Reynolds Rap

Scapegoats and struggling teams: The Cubs vs. Zynga

scape•goat \skāp-gōt\
1.    A person made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.
2.    Chiefly biblical. A goat let loose in the wilderness after the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on its head.

On Oct. 14, 2003, lifelong Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman took his place in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field to watch Game 6 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins. In the eighth inning with the Cubs up three–zip and holding a 3-to-2 game lead in the best-of-seven series, Marlins’ second baseman Luis Castillo tapped a foul ball toward left field. Several people in the stands reached out for the ball, but Steve Bartman was the only one to make contact – just as Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou was attempting to catch it. Bartman deflected the ball, and Alou came up with an empty glove.

Had Alou caught the ball, it would have been the second out of the inning and the Cubs would have been just four outs from winning the pennant; instead they gave up eight runs that inning and went on to lose the game. Security guards had to escort Bartman from the stadium as angry fans blamed him for the loss. When local media gave up his name and address, Bartman even received police protection for a time.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker admitted he didn’t see the play, but he publicly blamed Bartman, as did Alou. The Cubs organization, in an attempt to diffuse the situation, issued a press release thanking the fans for their “tremendous support” that year, then stating, “We would also like to remind everyone that games are decided by what happens on the playing field – not in the stands.” Several players including Mark Prior, the pitcher on the mound that night, came forward in support of Bartman. “We had chances to get out of that situation,” he said. “Everybody in the clubhouse and management knows that play is not the reason we lost the game.”

Despite support from the organization and some players, angry fans turned Bartman into one of sports history’s all-time biggest scapegoats. The fact that the Marlins scored eight runs to the Cubs three, that usually sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez dropped an important ball, or that the Marlins whipped the Cubs badly in Game 7 meant nothing to the angry mob. There were death threats, and Bartman went into hiding.

So what happened to that famous ball? A Chicago lawyer quietly snatched it up and sold it at auction in December 2003 for more than $100,000 to Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group. On Feb. 26, 2004, special effects expert Michael Lantieri blew the ball up at a public event, and in 2005 the ball was boiled, the steam captured and distilled, and the essence added to the sauce of a “Scapegoat Pasta” special at the restaurant. Meanwhile, Bartman was offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell his story, asked to attend autograph signings, and invited to Wrigley Field as a VIP, but he refused them all. In 2011 – eight years after the incident – he declined to appear in an ESPN documentary and turned down six figures to do a Super Bowl commercial. To this day, Bartman remains in hiding.

Like those angry, delusional folks in the Windy City, there seems to be an awful lot of scapegoating going on recently in the Silicon Valley and the high tech world of San Francisco. Not even a year ago, companies such as Facebook and Zynga were seen as the saviors of our local economy, but so far, they’ve been nothing but a letdown.

When Facebook board member and early investor Peter Thiel unloaded 20 million shares of the social network at the end of a lockup period, pundits and investors tried to blame him for the stock’s demise. In reality, that demise started the day Facebook went public and continues as the company produces weak numbers and struggles with monetizing its mobile platform. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who may be a great hacker but appears unable to hack heading a major corporation, continues to hide under his hoodie, except for one interview at the TechCrunch Disrupt 2012 conference last month, where he blamed focusing on HTML5 (a language for structure and presenting content on the World Wide Web) for Facebook’s problems.

With the stock of his company just a buck and change short of becoming a penny stock, Zynga’s self-absorbed CEO Mark Pincus “reorganized” his staff, stripping chief operating officer John Schappert (whom he stole from rival Electronic Arts) of his duties. The news came after dismal second quarter earnings, and since Schappert’s departure there has been a mass exodus of other Zynga top-level employees. Meanwhile, Pincus and his banker friends face an SEC investigation for insider trading after they unloaded millions of shares for top dollar before all the bad news drove the price down (shares of Zynga are off nearly 70 percent from December’s $10 IPO price). Unfazed by all the turmoil, and content to scapegoat everything from Schappert’s performance to the lack of legalized online gambling in the United States, Pincus recently purchased a Pacific Heights mansion for $16 million where his neighbors will be Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and the Gettys. Hopefully the house is filled with mirrors for Pincus to gaze into when he’s looking for the real person to blame for Zynga’s death march. I guarantee it won’t be some high tech
version of Steve Bartman staring back.

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