The grace of Steve Bartman: Lovable losers, Wrigley Field and one of the Cubs greatest fans

October 13, 2015

You might not remember the Steve Bartman incident that took place on October 14, 2003, at Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs took on the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series. If you don't, I envy you. Most of my sports memories are wonderful but not this one. This was sports at its absolute worst. I tried to watch the 2011 30 for 30 documentary film produced by ESPN on the incident, but I could not finish it. I turned it off when I began to feel physically ill.

Mark Prior of the Cubs was pitching a 3-hit shutout in the 8th inning. The Cubs led 3-0 with a series lead of three to two. In other words, the Chicago Cubs were five outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945. One of sports most beloved franchises has not been a champion since 1908. The Cubs moved into the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in 1916 and have a sub .500 winning percentage since that time. Famous Cubs fan, George Will, in his delightful little book about the Cubs, A Nice Little Place on the North Side sums up the life of a Cubs fan as “a lifelong tutorial in deferred gratification.”

Another lifelong, diehard Cubs fan is a man named Steve Bartman. I can only imagine the excitement he had in securing a great seat in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113, right next to the field. He was hoping to see his beloved Cubs clinch a birth in the World Series. Bartman was a 26-year-old Little League baseball coach who lived three miles from Wrigley. He is the kind of fan that wears headphones to listen to the Cubs broadcast while at the park. This was not a social event for him; this was baseball, something he lived daily as he followed his beloved Cubs. There is no way Bartman could have known as he took his seat that his dream come true was about to become a nightmare. Many of the 40,000 fans at Wrigley that night would chant a profanity directed at him. He would be pelted with objects and leave Wrigley surrounded by police officers intent on protecting his life. Why?

Bartman was in the front row down the left field line for the NLCS game when he tried unsuccessfully to make a catch on a foul ball hit in the stands. He did not reach over onto the field of play, and two other fans in the area were also attempting to catch the foul ball hit into the stands (Bartman was closest). Moises Alou, Cubs leftfielder, attempted to make a play on the ball and was unable to do so when the ball contacted Bartman’s hand. What did Bartman do? The same thing countless baseball fans do at every game. His father told the Chicago Sun-Times, “He's a huge Cubs fan. I'm sure I taught him well. I taught him to catch foul balls when they come near him.” Some Cubs fans have explained their historic futility with ridiculous ideas about ‘the goat curse’ or “the black cat curse.” While those notions are silly, on October 14, 2003, there was a young Cubs fan who became the scapegoat for 95 years of baseball misery.

If Alou would have made the catch, which is questionable, the Cubs would have had two outs in the inning and been four outs away from the World Series. What happened on the field after that foul ball is what actually cost the Cubs the game and a trip to the World Series. The Marlins went on to score eight runs and win the game. Cubs pitcher Prior walked Luis Castillo who had hit the foul ball, Alex Gonzalez misplayed a ground ball, Sammy Sosa missed the cut off man on the throw from the outfield, and the Marlins batted around with Castillo ending the inning on a pop-up to second base. The Marlins tied the series and won the next night to clinch a spot in the World Series, which they won against the Yankees.

There is a lot of blame to go around when evaluating this horrific incident, but none of it belongs to Steve Bartman. It is doubtful the fans would have reacted so violently if Alou had not slammed his glove down in frustration and began cursing Bartman and other fans. Alou and Prior vehemently argued the batter should have been out because of fan interference, but umpire Mike Everitt correctly ruled that it was not fan interference because the ball had not broken the plane of the wall separating the field of play from the stands. Inexplicably, Cubs manager Dusty Baker did nothing to calm his team down and focus their concentration back on the game. Baker blamed Bartman after the game. Fox announcer Steve Lyons irresponsibly said with disdain, “I’m surprised someone hasn’t thrown that fan onto the field.”

How did Steve Bartman respond to his vilification? His initial statement about the incident, provided a few hours after, and the only public statement he has ever made, read:

There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last twenty-four hours. I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan's broken heart. I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs.

In an age of crass materialism and people who are famous for being famous, Steve Bartman has rejected publicity and has refused to profit from the situation. There has never been a reporter who has tracked down anyone who has known Bartman that has ever said a bad word about him. He could have made a fortune off of his notoriety but he has not done so. He has been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for appearances, autographs, and commercials, but he has turned down every single dime. The gifts that Bartman did receive he donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the name of Ron Santo, former Cubs third baseman and announcer who was afflicted with the disease. One reporter, Wayne Drehs, who actually tracked Bartman down (which has proven virtually impossible) was mesmerized by his kindness, grace, and the fact he talked about the Cubs win on the impromptu day of the interview. Evidently, Steve Bartman is still a diehard Cubs fan—bless those who persecute you.

I do not know if Steve Bartman is a Christian and have heard he is Jewish, but I do know that this Christian pastor is inspired by his grace, mercy and kindness. It is inherent in our fallen nature to turn our guilt into cries of guilty toward others. There was a day when a sinless man’s fate was put before a mob of guilty sinners and they yelled, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They went on to mock him, ridicule him, spit upon him, and they did not simply threaten to kill him; they crucified him (Mark 15:13-27). Jesus, the sinless Son of God, is the ultimate scapegoat (Lev. 16, 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:14). The 2015 Chicago Cubs recently beat the Pirates in the silly baseball play-in game (that’s another article) and have the opportunity to compete in the NLCS for the first time since the Bartman incident. We are Braves fans (rough year), but my 15-year-old son JP said, “I’m rooting for the Cubs in the postseason so maybe they will leave Bartman alone.” Bartman should be a hero to Cubs fans, not the villain he has sadly become. I am sure it’s no solace to him, but he is a hero to this Braves fan.

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24