So here I am, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, watching the St. Louis Cardinals play in yet another NLCS. Every year, I tell myself that I’m not going to watch if the Cardinals are in it, but I can’t help myself. I love baseball, especially in October (and it seems as if they’re always playing this time of year). There’s a different feel to it, a different atmosphere that comes with playoff baseball. It’s a feeling I wish I could enjoy even more than I already do. I would love to be able to cheer on my beloved Cubs in October, but sadly that’s not a feeling that I get to experience that often. So as I sit and watch the 2013 edition of the NLCS, I can’t help but think about what happened ten years ago at Wrigley Field. Some would just call it Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, but most people know it as “The Bartman Game”.
For those who don’t recall, allow me to repaint the picture for you. It is October 14, 2003, Game 6 between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins. Chicago holds a 3 games to 2 lead, lead the game 3-0 and are a mere five outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945. Basically, it’s the biggest game that the Cubs have had in nearly 60 years. Mark Prior (remember him?) is pitching a three hit shutout. So with one out in the eighth, Luis Castillo comes to the plate and hits what looks to be just a normal foul ball down the left field line. Cubs leftfielder Moises Alou begins to race towards the wall because it looks as if there is a chance he can make the catch. As the ball begins to drop in foul territory directly above where the field meets the stands, Alou leaps and multiple fans reach for the ball as well. And then the moment that will live in Cubs folklore and baseball history forever. One of those fans makes contact with the ball as Alou attempts to make the catch. Chaos ensues! Alou is absolutely livid, as he jumps up and down in anger, pleading for a fan interference call, a call that would never come as the ball had crossed the plane of the wall separating the fans from the field. And a man that would later be identified as Steve Bartman became part of history. The blame would start immediately. Neighboring fans began to hurl insults and Bartman would later have to be escorted out for his own safety. However, this was only step one in a series of events that could only happen in Chicago.
Castillo would continue his at-bat and eventually walk, with ball four being a wild pitch by Prior allowing base runner Juan Pierre to move to third. Ivan Rodriguez would single to make it 3-1. A young rookie named Miguel Cabrera (yes, that Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera) would hit a grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, setting up a potentially inning ending double play. Gold Glove candidate Gonzalez would misfield the ball, loading the bases. Future beloved Cub Derrek Lee would double to chase Prior from the game and tie the score at 3-3. Reliever Kyle Farnsworth would intentionally walk Mike Lowell, followed by a sacrifice fly from Jeff Conine. Cub legend Sammy Sosa would miss the cutoff man allowing Lowell to move to second, setting up another intentional walk to Todd Hollandsworth, again loading the bases. Mike Mordecai would then double to clear the bases and make it 7-3. Mike Remlinger would come in and give up a single to Juan Pierre to drive in Mordecai making it 8-3. And in a cruel twist of irony, Luis Castillo would pop out to finally end the inning that would once again dash the Cubs hope of returning to the World Series. Yes, I know there was a Game 7 with Kerry Wood on the mound, but after that night, I don’t think there was anyone in the world that thought the Cubs would win that game. They would lose 9-6 that night and the Florida Marlins would go on to defeat the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series to collect their second championship.
I love the Cubs and what happened that night was heartbreaking as a fan. To make matters worse, the next three World Series champions were the equally “cursed” Boston Red Sox, the crosstown Chicago White Sox, and archrival St. Louis Cardinals. But the real tragedy would come in the days and months following Game 6. This young man, Steve Bartman, actually had to go into hiding to avoid death threats and the media onslaught. A devoted Cubs fan, a baseball coach to young children, a normal guy who did what anyone would have done, including multiple people around him, had to change his entire life after that night. He would issue statements apologizing to Cubs fans around the world, some of whom I’m sure still haven’t forgiven him for something that simply was not his fault. Moises Alou would later admit that he wouldn’t have caught that ball anyway. Steve Bartman did not cost the Cubs that baseball game. I don’t remember him giving up any hits. I don’t remember him misplaying a routine ground ball. I don’t remember him touching any ball in Game 7 either. What I do remember is the image of this poor guy sitting in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 at Wrigley Field with a blank stare on his face. I don’t think he ever thought the fallout would be what it became and I feel, using his own words, “truly sorry” for this man.
The Cubs will enter next season 106 years removed from their last World Series championship and ten years removed from their last playoff win. So I sit and I watch the NLCS as I always do, hoping that someday I will again watch the Cubs make another run at the World Series. I put my trust in Theo Epstein as he tries to build a winner on the north side. I still believe that I can have the feeling that I had when Game 6 started ten years ago. I just hope that someday Steve Bartman can have that feeling back too.