Steve Bartman incident
The Steve Bartman incident occurred during a Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason game played between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins on October 14, 2003, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.
In the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS), with Chicago ahead 3–0 and holding a three games to two lead in the best of seven series, several spectators attempted to catch a foul ball off the bat of Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo. One of the fans – Steve Bartman – reached for the ball, deflecting it and disrupting a potential catch by Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945. Instead, the Cubs ended up surrendering eight runs in the inning and losing the game, 8–3. When they were eliminated in the seventh game the next day, the incident was seen as the "first domino" in the turning point of the series.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, had to be escorted from the stadium by security guards and was placed under police protection for a time when his name and address were made public on Major League Baseball message boards.
In 2011, ESPN produced a documentary film exploring the subject as part of its 30 for 30 series. Titled Catching Hell, the film draws similarities between Bill Buckner's fielding error late in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and the Bartman incident. It also displays the incident through all perspectives.
Foul ball incident
At the time of the incident, Mark Prior was pitching a three-hit shutout for the Cubs in the eighth inning. The Cubs led the game 3–0 and also held a series lead of three games to two. They were five outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945; the Cubs had not been baseball's champions since 1908. Luis Castillo was at bat for the Marlins with one out, and a full count, with teammate Juan Pierre on second base.
Bartman was sitting in the front row along the left field corner wall behind the on-field bullpen when a pop foul off the bat of Castillo drifted toward his seat. Cubs left fielder Moisés Alou approached the wall, jumped, and reached for the ball. Bartman attempted to catch the ball, failed to secure it, and in the process deflected it away from Alou's glove. Alou slammed his glove down in frustration and shouted at several fans. The Cubs, in particular Alou and Prior, argued for interference, but umpire Mike Everitt ruled there was no fan interference because the ball had broken the plane of the wall separating the field of play from the stands and entered the stands.
Everitt's ruling has been heavily scrutinized over the years. For example, the authors of Mad Ball: The Bartman Play argue that photographs show Bartman's arms extending into the playing field and that Castillo should have been called out due to fan interference.
"Again in the air, down the left field line. Alou... reaching into the stands.... and couldn't get it and is livid with a fan!"
For the Cubs and Marlins
Following the incident, the Marlins scored eight runs:
- Continuing his at bat, Castillo drew a walk. Ball four was a wild pitch from Prior, which allowed Pierre to advance to third base.
- Iván Rodríguez, on an 0–2 pitch, singled to drive in the first run of the inning, making the score 3–1.
- Miguel Cabrera hit a ground ball to Alex Gonzalez, who misfielded the ball. Had Gonzalez fielded the ball, the Cubs could have either ended the half-inning with a double play, still ahead by two runs, or at minimum, added the second out. Instead, all runners were safe and the bases were loaded.
- Derrek Lee doubled, tying the score and chasing Prior from the game.
- Relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth issued an intentional walk to Mike Lowell, then gave up a sacrifice fly to Jeff Conine, giving Florida a 4–3 lead. Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa missed the cut-off man, allowing Lowell to move up to second base. The Cubs issued another intentional walk to Todd Hollandsworth which again loaded the bases.
- A bases-clearing double from Mike Mordecai broke the game open, making the score 7–3.
- Mike Remlinger replaced Farnsworth and Juan Pierre singled to put Florida ahead 8–3.
- Finally Luis Castillo, whose foul popup initiated the controversy, popped out to second to end the inning. In total, the Marlins had sent twelve batters to the plate and scored eight runs. Florida won the game 8–3.
The next night, back at Wrigley Field, Florida overcame Kerry Wood and a 5–3 deficit to win 9–6, and win the pennant. The Marlins would go on to win the 2003 World Series, beating the New York Yankees four games to two. The Marlins have not qualified for the postseason since.
The Cubs did not win another playoff game after the incident until 2015, when they defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card game; they were later swept in the NLCS by the New York Mets. Finally, on October 22, 2016, the Cubs overcame all their difficulties and advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945, sparking nationwide reactions and fan forgiveness for the 2003 incident.
Bartman remained seated as Fox repeatedly broadcast live shots of him between multiple replays of the foul ball. The somber image of Bartman wearing a Cubs baseball cap, glasses, headset, and green turtleneck shirt became memorable. Because there were no replay boards or JumboTrons in Wrigley Field at the time, no one in the crowd knew of Bartman until many of the attendees' friends and family members, who were watching the game on TV, started calling them on cell phones, informing them of Bartman and his appearance. Many Cub fans began pointing toward Bartman, repeatedly chanting "asshole". Bartman had to be led away from the park under security escort for his own safety as many Cubs fans shouted insults toward him and others threw debris at Bartman, with one fan even dumping a cup of beer on him. Security escorted Bartman and two people who accompanied him to the game toward the exit tunnel from the field. News footage of the game showed him surrounded by security as passersby pelted him with drinks and other debris. Bartman's name, as well as personal information about him, appeared on Major League Baseball's online message boards minutes after the game ended. As many as six police cars gathered outside his home to protect Bartman and his family following the incident. Afterwards, then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich suggested that Bartman join a witness protection program, while then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush offered Bartman asylum.
Shortly after the incident, Bartman released a statement, saying he was "truly sorry." He added, "I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moisés Alou, much less that he may have had a play." 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.
Many fans associated the Bartman incident with the Curse of the Billy Goat, allegedly laid on the Cubs during the 1945 World Series after Billy Sianis and his pet goat were ejected from Wrigley Field. The Cubs lost that series to the Detroit Tigers in seven games and did not return to the World Series until 2016. Bartman was also compared to the black cat that ran across Shea Stadium near an on-deck Ron Santo during a September 9, 1969, regular season game between the Cubs and the New York Mets. The Cubs were in first place at the time, but after the cat appeared, the Cubs lost the game and eventually fell eight games behind the Mets in the standings, missing that season's playoffs. On Fox, Thom Brennaman said of the incident, as well as the Marlins' subsequent rally: "It's safe to say that every Cubs fan has to be wondering right now, is the Curse of the Billy Goat alive and well?"
Destruction of the Bartman ball
The loose ball was snatched up by a Chicago lawyer and sold at an auction in December 2003. Grant DePorter purchased it for $113,824.16 on behalf of Harry Caray's Restaurant Group. On February 26, 2004, it was publicly detonated by special effects expert Michael Lantieri.
In 2005, the remains of the ball were used by the restaurant in a pasta sauce. While no part of the ball itself was in the sauce, the ball was boiled and the steam captured, distilled, and added to the final concoction.
The Bartman seat
In the years following the incident, the seat Bartman sat in – Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 – became a tourist attraction at Wrigley Field, with fans taking pictures of each other sitting in it.
In April 2008, Moisés Alou was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "You know what the funny thing is? I wouldn't have caught it, anyway." However, Alou later disputed that story: "I don't remember that," he said to a writer from The Palm Beach Post. "If I said that, I was probably joking to make [Bartman] feel better. But I don't remember saying that." Alou added, "It's time to forgive the guy and move on."
In the 2011 documentary Catching Hell, Alou states, "I'm convinced 100% that I had that ball in my glove."
Defense of Bartman
After the incident, the Cubs issued the following press release:
The Chicago Cubs would like to thank our fans for their tremendous outpouring of support this year. We are very grateful.
We would also like to remind everyone that games are decided by what happens on the playing field—not in the stands. It is inaccurate and unfair to suggest that an individual fan is responsible for the events that transpired in Game 6. He did what every fan who comes to the ballpark tries to do—catch a foul ball in the stands. That's one of the things that makes baseball the special sport that it is.
This was an exciting season and we're looking forward to working towards an extended run of October baseball at Wrigley Field.
Several Cubs players publicly absolved Bartman of blame. Mark Prior said, "We had chances to get out of that situation. I hung an 0–2 curveball to [Ivan] Rodriguez that he hit for a single. Alex Gonzalez, who's a sure thing almost at shortstop, the ball came up on him ... and things just snowballed. Everybody in the clubhouse and management knows that play is not the reason we lost the game." Former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe said that the crowd's reactions to Bartman "crushed [him]". "Right after I saw what happened with the fan, I woke up the next morning and told my wife that if the Cubs asked me to throw out the first pitch in the World Series, I was going to take that fan out to the mound with me," he said. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig also came to Bartman's defense, telling an interviewer, "[W]hile I understand that people felt so strongly and that their hearts were just breaking, to blame this young man, who is the most devoted Cub fan ... it's just unfair. When I read his statement, it broke my heart. ... If you want to blame the Curse of the Bambino and the goat in Chicago or a series of other things, that's fine. But blaming Steve Bartman is just not right."
Several of Bartman's friends and family members spoke out in the days following the incident. His father told the Chicago Sun-Times, "He's a huge Cubs fan. I'm sure I taught him well. I taught him to catch foul balls when they come near him." A neighbor added, "He's a good kid, a wonderful son, never in any trouble. I don't think he should be blamed at all. People reach for balls. This just happened to be a little more critical. If Florida didn't score all the runs, you wouldn't be standing here." One of Bartman's high school friends wrote to the Chicago Tribune, saying, "He was the kind of person you wanted to be around – funny, yet sincere, and always looking out for his friends. It's been years since I've seen Steve, but I know that he never, ever would do anything to intentionally hurt anybody." Five days after the game, a group of 13- and 14-year-old baseball players whom Bartman had coached held a rally for Bartman in a park in Northbrook. One boy called him "a great coach, a great person and a great role model". Another remarked that "the foul ball had nothing to do with the rest of the game".
Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti wrote, "A fan in that situation should try his best to get out of the way, even if he isn't of the mind to see Alou approaching, as Bartman claims. Still, he's also a human being who was reacting in a tense, unusual moment. And the resulting verbal abuse and trash-hurling, followed by the Neanderthal threats and creepy reaction on the Internet, hasn't reflected well on Chicago's sports culture. As it is, everyone thinks the prototypical local fans are those mopes from the Superfans skits on Saturday Night Live."
In a 2011 interview on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, Cubs President Theo Epstein expressed a desire for the team to reach out to Bartman. "From afar, it seems like it would be an important step. Maybe a cathartic moment that would allow people to move forward together. I'm all about having an open mind, an open heart and forgiveness. Those are good characteristics for an organization to have as well. He's a Cubs fan. That's the most important thing," said Epstein.
In 2012, former Cubs player Doug Glanville said, "[I]t was easy to look at Steve Bartman [...] But that was not the whole story by a long shot." He argued that the Cubs lost the momentum of the series when Marlins ace Josh Beckett shut down the Cubs in Game 5. Glanville drew parallels between that game and Barry Zito's game-winning performance in Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS.
As of 2013, Bartman still lives in Chicago and works for a financial services consulting company. He still declines interviews and, while he is still a Cubs fan, has never returned to Wrigley Field.
On October 2, 2015, Cubs fan Keque Escobedo created a GoFundMe campaign seeking $5,000 in donations to send Bartman to the 2015 National League Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. While the campaign was "more than halfway" finished, Bartman declined the offer. The funds went to the Alzheimer's Association instead.
In mid-October 2016, at the time the Chicago Cubs were playing in the 2016 NLCS, the Chicago Sun-Times reached out to Bartman's attorney and spokesman, Frank Murtha. As is usual, Bartman through Murtha declined an interview. As of the evening of October 20, 2016, the 2016 NLCS had drawn comparisons anew to the 2003 NLCS in which the incident happened and Bartman was mentioned by name:
- The Cubs were the NLCS home team, meaning they would host games 1 and 2 (and 6 and 7 if necessary)
- The Cubs were up in the series 3 games to 2 after 5 games, and would return to Wrigley Field needing to win either game 6 or game 7
- The Cubs won game 6 by a score of 5-0 over the Los Angeles Dodgers and would return to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.
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