It all started with a listing fly ball that edged towards the seats down the left field line at Wrigley Field. Chicago’s left fielder Moises Alou seemed to have a beat on it, he lept against the padded brick wall… and came back down empty-handed.
A seemingly mundane 26-year old Cubs fan sitting in the front row down the line, donning a faded Cubs ball cap, a green sweatshirt and headphones had snatched the foul ball, leaving Alou in an absolute rage, yelling and throwing his glove in frustration. The fan who seemed so meaningless for the majority of the game would never be meaningless again in his lifetime. By the end of the night, every sports fan in the country would know his name: Steve Bartman.
In typical Cubs fashion, the team imploded in a high-stakes situation, leading 3-0 in the top of the eighth inning in Game Six. Following the ‘Bartman Incident’ as it’s become known, shortstop Alex Gonzalez – who was known as one of the best defenders in the game, having made only ten errors all season long – booted a routine ground ball. Team ace Mark Prior, who had cruised through the first seven innings, then tossed a wild pitch. Before the dust settled, the Florida Marlins had turned a 3-0 deficit into an 8-3 lead, leaving Cubs fans across the globe speechless.
During the bottom of the eighth, Bartman remained in his seat, located in aisle 4, row 4, seat 13, as he was pelted with beer, trash and other items while hundreds of Cubs fans chanted “—hole” over and over again. Before long, stadium security arrived, putting a jacket over his head and leading him to the lower levels of the stadium in hopes of keeping him safe from fans who were still convinced that he had cost the Cubs their first World Series appearance since 1945.
The next day, Bartman didn’t show up for work. Hours later, a statement was released on his behalf.
“There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last 24 hours. I’ve been a Cub fan all my life and fully understand the relationship between my actions and the outcome of the game. 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 Moises Alou, much less that he may have had a play. Had I thought for one second that the ball was playable or had I seen Alou approaching I would have done whatever I could to get out of the way and give Alou a chance to make the catch. To Moises Alou, the Chicago Cubs organization, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Cub fans everywhere I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan’s broken heart. I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends, and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs.”
As Cubs fans everywhere know, the team went on to lose Game Six, 8-3 and lost again the next night by a 9-6 final, and the World Series drought bore on. As the team’s title aspirations faded, especially over the past three seasons, it appears that what was once hatred for Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, has also begun to diminish. According to Bartman spokesman Frank Murtha, he has continued to live his life in a very private manner.
Because of the kind of person he is, he has continued to live his life in a manner with the same moral fiber he had going into the incident. He continues to work. Has this incident posed challenges to him? Yes. Has he more than overcome them? Yes. But he has been bigger than those who have commercially exploited the incident.
What this all comes down to is that Steve Bartman acted as any of us would. He was sitting in the stands and a fly ball from a Major League Baseball game – a playoff game at that – was headed in his direction. He stayed behind the railing, he stayed in his seat and he tried to catch the ball. Bartman didn’t cost the Cubs a trip to the World Series. Spotty fielding, weak mental composure and a belief in a curse kept the team from reaching the World Series.
Stay strong, Steve. Stay strong.