Winning helps Chicago Cubs fans forgive Bartman 12 years later

By Mary Wisniewski CHICAGO (Reuters) - It turns out that winning really might cure everything, and with the Chicago Cubs' playoff triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday, that even includes a decade-plus grudge Cubs fans have held against "Bartman." That would be Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan scapegoated for a missed catch by a Chicago outfielder in a playoff game in 2003 when the team was tantalizingly close to reaching its first World Series since 1945. Bartman has stayed quiet during this year's playoffs and in fact has said little publicly since incurring the wrath of fans who blamed his interference with a foul ball late in the 2003 game for sparking a Cubs collapse that ended with the Florida Marlins reaching the promised land instead. The Cubs' 6-4 win on Tuesday, which advanced the Cubs to the National League Championship Series to face the winner of the New York Mets-Los Angeles Dodgers series, has the team's fans hoping this will finally be their year. The last time the "lovable losers" won it all was in 1908. This year's success and confidence about the next few years, has Cubs-crazy fans saying it is time to put the Bartman incident in the past, along with the team's long-losing record. Euphoric fans who gathered outside Wrigley Field after Tuesday's victory said they were over the curses of the past - including Bartman - but were unwilling to actually utter his name. One of them, Warren Baker, 57, praised manager Joe Maddon for the win. "Rather than thinking about curses or the failures of yesterday, (Maddon) got them where they need to be," Baker said. Michael Burke, 22, said: "After what we've been through in the past, I was scared of the Cardinals. But now we've beaten them. We've got this, we've got this." TRAUMATIC LOSS Before Tuesday's win, Cubs fans had found it tough to move on, especially since the 2003 loss was so traumatic. With nearly 40,000 fans cheering them at Wrigley Field, the Cubs needed just five outs to protect a 3-0 lead and close out the Marlins in Game 6 of their series. Bartman reached out to catch a foul ball, which many believe caused Cubs left fielder Moises Alou to miss it. Bartman later received death threats, and the incident joined a 1945 curse by a Chicago tavern owner as a way of explaining the Cubs' long championship drought. After the missed Alou catch, there were other mistakes, including a misplayed ground ball that cost the team a chance for an out or a double play. The Marlins ended up scoring eight runs in the inning. They also won Game 7 and beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Stephen Schueller, a Northwestern University psychologist, said that since sports fans cannot control the play on the field, they sometimes blame external factors like curses to cope with losses. Superstitions can also affect players' performance, Schueller said, noting the Cubs in that 2003 game seemed to have "had a bit of a mental breakdown" after the Bartman incident. "I want to put my arm around him and buy him a beer," Scott Rowan said of Bartman. Rowan wrote the 2014 book "The Cubs Quotient: How the Chicago Cubs Changed the World." Grant DePorter, chief executive officer of Harry Caray's baseball-themed restaurants, bought the Bartman ball for $113,824 at auction in order to destroy it in a televised 2004 event. DePorter said he thought it was "cathartic" for fans and hoped the Cubs would win the championship this year. "Everyone feels it's time now," DePorter said. (Additional reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney)