Hallowed place, toxic space: “celebrating” Steve Bartman and Chicago Cubs' fan pilgrimage

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This paper is about travelling and exploring, assessing the historical importance of fan pilgrimages and the geographic spaces in which and through which fans travel to get closer to their object of fandom. But it also about how those spaces can become toxic; painful reminders of the object turned bad, tragic failure and community rejection. Through a case study of the Steve Bartman incident during the 2003 National League baseball championship playoff game between the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins at Wrigley Field, and an auto-ethnographic study of the physical grounds and stadium, I present ongoing research into fan tourism and sports fandom. The vitriolic reception Bartman received when he inadvertently interfered with a potentially game-winning play that might have seen the Cubs reach their first World Series since 1945 highlights toxic fan behavior familiar to many sports. However, that the seat he occupied on the night serves as an unofficial monument to that moment suggests that even in great controversy and disappointment Cubs fans find physical space and “being there” just as important to winning or celebrating success. Fans of the Cubs are open in describing themselves as the unlucky losers (eg. not having won the World Series since 1908 until only this past season), building a fan identity defined by a so-called curse and based on years of past failures. Therefore, what happened around the Bartman incident and the fact his seat is a fan tourist site visited by baseball fans and Cub enthusiasts alike tells us that being a fan is not just about celebrating the good or remembering the great, it is also about recognizing the bad and mourning the worst. Visiting and documenting through taking selfies at locations within the stadium, especially Bartman’s seat, act as cathartic rituals brought to life through physical objects. Offering Cubs fans a chance to come to terms with their team’s failures and celebrate their fandom of the team, for good or ill, no matter what it costs in terms of emotional distress.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-365
Number of pages18
JournalParticipations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • Fandom
  • Fan Tourism
  • baseball
  • toxic fandom
  • Pilgrimage
  • Chicago Cubs
  • Steve Bartman
  • Wrigley Field


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