I was newly married, sitting in our apartment when it happened. It was October 14, 2003, Game Six of the 2003 World Series. As a lifelong Cubs fan, it was a moment that moved from sheer joy to utter agony. A team that had not won a World Series since 1908 and had not appeared in the World Series since 1945 -- this was our moment. We were five outs away from the World Series.
Then it happened. Marlins second-baseman Luis Castillo hit a fly ball to left field. It curled around and headed toward the stands. Outfielder, Moises Alou went up with his glove and, well, you know what happened. A Cubs fan, Steve Bartman, happened to reach out and try to catch the ball, apparently interfering with Alou.
This incident has become one of the most famous moments in Chicago sports history and certainly one of strangest, most compelling incidents in all of American sports history. It was a life-changing moment for that fan, Steve Bartman. Like Bill Buckner of the Red Sox, Steve Bartman became the goat in Chicago. He had to have security take him home after the game. Media camped out at his house. His brother had to release a statement of apology.
This week ESPN memorialized this incident with a new documentary, “Catching Hell.” It’s a compelling look at the entire episode and the negative impact it had on this ordinary guy who became infamous overnight.
But what most impressed me has been Bartman’s reaction in the eight years since that fateful night. He has virtually disappeared from sight. He doesn’t have a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a website.
Bartman has resumed a normal life, still working for the same company he worked for years before. He has turned down millions of dollars, including the opportunity to be featured in a Super Bowl commercial, free vacations, and a variety of other perks. In this age of instant celebrity, where people are famous for being famous, Steve Bartman didn’t cash in. He could have improved his life dramatically, become wealthy, leveraged his newfound success into a famous career. Wikipedia summarizes Bartman’s opportunities like this:
Trying to maintain a low profile, Bartman declined interviews, endorsement deals, and requests for public appearances, and his family changed their phone number to avoid harassing phone calls. He requested that any gifts sent to him by Florida Marlins fans be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In July 2008, Bartman was offered $25,000 to autograph a picture of himself at National Sports Collectors Convention in Rosemont, Illinois, but he refused the offer. He declined to appear as a VIP at Wrigley Field. In 2011, eight years after the incident, he declined to appear in an ESPN documentary, and he declined a six-figure offer to appear in a Super Bowl commercial.
In fact, the only person who has made money off of this incident is the guy who ended up with that fateful ball. He made a cool $113,824.16. But Bartman didn’t receive a dime. A Sports Illustrated column written soon after this incident in 2003 says this:
There are people out there who would kill for the kind of attention you’re getting right now, Steve, including every Democrat running for president. But maybe you’re different. Maybe you’re one of the last people left in America who is not starved for celebrity, no matter how brief or empty. Maybe you’d actually rather live your life in privacy and peace. That’s all the more reason you should chase every last cheesy opportunity out there. The more you drink from that cup of publicity, the faster you’ll drain it. Before you know it, hardly anyone will remember who you are or why they once cared about you so much.
I don’t know about you, but I find this complete lack of narcissism and self-interest by Bartman compelling and refreshing. In a world where anyone who can sue does, where folks like Levi Johson, the Kardashian sisters, Joe the Plumber, and all kinds of fringe celebrities milk a career out of an ounce of fame, Bartman rejects all opportunities for enrichment and retreats into anonymity.
Might there be a lesson here for followers of Christ? Thankfully most of us won’t be placed in a position like Steve, where suddenly we’re all over the news. We won’t have to consider his same choices. But in the everyday moments of life, we might resist the pull of the culture toward self-promotion. We might weigh our actions, not in terms of what we can get out of people and situations, but in terms of what we can give back.Too often we’re motivated, even in our Christian endeavors, by what moves us on up. We’d trade what we hold dear for a few fleeting moments of fame and a small fortune.
There is nothing inherently wrong with accepting promotion and taking opportunities. But discipleship isn’t about cashing in, its about sacrifice. We’d do well to mimic our Lord, who “made himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7) He rejected offers to shortcut the sacrifice of the cross. He turned down the opportunity to leverage His deity for earthly gain.
We best mimic Jesus when we are among the few who live authentically, without an agenda, without an angle, who are not looking for ways to cash in, but to serve.
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