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October Seems to Be More About Scapegoats Than Heroes



By Mike Silva ~ October 2nd, 2011. Filed under: Morning Digest.

On Wednesday Evan Longoria hit two home runs, including a game winner, to lead Tampa Bay to an improbable victory over the Yankees after trailing 7-0. That victory, coupled with a Boston defeat in Baltimore, completed an unlikely Wild Card run by Joe Maddon’s Rays. The Cardinals defeated the Astros, while Atlanta lost to Philadelphia, which resulted in St. Louis completing an unlikely Wild Card run of their own after trailing by 9 games earlier in the month. Less than a week earlier, the Cards were dealt a huge blow when they blew a 4-run ninth inning lead to the Mets. These were great baseball stories, but what did the media focus on? The collapse of both Atlanta and Boston. In Boston, it cost Terry Francona is job. Never mind the fact the front office had as much to do with the demise of the Sox in 2011 as Francona, they needed a scapegoat. The calm and steady Francona all of a sudden couldn’t handle the clubhouse. The Sox were portrayed as dysfunctional, called a “country club” and a “spa” by members of the Boston media. We found out that some pitchers were drinking in the clubhouse during games when they didn’t pitch. I guess those up in arms about this never heard of the ’86 Mets or saw Jim Leyland take a drag of a cigarette in the dugout. A night of Wild Card heroics should have accentuated the positive in what transpired, instead the national media decided to create scapegoats, incite the fan base, and take an overall negative tone.

I never knew the origin of the term “scapegoat” until I watched ESPN Films “Catching Hell,” which chronicled the Steve Bartman story. In the Old Testament, the Book of Leviticus, a goat was released, in a ceremony, into the wilderness to carry away the sins of Israel away from the village. This goat was tormented all the way out of the village, some say even thrown off a cliff. Obviously, this being the Bible there could be some “artistic license” taken from the story, but the point is we have been programmed to place blame on a singular individual for thousands of years.

Leviticus meet the sports fan. Sports fans and media no longer are interested in discussing the game with a balanced view. The fans use it as a pulpit to “blow off steam,” sometimes in an over-the-top and negative way. Media sees easy prey, as talentless blowhards and myopic producers and program directors use it to beef up a flawed ratings system. When I point out the consequences of these actions I often get mocked by those in and outside the industry. “It’s only radio,” they’ll say. “Loosen up,” or “the man knows how to engage an audience.” I don’t need to mention any names, just pick any blowhard from New York to Los Angeles and they fit the description.

The brings me to the ultimate sports scapegoat, Steve Bartman. Yeah, that guy with the hoodie, sweatshirt, glasses, and walkman may be the ultimate scapegoat in the history of North American sports. It was only a game and they were having fun with Bartman, right?

Bartman never made an error, walked a batter, or gave up a home run, but he singlehandedly is blamed for derailing the 2003 Cubs World Series chances. Earlier this week I reviewed “Catching Hell,” and was appalled at the level of anger directed at this man. It almost wanted to cry for the guy, as he sat amongst 39,576 other Cubs fans during Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. He might as well been alone in that ballpark as he had beer thrown on him, was spat at, and had stuff hurled at him. All because he “supposedly” interfered with Moises Alou catching a fly ball with one out in the top of the eighth inning.

The Cubs were leading the series 3-2 and were 5 outs away from the World Series. Luis Castillo hit a floater down the line and Alou went into the stands to catch it. He encountered a bunch of fans and ultimately couldn’t make the play. Steve Bartman didn’t even catch the ball, as it was another fan nearby. There were actually a couple of young kids, about 11 year olds, in the vicinity as well. Because Alou tangled with Bartman, and subsequently threw a tantrum, the entire focus was put on the computer programmer.

Steve Bartman didn’t walk Luis Castillo after that play, Mark Prior did. Steve Bartman didn’t give up a 3-run double to Mike Mordecai, a .213 hitter that year, Kyle Farnsworth did. Steve Bartman didn’t make an error on a double play ball, Alex Gonzalez did. As a matter of fact, Kerry Wood blew a 5-3 lead the next night in Game 7, but somehow, it was Steve Bartman’s fault the Cubs went home.

None of that mattered to the media. They have an obligation to analyze the play. Bartman, although unintentionally, did become part of Game 6. When cropping out all the fans in that area it does appear Alou would have made the play. Unfortunately, baseball games are not played in empty Stadiums. What the media didn’t do is emphasize the other events that happened, which led to the Cubs demise in 2003. It was all Bartman all the time. Even non-sports reporters jumped on the story. Never mind the Marlins were the type of team that came from behind that entire postseason. It didn’t matter, the Cubs fans wanted blood and the goat being led out of town was Steve Bartman. Never mind that maybe, just maybe, the Cinderella story of 2003 was meant to be Florida, not Chicago. Let’s not focus on the fact that perhaps the Cubs weren’t as good as we all thought. It was all on Steve Bartman. Even though the guy issues a 185 word apology, more than was required in my opinion, it still didn’t satisfy the masses.

Bartman has gone into obscurity since that infamous night of October 13th. Rumors spread that he had plastic surgery, left town, and some say he can’t even use a credit card for fear of people finding out who he is. The only person to actually encounter Bartman seems to be Wayne Drehs of ESPN. Drehs was assigned to find Bartman in 2005. He staked out his home, followed him to his place of work, and waited until Bartman emerged at the end of the day. Bartman, always the polite and humble individual, engaged Drehs in a short conversation, said he would take the request to his legal team, and went on his way. A guy needs to hire a legal team because he went to a baseball game. Its only radio and television, right? Credit Drehs for knowing the line of decency and not crossing it for the sake of a story. The final result was a piece describing his encounter with Bartman; one that I recommend you read even though its six years old.

Steve Bartman remains a mystery. He could have profited off this tragedy, but has turned down numerous opportunities to make appearances and sign autographs. He is a better man than me, since I believe the city of Chicago owes him an apology, and some financial reparations.

So who will be this October’s scapegoat? We have Terry Francona in Boston all set in stone. Who’s next? Will it be Brian Cashman if the Yankees pitching fails and they lose? Joe Girardi? Or will the city of Philadelphia tar and feather their team if they don’t win the World Series. That place is where scapegoating incubates on a daily basis. Maybe “Catching Hell” should be shown throughout the countries universities so we can begin to teach the next generation about fair and balanced reporting. Are we that dumb as a society that we can’t enjoy sports debate without tarring and feathering an individual? Time will tell, but I am afraid I have my answer.  Remember, it’s only sports radio and television, no harm can be done.

 You can read my review of the ESPN Film “Catching Hell” over at Sports Media Watchdog 

***

Maybe the fans at the ballpark are learning their lesson. When Robinson Cano hit a run-scoring double off the wall in the fifth inning, the replay clearly showed the fans stepping back as not to touch the ball. Maybe the advent of instant replay rule to judge home runs, coupled with the focus on Bartman all these years later, has made people a bit gun shy about becoming part of the action.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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5 Responses to October Seems to Be More About Scapegoats Than Heroes

  1. Ralph C

    In game 1 of the 2000 World Series, a Yankee fan (shown and interviewed on the Subway Series VHS) didn’t try to catch the Todd Zeile ball off the top of the wall leading to Timo Perez infamy. Point: replay doesn’t influence fan’s decisions to interfere with potential home runs-it depends on the fan.

  2. Erica S

    We live in a very forgetful society. Terry Francona played a major role in the Red Sox organization for eight unforgettable seasons. While it is entirely possible that the team needs a change, I feel bad that Francona had to go out in such a way.

  3. Chuck Johnson

    @Erica and anyone else interested, one thing must be made clear;

    Terry Francona was NOT fired, the decision to leave was 100% his.

    He asked the Red Sox not to pick up the remaining options.

    He told his driver and other staff members on Thursday after returning from Baltimore he would not be coming back.

    We as individuals can interpret the story and how things played out as we see fit; if you only read Dan Shaughnessy’s column yesterday than it would be you impression he was fired.

    If you read Bob Ryan’s or Gordon Eddy’s, then you’d have a different opinion.

    Another thing to consider is it’s looking more and more likely Theo Epstein won’t be coming back either.

    If Francona’s main reason for leaving was the growing divide in their relationship, and if he knew Theo was leaving, then why not come back?

    Same with Theo, if you knew you were leaving, why fire Francona?

    Neither make sense.

  4. Mike Silva

    I agree with Chuck, btw – no way Bobby V co-exists with Theo and the Bill James faction.

    Bobby V had problems with Steve Phillips and autonomy- you think he is coming back to listen to James et al – no way.

    Think more low profile like Wakamatsu or someone like that

  5. Brien Jackson

    Haven’t we learned by now that Valentine is pretty much never a serious candidate for these jobs?

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