One fateful night at Wrigley Field.
October 14, 2003.
The Chicago Cubs were five short outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945. With a 3-0 lead against the Florida Marlins in the eighth inning of Game 6 and Mark Prior dealing on the mound, thousands of fans throughout Chicago were on the brink of celebration.
Until one play—one infamous play—changed everything.
After a one-out double by Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo comes to bat against Prior. Castillo works the count full, and on Prior’s 113th pitch, hits a foul pop-up down the first base line. Left-fielder Moises Alou seems to be in position to make the play as he times his leap while reaching into the stands, until a fan—wearing headphones while sporting a Cubs hat—appears to interfere with the ball. Alou’s visibly angry after failing to make the catch, glaring at the fan as he makes his way back to his position in left.
That one fan’s name was Steve Bartman. And from that point on, his life had changed forever.
On the next pitch and ninth of the at-bat, Castillo walks as Pierre advances to third on a passed ball. Ivan Rodriguez’s up next. Prior gets ahead 0-2, but hangs a curveball as Rodriguez promptly slaps a single to left to make the score 3-1. Up steps 20-year-old rookie Miguel Cabrera. On the first pitch, he hits a grounder that shortstop Alex Gonzalez boots. Everyone’s safe. Bases loaded and one out now. Up next is Derrek Lee, coming off a career year in 2003 up to that point. Prior’s at 118 pitches. Kyle Farnsworth is loose in the pen. Manager Dusty Baker leaves Prior in. On the first pitch and Prior’s 119th of the game, Lee drives a fastball to left to drive in two runs.
Tied at three. Prior’s night is done. Here comes Farnsworth.
Intentional walk, sac fly, intentional walk. Here comes the light-hitting righty Mike Mordecai to hit with two outs and the bases full of fish. All Farnsworth has to do to keep it a one-run game is get him out. Keep it close and within reach. But it wasn’t to be, as Mordecai rips a double in the left-center field gap. Three runs score, now the Cubs are down 7-3. Exit Farnsworth. Florida scores one more that inning, wins 8-3, wins Game 7 to advance to and eventually win the World Series, and the rest is history.
And who were Cub fans most angry at?
You already know.
Soon after the floodgates had opened in that disastrous eighth inning, Bartman had to be escorted out of Wrigley Field by security personnel soon after fans began chanting and pointing. Drinks and other debris were thrown at him, insults were hurled his way left and right, and his life was never the same. Following the incident, personal information about him was released on online-message boards. Cruisers even had to surround his home for his own safety. It wasn’t too pretty.
Bartman was Chicago’s public enemy #1, as many Cub fans associated him with the Curse of the Billy Goat.
However, that curse finally ended last season, as the Cubs won their first World Series since 1908 to put an end to the longest championship drought in professional sports.
Two days ago, Monday, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts handed out World Series rings in his office to players and other team members.
And none other than Mr. Bartman himself.
In a statement from Ricketts, he said: “On behalf of the entire Chicago Cubs organization, we are honored to present a 2016 World Series Championship ring to Mr. Steve Bartman. We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story that has perpetuated throughout our quest to win a long-awaited World Series.”
Bartman also made a statement, breaking his silence:
“Although I do not consider myself worthy of such an honor, I am deeply moved and sincerely grateful to receive an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring. I am fully aware of the historical significance and appreciate the symbolism the ring represents on multiple levels. My family and I will cherish it for generations. Most meaningful is the genuine outreach from the Ricketts family, on behalf of the Cubs organization and fans, signifying to me that I am welcomed back into the Cubs family and have their support going forward. I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over.”
If this is how the Cubs organization saw fit to finally put an end to the “Bartman play”, then great. I can dig it. One can’t help but feel for Bartman. He made a mistake. Since that night he hasn’t made any appearances at Wrigley, has declined interviews, and for the most part has been out of the public eye.
Even though it was just one play, it’s not the reason the Cubs lost that game or the series. It changed the course of the game for sure, but Chicago just couldn’t seal the deal. Prior hung an 0-2 pitch to Pudge, Gonzalez boots a ball, Farnsworth doesn’t do his job, Cubs can’t win Game 7 which was also at Wrigley. The Cubs made mistakes, but of course, it was easy for their fans to create a scapegoat.
But it’s all over now.
Who knows, maybe a first-pitch at Wrigley will be in Bartman’s near future. We’ll see.