1 on 1 Interview with Steve Bartman (Maybe)
"Some people are remembered for a lifetime of great work. I’m remembered for 5 seconds."
Ever been to the baseball game and been hit by a foul ball?
And no… I don’t mean the iconic “reaching out” a la Steve Bartman vs Moises Alou nonsense. I mean been casually sitting in the bleachers, enjoying your beer more than 4 rows away from the field and a foul ball lines off some power hitter’s bat and finds its way to your skull?
It hurts a lot.
And while I don’t speak from experience, I can only assume that getting cracked in the dome with an arrant hardball can really put a damper on your ball game experience. Personally? I’m not too eager to find out.
Along the same parallels, I’ll ask you another question. Ever had an idea? Not like a “I should probably exercise more” boring idea, but a “eureka!” type of idea….
We’ve all had at least one in our lives. (Some worse than others… but that’s for another column)
Its much like that foul ball that has lost its way and for some magic reason specifically chose your head to land on (without the subsequent concussion). I’m not one to come up with a lot of great ideas, and I’m almost certain that my family and friends can attest to that. So when an idea hits me, its hits hard.
Wouldn’t you know it, completely out of the blue, a foul ball hit me in the head in my own living room on Monday, April 16th.
It was a rather crummy day outside and being the lazy sack of bones that I am sometimes, I decided that after a long day at work, I was going to go out and get a pizza. “What a nice treat” I thought… not that I really deserved it, but hey, who turns down pizza? I felt it very fitting considering my hometown Ottawa Senators would be playing game 3 of their playoff series against the visiting New York Rangers that I should replicate the “arena” feel with a nice cold beer and a massive pizza with all the fixings.
It was like a Canadian paradise: hockey, beer, pizza, beer, beer, hockey….
As I sat down and grabbed the remote for my TV, I tuned in to the “usual” hockey station, which in Canada is TSN. It was still early for the game, so I casually scrolled through the channels (god bless fancy satellite TV) to see what else was on. Nothing peaked my interest, which isn’t shocking because you typically only get hockey or Blue Jays games up here. In my sudden disdain for the remote, I casually tossed it on the couch and watched some boring analyst talk about MMA or some garbage like that. I bet those guys couldn’t even throw a baseball….
7:30 PM crept in and I noticed that the hockey game wasn’t coming on. There was no familiar opening tune, no screaming fans and especially no dumb analysts gabbing about player performances.
“Catching Hell” was on – the documentary about Bill Buckner, Steve Bartman and curses that the Cubs and Red Sox may (or may not) have shared.
This drew my attention right away. I now longed for that remote that I had tossed across the room so I could crank the volume. My mind suddenly forgot that hockey was on tv. I sat up at attention, munched my loaded pizza and took in the documentary. My eyes only strayed from the TV during commercial breaks or when my phone would buzz, only to be friends of mine texting me “Turn on TSN” or “Are you watching channel 30?!”
I’ve always been a casual Cubs fan, and only became a true baseball fan in 2008. Its well known amongst my friends that my liking for the Cubs is beyond what most people would call “passionate”.
The documentary played. I watched. The TV and I have always had such a nice relationship.
For those of you who have not seen the documentary, go watch it. Its very well done and even if you’re not a baseball fan, the footage that they have from Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS is outstanding. It sets the stage very well for the events of that night.
As they documentary played, it eventually got to the pivotal point where Alou, Bartman and about 5 other fans around him went for the same ball. The rest is history….
I couldn’t help but have a wide range of emotions watching the documentary…
“Poor Bartman, he never meant any harm”
“Why would the fans mistreat him like that? He wasn’t the only one going for the ball. Would I have done the same?”
“This pizza is really tasty”
As the replay of that foul ball constantly played over and over, that proverbial ball reached out from my TV screen and hit me square in the noggin.
“Where the hell is Steve Bartman today?”
Its a question that a lot of people have been asking for a long time. I took the time to run to my bedroom, snatch up my laptop and park my ass back on the couch. I started where any good writer starts when they want details: Google.
After plugging Bartman’s name into Google, I came up with plenty of strange results. Some were hate sites, some were articles from 2003 about that very game that made Bartman so famous, and one article in particular from thesportdigest.com asked the very same question that I was asking.
Its a valid question. How could someone of such significance simply drop off the face of the planet? Was Bartman really human or was he sent to earth from an alien planet just to screw with a baseball game?
Google search after Google search lead me nowhere and I was growing frustrated. I refused to believe that in the age of technology, Bartman would have no traces of himself online.
I wanted the scoop, but how was a small time baseball writer going to find the elusive Bartman? I was losing hope. It seemed too tall a task…
I began scraping the bottom of the barrel: social networking sites.
Amongst a whole pile of fake Steve Bartman twitter accounts, one stuck out in my eyes. It was labeled @stevebartman03 and the account had a few casual tweets about baseball and a couple of somewhat funny jokes. There were few game 6 jokes (unlike all the blatant fake accounts) and seemed like it was just a casual guy tweeting his thoughts, much like all other twitter users.
I’m no social media guru, but if this was a fake Steve Bartman twitter account, they were doing a really crummy job at it.
I kept telling myself “There’s no bleepin’ way that Bartman has a twitter account. The guy is a ghost”. It didn’t make sense to me. Why would someone who wants to keep themselves so secret all of a sudden make a public account where the public can directly address him. That’s probably the last thing he wants.
I dug further and saw that the account was created on March 20th, 2012. This was relatively fresh….
Could it be that Bartman, after 9 years, was finally coming out of his shell? Was this is slow and eventual re-emerging to the public after so much ridicule and abuse? There were just too many questions and too much doubt.
So I did what any good journalist would do: I sent him a message.
Long story short, the potential Bartman answered pretty quickly but was extremely hesitant. I made it very clear from the start that I wanted to ask him a few questions for my column (and even if it wasn’t the real Bartman, what did I have to lose?) Understandably, he wanted nothing to do with game 6 talk or any questions that would be of ill will against him. We earned each other’s trust and traded emails (which I was strictly warned not to share) and I began asking him questions about the 2012 Cubs.
Turns out Bartman just wants to talk ball.
Here’s what was said:
As a big Cubs fan, what was your reaction to the off season pick up of Theo Epstein?
- How can you not get excited about bring Epstein over? Along with the new ownership of the Red Sox he was given the reins and built a championship caliber team every year. He helped get their farm system back in order and gave the fans a product on the field they could be excited for every night. I think there were a lot of high hopes and expectations when Theo first came over but it is still going to take time to get the team built in the right direction. I would rather see the team set up for multiple runs and not just one year of glory.
Great answer. Next: Are you at all surprised by the cubs hiccuped start in 2012? And if you aren’t, which team aspects do you think need the most work?
- As a long time baseball fan you almost have to disregard these first couple weeks. I mean you can count spring training for whatever you want but until you are in your ball park, and playing starters for nine innings it just isn’t the same. I think before and jump and say I’d like one thing to improve on the team the season needs a little more time. Guys are still getting in grooves, finding their roles. I think if Starlin Castro can be a leader for the defense and become a catalyst on offense the teams offensive woes could be fixed. Matt Garza to me has always seemed to have somewhat of a stand-offish attitude. I could be wrong. I’ve not heard anything about him in the clubhouse but he’s a good pitcher. One of the best in the NL central. I think our pitchers could learn a lot from a guy that succeeded in the AL east and has World Series experience.
Very observant. Speaking about pitching, how about Jeff Samardzija? He’s been impressive so far (and I’m not just talking about his hair). Think he’ll be an impact player for the Cubs this year?
- Who doesn’t appreciate some good hair? Jeff has a chance to be a HUGE impact player for the cubs. 2 wins to start off the year and 13 strikeouts in 13 innings. Those are good numbers to start your season. He pitches to contact though. Along with those K’s he has 14 hits. If the defense can play solid behind him he’s going to keep that ERA down and keep that WHIP down. I would say if he can limit the damage and be pitching into the late innings he’s going to prove his value to this team.
(Funny to note that after I asked this question, Samardzija’s next start was far from good. Bartman’s curse was living up to its name)
Couldn’t agree more. I think he’ll be someone to watch coming up. You talked about WHIP and ERA. Are you a big Sabermetric fan?
- There are some people that go so in depth with stats. Numbers don’t lie. Players need to go out and perform. No one is winning the MVP or Cy Young in April. The first two months of the season are not a big enough sample size. Over several starts and games those numbers will compile and be a great measuring stick for what players are going to do. Take lebron for instance. Everyone discusses how he doesn’t show up in the 4th quarter yet tonight he scores the last 17 points for the Heat and they win the game. Special players do special things. The numbers will work themselves out. As much as you want the numbers to be there you need your players to have those intangibles. Good club house presence, good leadership.
One last question: Whats your predictions for 2012? Where do the Cubs finish? What year do they finally get their world series?
- The optimistic cubs fan in me says we turn it around and win now! The realistic side says we take advantage of free agency this upcoming off season and make some good moves. I would be really shocked if the cubs aren’t competing for a division crown and spot at the playoffs next season. When you get to that point it’s all about being hot at the right time. I hope in the next couple years we are getting ready to hoist up a banner but only time will tell. I’ll be the first in line rooting for the team though that is for sure.
The only reason I can justify publishing this article is that even if this isn’t the real Steve Bartman, he’s not just some hack. He knows baseball, and he knows the Cubs.
I obviously had problems believing that this could be the actual Bartman on the other end of my emails. There was simply no way that a guy who has turned down so many cash intensives and massive opportunities would even give a small time baseball writer the time of day. I needed some proof or else I had just wasted an evening talking to no one. I asked Bartman if I could take a picture of us on skype, to which he refused – citing that he didn’t want people to recognize him in his present day look.
This was not going to be easy.
After bouncing ideas off each other for a while, we decided that a voicemail from a blocked phone number would have to be sufficient. He offered, I accepted, and within 30 seconds of sending that email back, my phone was vibrating in my pocket.
“Theres no way Steve Bartman is calling me right now…”
As much as I wanted to pick up that phone call from “unknown number” I knew I had to hold up my end of the deal.
Here’s the voicemail that was left.
So many questions remained. I had to ask: Why would you let me interview you and not ESPN or a larger sports authority?
The answer was pretty simple…
"No one ever wants to interview about baseball purely. All they want to talk about is game 6. Which is completely understandable. It’s what I’m most known for. But that isn’t something I want to rehash with people. I’ve spent the last decade trying to remove myself from that as much as possible."
This made sense to me but one more pressing question still remained: Why would you join twitter if you’ve been in hiding for this long?
"I checked on twitter and saw there were multiple fake Steve Bartman’s out there. I love baseball. Love discussing baseball. Love to be funny. Those sides of me aren’t shown anymore. It’s been fun for me to be on there and speak my mind and not get the repercussions from 9 years ago. I’ve had several people on there be very good to me, some don’t believe it, others are grateful to know I’m alive. But with twitter no one knows that it is actually me. They will believe what they want to believe and that is fine with me. With Facebook and other social media outlets you’re posting several pictures of yourself, tagging yourself in different locations. I don’t have to do any of that. Twitter allows me to speak my mind from the security of anywhere and not be found which as every one knows is the way I like things to be. Most people on twitter just want to be followed, to be mentioned by someone famous. I don’t have that power or celebrity status so I really don’t catch a lot of flack for the past yet… but we will see."
As much as potential Steve and I have casually conversed and become pretty friendly throughout this whole process, I can’t confirm that it is indeed the real Bartman. However, I know that no one person would go as far as answering questions, review the article I’m writing piece by piece to make sure he’s comfortable with whats being said, and personally phone me in order to make an attempt at proving his identity.
The only way we can really ever know is to get his twitter account verified. So go ahead and give him a follow.
I can safely say that I’ve never experienced anything like this before. There is no greater challenge as a writer than trying to prove the identity of someone who isn’t right in front of you.
Words can’t express what this guy’s life must have been like since 2003. His timid nature reflected the mannerisms of a scared fawn at first, but his coming out may be the dawning of a new era for him. I hope it does.
I’ll never know what it was like to feel what he felt that day… so I’ll let Steve’s words close this column out.
"I can see the trepidation after I’ve been a social recluse for the past 9 years. I just never felt right trying to cash in something I was never proud of or happy that happened. I mean I turned down some big deals. It was never a matter of turning what happened into something that made money. It was tragic."
Tragic yes… worth keeping Bartman in social lockdown? No.
I realize that publishing an article like this puts my journalistic integrity at stake, but if it means giving Bartman another chance at re-branding himself, it’s worth the gamble.
Welcome back to the world Steve. Regardless of if it’s actually you I’ve been talking to for the last week, I forgive you… I hope that Cubs fans can do the same.