What Happened to Steve Bartman?
It was the top of the eighth inning in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Cubs were leading 3-0 over the Florida Marlins at Wrigley Field. Starting pitcher Mark Prior was still on the mound. Luis Castillo was at the plate. Juan Pierre was standing on second base.
Facing a full count with one out, Castillo, a left-handed batter, popped the ball off the end of his bat and saw it drifting toward the stands down the left field line. A gust of wind could have sailed it a few rows deep, but that wasn’t the case. Outfielder Moises Alou tracked it perfectly, timed his jump, and waited for the fly ball to hit his glove.
Instead, it hit a fan. Alou was pissed. Prior, who was in the middle of a masterpiece, couldn’t believe it. The rest of Wrigley Field went berserk. The entire city as we all knew it was about to riot.
Was it fan interference? Did a Cubs fan really just take away an out from his favorite team? How close was Alou to actually catching the ball?
So many questions, so little time to answer them. Umpire Mike Everitt ruled there was no interference on the play, and the Major League Baseball game continued on.
The camera zoomed in on the infamous fan, who we later learned was Steve Bartman. He was the only one sitting down and wiping tears from his eyes in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113 as everyone tried to gather their emotions.
Bartman quickly became everyone’s top public enemy, a scapegoat, and the unfortunate star in the latest episode of the franchise’s World Series curse, but what happened in the minutes, days, months, and even years to come is no more his fault than the night that ruined everything.
On the next pitch, Castillo walked. The next batter, catcher Ivan Rodriguez, singled to drive home Pierre and make the score 3-1. Miguel Cabrera then hit a potentially inning-ending double-play ground ball to Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who decided it was the perfect moment to bobble it.
The Marlins scored eight runs in the eighth inning. They won Game 6. They won Game 7. They won the 2003 World Series over the New York Yankees.
That’s what it will read in the MLB history books. But instead of Bartman, the finger of blame in the 2003 NLCS ultimately belongs to Gonzalez, and (probably) Cubs manager Dusty Baker.
For over a decade after the foul ball incident, Steve Bartman fell off the map completely, and understandably so. An ESPN reporter tracked him down in a Chicago parking garage years later, but he still remained out of the public eye.
It wasn’t until after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series over the Cleveland Indians that Bartman would be heard from again. Bartman was award an official Chicago Cubs World Series ring from Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.
“On behalf of the entire Chicago Cubs organization, we are honored to present a 2016 World Series Championship Ring to Mr. Steve Bartman,” the Cubs said in a statement to WGN. “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. While no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade, we felt it was important Steve knows he has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organization. After all he has sacrificed, we are proud to recognize Steve Bartman with this gift today.”
Then, after years and years of silence, Steve Bartman, the man so many hatred, finally released a statement for the first time.
“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..
“Moreover, I am hopeful this ring gesture will be the start of an important healing and reconciliation process for all involved. To that end, I request the media please respect my privacy, and the privacy of my family. I will not participate in interviews or further public statements at this time.
“Words alone cannot express my heartfelt thanks to the Ricketts family, Crane Kenney, Theo Epstein, and the entire Cubs organization for this extraordinary gift, and for providing the City of Chicago and Cubs fans everywhere an unforgettable World Championship in 2016. I am happy to be reunited with the Cubs family and positively moving forward with my life.”
It’s hard telling how Bartman is spending his time these days, especially during the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 outbreak, but it’s probably safe to say he’s laying low, staying safe, and polishing his World Series ring whenever he wants.
No matter what he’s doing, he deserves to be happy because none of it was ever truly his fault.
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