Steve Bartman

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Steve Bartman (born 1977) is a resident of the Chicago area and a University of Notre Dame alumnus who gained notoriety on the evening of October 14, 2003 for possibly preventing a play on a foul pop-up in Game 6 of the NLCS baseball playoffs between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins at Wrigley Field. At the time, Mark Prior was pitching a three-hit shutout for the Cubs. The Cubs led 3-0 and were five outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945, and possibly winning it for the first time since 1908.

Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, was sitting in a box seat (Aisle 4, row 8, seat 113) in the front row along the left field corner wall behind the bullpen, when a pop foul fly off the bat of Luis Castillo drifted toward his seat with one out and runner on base in the eighth inning. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou was in position to attempt a catch, but Bartman, who was watching the ball and not the fielder, blocked the ball from Alou's glove. Alou slammed his glove down in frustration, and the Cubs argued for an interference call. Video replays showed that, although Alou would have had an opportunity to make the catch if Bartman had not reached for the ball, the ball was clearly in the seating area, thus fan interference could not be called.

Following this incident, the Marlins scored eight unanswered runs. Bartman had to be led away from the park under escort for his own safety. Many other fans attempted to throw garbage at him, and Bartman had to shield himself with his jacket. Many Cub fans blamed Bartman for the Cubs losing this game and, ultimately, their chance at reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945.

While there was no interference, the incident seemed to break the Cubs' concentration, as evidenced by what happened afterward:

  • Castillo drew a walk and the previous runner (Juan Pierre) advanced to third base.
  • Ivan Rodriguez got a single to drive in the first run of the inning, making the score 3-1.
  • Miguel Cabrera hit a ground ball to Alex Gonzalez, who uncharacteristically fumbled the ball. Had Gonzalez fielded the ball properly, the Cubs could have ended the half-inning with a double play.
  • The Marlins scored another seven runs, taking an 8-3 lead, and eventually winning the game.

Some in the news media were more considerate than the fans were. Surveys done in the days following the incident showed that online news sources were almost unanimous in their call to forgive Bartman and urged fans to consider that one play could not account for eight runs in one inning, though considering the importance of the play it may have done just that.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Bartman’s name, as well as personal information about him, appeared on Major League Baseball’s online message boards minutes after the game ended. The next day, the Chicago Sun-Times also released his name, as well as his address and place of business, in an online article; the editor justified this by saying Bartman’s information was already "out there". Bartman was hounded by reporters; he had his phone disconnected, and did not go to work. In his defense, childhood neighbors said he was a great guy, a lifelong Cubs fan, and a Little League coach.

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.

Bartman gained instant national attention, most of it negative or derogatory. Many websites spoofing him were created, and late-night shows such as the David Letterman and Jay Leno shows made him the target of many jokes. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went as far as telling the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper that "(Bartman) better get a new address. He ought to move to Alaska". Others, such as Florida governor Jeb Bush, were more benevolent: Bush offered Bartman asylum in Florida.

In the days following the incident, Bartman was offered and given goods and services given out of sympathy for the negative press he received by Marlins fans or Florida residents as a sort of "thank you." He also received offers to do movies or talk shows because of his sudden celebrity. But he declined all such offers, and donated the gifts already given to him to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the name of Ron Santo, a former Cubs third baseman turned broadcaster who is afflicted with the disease. Calling this his "final statement", it seems Bartman intends to return to obscurity.

Bartman said, "I look forward to, and expect to return to my normal life activities, including cheering our beloved Cubs toward many more exciting postseasons of play." As of July 2005, Bartman still lives and works in the Chicago area.

The loose ball was snatched up by a Chicago lawyer and sold at an auction in December. Grant DePorter purchased it for $113,824.16 on behalf of Harry Caray's Restaurant Group. On February 26, 2004, it was publicly exploded in a procedure designed by Cubs fan and Academy Award winning special effects expert Michael Lantieri. The ball was given a final meal of steak and lobster.

In 2005, the remains of the ball were creatively 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 Scapegoat Factor

Bartman became a scapegoat for the Cubs' failure to advance to the World Series. Part of the intrigue of sports is the tendency among some fans and writers to ascribe supernatural characteristics to teams. Teams that seem to win frequently, such as the New York Yankees, the Green Bay Packers, or the University of Notre Dame, are said to have a "mystique" or "aura" about them. Teams that seem to fall short frequently, such as the Chicago Cubs or (until 2004) the Boston Red Sox, are said to be "cursed" or "jinxed". In specific cases, disappointed fans may look for a scapegoat, be it Bill Buckner or the team owner who traded Babe Ruth, in the case of the Red Sox; Bartman; or an actual goat, as with the Cubs in decades past.

This presumed phenomenon seems to take on mythological or even religious overtones, specifically the idea that external forces are involved in a team's success or failure. Some fans and writers embrace this theory. Others argue that winning is largely a product of investment in talent, combined with appropriate leadership. Luck may play a part, but as player development guru Branch Rickey once said, "Luck is the residue of design."

In April of 2005, ESPN2 launched the series The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... by examining the top five reasons why Bartman should not be blamed for the Cubs' playoff collapse. Reruns of the episode have since been aired on ESPN Classic, which now televises the show.

"Bartman" has entered the sports lexicon, referring to any fan who interacts with players during a game.

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