Dan Shulman is no stranger to making big calls he didn’t expect to make. He was the announcer for the legendary game five between the Blue Jays and the Rangers in the 2015 ALDS. You know, the one where the benches cleared. Twice. In one inning. It took 18 minutes for the umps to figure out what the hell they were supposed to do, and while they waited, the fans decided they wanted to throw things all over the field. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen and I was watching on TV, Dan Shulman was there. Dan Shulman was also the person tasked with announcing that Osama Bin Laden, former leader of Al Qaeda, had been compromised, and he had to make this announcement in the middle of Sunday night baseball, a time slot where people generally don’t expect to hear news of that magnitude. Back to the baseball though, because I could go on forever about how Dan Shulman is a great announcer and all of the weird things he has seen. That 2015 ALDS catastrophe was exactly 12 years after the famed Steve Bartman incident, which Dan Shulman was also announcing. “Moisés is unhappy with the fan. Moisés went into the seats; he could have had that ball if a fan didn’t interfere with him.” That’s a quote from Dan, who was likely just as shocked as everyone else watching about what had just happened. It took everyone a minute to figure out what they should be feeling, and when they did, they let everyone know. They were mad. 40,000 people, in the place generally thought of as the friendliest place in baseball, were all booing a very confused Steve Bartman. Full disclosure: I’m a bandwagon Cubs fan so I’m sure this situation doesn’t hurt me nearly as bad as it would hurt someone who paid to see their favorite team that hadn’t won a championship in nearly 100 years attempt to get one step closer to accomplishing something once again that no one currently alive has ever seen the Cubs do. The Cubs hadn’t (and still haven’t) been to the World Series since 1945, and this was the closest they had gotten since then. They were leading the Marlins 3-2 in the series, and 3-0 in the game. Mark Prior was on the mound and had thrown a great game until the eighth inning. With one out and a runner on second Luis Castillo hit a foul ball down the left field line. It was close to the wall and Moisés Alou got underneath it as he prepared to jump up to snag it and get the second out of the inning when an unsuspecting hand reached out and plucked the ball from the air before Moisés could grab it. Steve Bartman likely paid around 300 dollars to see the team he had rooted for his whole life play in the biggest game he would likely ever see. Steve Bartman probably never thought he’d have a chance to catch a foul ball, being that there were 40,000 other people there, and the odds were pretty good that he wouldn’t. But alas, one foul ball did, and it made Steve Bartman become the most hated man in Chicago, at least that night. As the barrage of boos continued on, the game did as well. The Cubs lost that game obviously, and the series, but whenever it comes up, everyone just thinks of it as “the Bartman game.” Why is that? Why is everyone so quick to forget that the Cubs managed to give up 8 runs in one inning, or that they lost game seven, or that the crowd completely turned against them at the end of game six? How is all of that Steve Bartman’s fault? He was hiding during game seven, and he has been ever since, how did he cause that? Why didn’t the other fans just move on and go back to supporting their team? Well, there’s a few reasons. First of all, Moisés Alou didn’t let it go. He yelled something at Bartman and threw his glove down, and the rest of the stadium followed his lead, meaning that for the rest of the series the Cubs fans had essentially decided that all was lost and they should just give up. The players didn’t give up, losing game seven 9-6, but it didn’t matter what the players did in game seven, they had already lost. In Cubs baseball when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. If Steve Bartman hadn’t blocked the ball, they still might have lost that game, there’s no way to know. But the reason that everyone blames Steve is mostly because everything in sports needs a scapegoat, and Steve Bartman is just a very unlucky person, who became a part of a long history of sports scapegoats when he went to catch a foul ball at a baseball game. Steve wasn’t the only one to reach for the ball.shapesThree other people in that picture were reaching for that ball, Steve just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The abuse from the rest of the fans at the game got so bad that he had to be escorted out because security feared there might be violence against him. Steve hasn’t given an interview about the incident to anyone, and he’s now working in financial services, still in Chicago, at least as of 2013. He still hasn’t been back to Wrigley since that game, according to his agent. Steve never wanted to be known. He just wanted to root for the team he loves. Steve Bartman doesn’t deserve what he went through, but no scapegoat ever does. A few years before Bartman, it was Nick Anderson missing three free throws in the 1995 NBA Finals against the Rockets. Shaq also had 7 turnovers in that game, but who cares, that wasn’t scapegoatable enough. Andres Escobar scoring an own goal in the world cup literally cost him his life in 1994. Before that, it was Chris Webber, calling a timeout that Michigan didn’t have, essentially giving North Carolina a national championship. The fab five didn’t win a championship, and that most certainly isn’t all on Chris Webber. Before him, it was Scott Norwood, the Bills kicker that missed the possible Super Bowl winning kick wide right in 1991. That isn’t all his fault either, he was 5 of 9 from the season from beyond 40 yards; the coaching staff should have known better than to make him try that kick that ultimately gave the Giants the win.  In 1986 it was Bill Buckner, missing a ground ball between his legs that gave the Mets the win in game six, even though the Red Sox went in to the inning up by two, and managed to give up two runs in the inning that were most certainly not Buckner’s fault, including one run, the tying one, being caused by a wild pitch. The first sports scapegoat, or at least the first big one, was Fred Merkel, who is known for not touching second base on his way to home on what he thought would be the series winning run for the Giants against the, well, you guessed it, the Cubs. This was 1908, the Cubs’ last World Series win. They had to replay the game because of his miscue, and the Giants obviously lost. He was ridiculed so much that he went in to hiding basically until he died. He was 19 when this happened. Sports are cruel. All of these people, while their circumstances are different, all have at least one thing in common: they deserve way better than they got. Time heals all, and it’s easy to say now that Cubs fans shouldn’t have caused Steve Bartman to nearly go into witness protection. It’s easy to say now that Scott Norwood doesn’t deserve every Bills fan blaming him for a Super Bowl loss. Or that Chris Webber doesn’t deserve the blame for the fab five never getting a title. Nick Anderson wasn’t the only player on the court that game. Andres Escobar sure as hell shouldn’t have died because of a mistake. Bill Buckner should have been forgiven quickly. But that’s the problem with scapegoats in sports, they’re necessary. Without scapegoats there’s nothing to blame for your team’s shortcomings. It’s way easier to blame one person than admit that the other team just won the game. Is that fair? No, of course not, but it’s part of sports. I can admit that I’m not perfect. I can admit that I’ve blamed one person for a loss before (don’t worry, Tim Beck. I still hate you. So much). But I’ve been trying to avoid blaming one person for losses recently, and honestly it makes sports so much more fun. Maybe scapegoats will never go away in sports, but they should certainly be forgiven far quicker than they currently are. So if you still hate Steve Bartman, Nick Anderson, Andres Escobar (god I hope no one still hates Andres Escobar), Chris Webber, Scott Norwood, Bill Buckner, or Fred Merkel (why would you ever even think about him), just stop for a minute, and remember that these are still people, and they didn’t deserve anything that they went through, and maybe they do deserve forgiveness for their crimes against your team.

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