In a sport with a history as long as baseball, anything that could’ve been done has probably been done before. And unfortunately, this also refers to scapegoating. Normally, a scapegoat refers to a player who has been ostracised by a fanbase for a mistake. But in 2003, one unlucky fan felt the brunt of an entire fanbase.
By 2003, the Chicago Cubs had a 95-year-long World Series drought, and they hadn’t made a World Series appearance since 1945. However, in 2003 they had made their way to the National League Championship Series and held a 3 -2 game lead in Game Six over the Florida Marlins.
Going into the eighth inning of Game Six, the Cubs held a 3-0 lead on the Marlins. Marlins batter Luis Castillo hit a fly ball into foul ball territory in left field; the ball was pursued by Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou. Alou attempted to make the catch near the wall separating the fans and the field, but Cubs fan Steve Bartman made an attempt to catch the ball – as did many others – and deflected the ball away from the glove of Alou.
The Cubs argued for fan interference, but umpire Mike Everitt ruled that, because the ball entered the stands, it was not fan interference. Everitt’s ruling had been scrutinised by many as there are several existing photos that show Bartman’s arm extending into the field of play in order to grab the ball.
After Bartman’s contact with the ball, the Cubs, who had been controlling the game before this moment, endured a full-on meltdown. The Marlins proceeded to score eight runs in the eighth inning, bringing them to a near-insurmountable lead and taking the NLCS to a deciding seventh game, where the Cubs lost.
And as for Bartman, this small incident at the ballpark would fundamentally change his life. Mere minutes after the play had occurred, angry Cubs fans had begun pelting him with debris. Security had to escort Bartman and the two people who had accompanied him to the game, with insults and threats being lobbied at him as he left. By the end of the game, Bartman’s personal information had been posted on online MLB message boards, resulting in several cop cars being sent to protect his house in Illinois. Even then-governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, joined in the jokes by offering Bartman a spot in a witness protection programme. Then-governor of the winning team’s state of Florida, Jeb Bush, would even offer asylum to Bartman.
Much like Buckner, Bartman was harassed under the pretence that that single play would have won the game and sent the Cubs to the World Series. And, as with Buckner, this simply was untrue. Had Alou successfully caught the ball, it would’ve been the second out of the inning, with the Cubs still needing four more to win the game. The facts are that Bartman deflected the ball, and that is where Bartman’s influence in the game ended. Bartman did not allow the Marlins to get eight runs in one inning; Bartman did not lose Game Seven, all he did was deflect a ball. As are the words of the Chicago Cubs in a statement released after the incident, “He did what every fan who comes to the ballpark tries to do – catch a ball”.
There were several in Bartman’s section who also reached to grab the ball; one gust of wind and Bartman’s life is infinitely better, while someone else’s is infinitely worse.
Joe Sell is a guest contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds. Follow on Twitter @NyanBlaney
Photos by Amy Sancetta/Associated Press