Steve Bartman sat in the first row down the left field line for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins at Wrigley Field on Oct. 14, 2003. He wore a green turtleneck and headphones over his Cubs cap. By the end of the night, he was the most infamous fan, perhaps in the history of American sports.
The Cubs were up, 3-0, in the eighth inning, five outs from their first World Series appearance in 58 years, when Bartman reached and deflected a foul ball that the left fielder Moises Alou had leapt for in the stands and appeared ready to catch. The Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning, win the game and then the series the next night.
In the 10 years since, Bartman, 36, has all but disappeared, turning down more than 200 media requests, ranging from the Today Show to Dr. Phil and has not returned to Wrigley, as far as anyone knows.
Bartman still lives in the Chicago area and works for a financial services consulting firm.
“He’s happy and healthy and he’s still a Cubs fan,” said Frank Murtha, a long-time friend and spokesman. “He values his privacy.”
Through Murtha, Bartman declined to be interviewed for this story.
As Bartman became the symbol of the 2003 Cubs’ playoff collapse, the organization reached out to him to say he was always welcome at Wrigley.
“I never wanted there to be any lingering animosity,” Jim Hendry, then the Cubs general manager and current member of the Yankees front office, said last week.
Bartman rebuffed the overtures, Murtha said, to avoid the notoriety and the inevitable uproar afterward. He has also turned down financial opportunities in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Murtha sad. Although a 10-year exile is a long time for Bartman, the Cubs said there are no plans to publicly invite him back to Wrigley next spring.
But the Cubs have not won a playoff game since 2003 and have now lost 197 games the past two seasons. Their mind-boggling championship drought is at 105 years. Might enough be enough, finally? Could a moment between Bartman and Cubs fans heal his wounds and, as silly as it sounds, chase whatever supernatural juju seems to be embedded in the Wrigley bricks? After all, nothing else has worked.
“It would certainly be a nice gesture,” said Scott Turow, an author and lifelong Cubs fan. “Whether it would work, who knows?”
In interviews with Cubs fans, players and Chicagoans, most feel tremendous sympathy for Bartman. He was hidden inside the stadium during the remainder of Game 6 after he became the target of abusive fans. He was dressed in a disguise to leave Wrigley and hustled to a safe place after the game.
Most agree that Bartman’s play was a small part of that fateful eighth inning. The Marlins clubbed four hits after the foul ball, and the shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted what would looked like a sure inning-ending double play ball.
“He didn’t cost us anything,” said the former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior, who was on the mound when Bartman deflected the ball.
Said Cubs fan and comedian Jeff Garlin, “I want to find Bartman and give him a hug and tell him ‘it’s okay.’”
Still, whether a public appearance at Wrigley could help release Bartman from his moment of infamy, and the Cubs from their own history, remains in question. David Kaplan, a radio and television host in Chicago, said a Bartman appearance at the stadium would be strange.
“It would be like a sideshow,” Kaplan said. “The same kind of publicity stunt he’s been avoiding for years.”
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander said of Cubs fans: “They’d rip him apart. He can’t just waltz in when the Cubs are still losers and expect to be cheered.”
Michael Wilbon, a Cubs fan and host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, found the idea incredulous.
“A Steve Bartman night? Are you kidding me?” Wilbon asked. “What does the organization have to gain by that? I’ll tell you: nothing.”
If the goal is to move past the game, said Doug Glanville, an outfielder with the Cubs during 2003 who lived in Chicago for many years, then any kind of public event detracts from that.
“You can’t minimize it by calling more attention to it,” he said.
George Will, a Cubs fan and Washington Post columnist who attended the Bartman game, said that for everything Bartman has endured, the question is not what Bartman can do for the Cubs, but what the team can do for Bartman.
Will said he would have had Bartman throw out the first pitch at Wrigley on Opening Day of the 2004 season. “It would be justice,” he said.
Added Garlin: “They should give him season tickets for life. When the next Cub gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, Bartman should introduce him. That’s a better way to bury this thing and change our luck.”
While the opinions of Bartman are disparate, what is clear is that he remains a fascination of Cubs fans. Grant DePorter, chief executive of Harry Caray’s Restaurants, paid $114,000 for the Bartman ball and, in a well-publicized ceremony, had it destroyed to lift the curse on the Cubs. The remnants were used in a spaghetti sauce.
ESPN showed a documentary on Bartman several years ago, directed by the Oscar winner Alex Gibney. The local Chicago Comcast station will show an anniversary special documentary on the 2003 Cubs called “5 Outs.”
Kaplan said Bartman “was done in by the machine, by the media.”
“The more we talk about him, the more forgiving he has to do,” he said.
For a parallel, the Cubs could look to the Red Sox and Bill Buckner, whose error in the 1986 World Series took on epic proportions in Boston. He returned to Fenway for a ceremonial first pitch and received a standing ovation in 2008.
When Buckner returned to Fenway, the Red Sox had ended their 86-year World Series drought with not one but two championships.
“I think welcoming Steve would be more appropriate after we win,” said Pat Hughes, a veteran Cubs radio broadcaster. “You almost have to wait until you enjoy the pinnacle and then it’s like, let’s forgive this poor guy.” He added, “I’ll be the first person sitting next to him during the parade.”
But that will require the Cubs to do something they have not done in a century, and raises the question that Cubs fans have been asking for generations: What if they never win?
“I hope it happens in my lifetime,” Turow said. “For Bartman and for me.”