As a foul ball sailed into the Chicago night sky down the third base line, a group of fans stood up in Section 4, many hoping to snag a souvenir from a potentially historic night at Wrigley Field. It was a common reaction, something baseball fans had done for ages, but this particular one on October 14, 2003 proved to be different, and, rightly or wrongly, altered Major League Baseball history forever.
The ball was dangerously close to the wall. So close that Chicago Cubs outfielder Moises Alou leaped to try to catch it. Instead of recording the out, however, the ball hit a fan fell back into the stands.
“Again in the air, down the left field line. Alou… reaching into the stands… and couldn’t get it and he’s livid with a fan!,” Fox’s Thom Brennaman said on the broadcast call that night.
That infamous fan, of course, is Steve Bartman. Only his family, friends, and coworkers knew him before that moment. But in the aftermath, everyone knew the man in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113 that night, and it changed his life forever.
The Steve Bartman Incident
Let’s set the scene for a minute. It was the top of the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Cubs were leading 3-0 over the Florida Marlins. 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. A gust of wind could have sailed it a few rows deep, but that wasn’t the case. Left fielder 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 postseason game continued on.
The camera zoomed in on the fan, who we later learned was Cubs fan Steve Bartman. He was the only one sitting down in the front row and wiping tears from his eyes as everyone tried to gather their emotions.
“There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last 24 hours,” Bartman later said.
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.
What Happened Right After the Incident?
As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, this is painful. So it’s going to be quick.
On the next pitch of the at-bat, 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 floodgates opened.
The Marlins scored eight runs in the eighth inning against Prior and the Cubs bullpen. 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 history books. But instead of Bartman, the finger of blame ultimately belongs to Gonzalez, and (probably) Cubs manager Dusty Baker for not winning the pennant.
The Alex Gonzalez Error
During the 2003 MLB season, Alex Gonzalez proved to be one of the best shortstops in the league. He belted a career-high 20 home runs and boasted a .984 fielding percentage. In other words, he was a human vacuum and he made the most costly error at the absolute worst time.
He should count his lucky stars people remember Steve Bartman’s name more than his because, honestly, the 2003 NLCS error is much more frustrating than a foul ball that may or may not have been caught to begin with.
The rest of the fans who tried to reach for the foul ball should be, too.
The Cubs didn’t make the MLB playoffs until 2007.
What Happened to the Steve Bartman Ball?
The famous foul ball ended up in the lap of an unnamed attorney. He eventually put the ball up for auction in December 2013 and was bought by Harry Caray’s restaurant for $113,824, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The ball was blown up, and the remains are in a glass case at the Chicago Sports Museum.
Where is Steve Bartman Now?
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, including on social media.
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, via CBS Sports. “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.
Steve Bartman’s Statement
“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.Advertisement
“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.
“I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society. My hope is that we all can learn from my experience to view sports as entertainment and prevent harsh scapegoating, and to challenge the media and opportunistic profiteers to conduct business ethically by respecting personal privacy rights and not exploit any individual to advance their own self-interest or economic gain.
“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, if he’s been watching the 2020 NL Wild Card series when ABC showed the flashback or not, he deserves to be happy because none of it was ever truly his fault.
This post was originally published on April 16, 2020.