When the Chicago Cubs made it to the National League playoffs, I could not keep my eyes off of the television. Then in one horrible inning of Game 6, everything went downhill after one over-enthusiastic fan stuck his hand over the field to grab a foul ball.
The chain of events that followed quickly afterwards cost the Cubs the series. Eight runs were hammered in by the Florida Marlins in one inning, turning a 3-0 game into an 8-3 rout. Shortstop Alex Martinez dropped the ball in a mind-boggling error. I would not go far to say that the fan interference completely and utterly demoralized the Cubs.
The fan in question, a 26-year-old management consultant and Little League coach, was escorted out of the stadium by security for his own safety. As crowds in the stadium chanted deafening obscenities at the man that could be heard on national television, he was pelted with everything from bags of peanuts to unopened beer cans.
Security guards rushed the man to his car with his jacket pulled over his head. The next morning, intrepid “journalists” had their hands on his name and home address; information that made it into the pages of the Chicago Sun-Times and onto CNN.
One online blogger even took the trouble to do a Google search on the fan to find out his hobbies. For the record, they included Tom Clancy novels and “The West Wing.”
The Chicago Sun-Times’ article even included a thinly-veiled home address. In an interview, Sun-Times Editor in Chief Michael Cook defended publishing all this.
“It is the biggest news story in town, and this is Chicago. We talked about it for a little while and came down on the side of publishing it. It was not 100 to 0, but the decision was made and on we go.”
It would not be too wild a guess that this man will have to move away from this address, or even be too wild a guess that he will be moving far away from Chicago. This was the first time the Cubs had made the playoffs since 1945 and Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou were poised to take them to the Series.
But that does not warrant the fan’s national crucifixion. The ball he caught had dozens of hands grabbing for it, most poised over the field also. From his angle, there was no way of telling that the ball was still over the field and not in the stands.
However, that didn’t matter to the vultures in the media who jumped into overdrive. Smug color commentators on Fox’s Cubs-Marlins broadcast the next night announced that they would not reveal the name of the fan.
Then, immediately afterwards, they read an apology for a fan’s action at the previous game with the name of the fan in question. Putting two and two together took a matter of seconds. It didn’t matter either to The Chicago Sun-Times, who even went so far as to publish his workplace’s name.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich even jokingly suggested the witness protection program for the fan, but added “If he commits a crime, he won’t get a pardon from this governor. You’ve got to be looking out for your team.”
For all intents and purposes, his life is ruined. He won’t be able to leave the house for a long time. He will have to move. He will have to quit his job. Plastic surgery might even be a wise idea.
All thanks to newspapers and television news, who decided that appeasing the bloodlust of Cubs fans was more important than doing the honorable thing for one poor idiot whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the worst time.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at N_terminal@yahoo.com.