10 Years A.B.: It’s the anniversary of Cubs infamous ‘Steve Bartman foul ball’ game

David Brown
Big League Stew

Ten years ago Monday, a most unfortunate event occurred at Wrigley Field during Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. It's the most unfortunate event in the history of the Chicago Cubs, probably — which is saying a lot, considering how they've cornered the market on unfortunate events through the years.

Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune marks the 10th anniversary of the "Steve Bartman Game" by reminding us that the reclusively iconic Cubs fan and his team still are estranged, even though a decade has passed since Bartman and other fans interfered with a foul ball that outfielder Moises Alou couldn't catch, a "no play" that happened with the Cubs five outs away from their first World Series since 1945.

Most of the bad will among the parties involved originates with those reputed to have exploited Bartman the most: Grant DePorter, the managing partner of Harry Caray's restaurant, which blew up the ball in 2004. And ESPN, which stalked Bartman harder than anyone else when he took the high road by laying low. Consider this: It's 10 years later and we still know little about him, other than he's said to be living a normal life in the Chicago area among family, friends and co-workers who are just as devoted to protecting his privacy as Bartman himself.

Sullivan got in touch with Bartman's spokesman (yes, he has one, an attorney named Frank Murtha) while trying to catching up with a person whose elusiveness earns him comparisons to Osama bin Laden, J.D. Salinger and the Sphinx of ancient Egypt.

After doing so, Sullivan found that Bartman's camp does harbor ill-will toward DePorter and the television network.

While Murtha said DePorter isn't the only one to capitalize on Bartman's misery, he does blame him for exacerbating it. He understands Bartman still would be demonized without the ball being blown up but says it added another layer to the story.

"I knew it would always be part of something," he said. "I just didn't think it would have the life it has had."

The ones who have exploited Bartman the most, according to Murtha, are DePorter — who bought the ball, blew it up and displays the shreds in his restaurants — and ESPN.

The sports network created a show called "The Top Five Reasons You Can't Blame Steve Bartman for the Cubs 2003 Playoff Collapse" and featured an Alex Gibney documentary on the incident called "Catching Hell" for its "30 for 30" series.

The biggest problem Murtha had with the media company was "stalking" Bartman for an ESPN the Magazine article in 2005, then pretending it was in the name of exonerating him for the incident.

"It was like he had found Osama bin Laden," Murtha said.

* * *

Almost nobody is blameless, though, for Bartman having to go underground. Even simply noting the anniversary probably makes Bartman's ears burn a little. Sorry, Steve.

It's not Steve Bartman's fault the Chicago Cubs didn't win the World Series in 2003, and it's not his fault, in any way, they haven't won a championship since 1908. There's no such thing as curses, at least not in baseball, regardless of any mystical powers that goats and Greeks — or Greeks with goats — might have. The Cubs have only themselves to blame.

Moises Alou couldn't help but throw a tantrum on the spot. Alex Gonzalez made that error. Mark Prior couldn't pitch around a muffed foul ball and put the Florida Marlins away. Kerry Wood couldn't hold another lead in Game 7.

Not to mention the two other guys in the stands at Wrigley Field next to Bartman who reached for the ball that Alou couldn't catch. Virtually nobody knows their names, and they've taken nearly zero flak, but they were just as thoughtless in going for a ball with Alou trying to make a catch. But it's not their fault, either, that the Cubs didn't win and still haven't won. Might never win.

All of that should be part of the legacy of what happened Oct. 14, 2003. It's not just one man's bad day.

The postseason marches on!
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