other references to baseball in 18th and 19th century England. In some ways the game described in the sources he has found was similar to the baseball we know: pitching, hitting, running bases, and batters being put out somehow. In others it was much different. The bases were much closer together, the pitcher stood much closer, the batter didn’t, in fact, have a bat, but swatted at the ball with his palm, and the ball itself was soft enough for this to be accomplished without pain. Whether one wants to call that game “baseball” is probably a subjective decision.

It’d have to be, wouldn’t it? That’s because, as we have written in this space many times, baseball was never really invented as much as it evolved from a number of British sports such as roundersbat and trap, and stool ball. Cricket, too, obviously, arose along with baseball and these other sports in some fashion and all of them share certain elements. They’re cousins, a couple of which left home and became big and famous and a couple of which stayed in school seemingly forever or never left home and just hangs out at the pub all the time. Like, literally rounders is generally thought of as a school kids’ game and bat and trap is played in pub leagues, mostly in Kent.

Deciding which game, when, was the first “baseball” game is kind of up to you, I suppose. Though I’d argue that what they’re commemorating in Surrey in July is just as valid if not more so than the complete fabrication that resulted in Abner Doubleday and Cooperstown getting credit for it for so many years.