Saturday, July 13, 2013

Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats: Steve Bartman

Don't forget to check out the other articles in the "Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats" Series: Fred Merkle, Hack Wilson, Johnny Pesky, Ralph Branca , Leon Durham, Donnie Moore, Bill Buckner and Mitch Williams

It must be a unique experience to root for the Cubs.  1908.  That was the pinnacle of Cubs fandom.  Of course the Cubs have a very proud tradition.  Tinker, Evers and Chance.  Three Finger Brown. Rogers Hornsby.  Charlie Root.  Ernie Banks. Billy Williams.  Ferguson Jenkins. Ron Santo.  Ryne Sandberg.  Andre Dawson.  Mark Grace.  Harry Carey.  The friendly confines of Wrigley Field.  With all of that, 1908 was still the top moment.  1908: When the Cubs won the second of their back to back World Series, when someone could honestly say "who ever heard of the Cubs losing a game they needed to win" without being laughed out of town, that was 95 years before this.

The Cubs had not won a postseason series in 95 years.  When that happened:
  • Mickey Mouse (1928), Bugs Bunny (1938) and the Flinstones (1959) were decades away.
  • The first All Star Game (1933) was 25 years away.
  • Jackie Robinson was 49 years from his debut
  • Babe Ruth (1915) was seven years away from his debut.
  • The Yankees would not win their first World Series for another 15 years (1923)
  • Fenway Park would not exist for another four years and Wrigley Field for another six years (and wouldn't be the Cubs home for another two years after that).
  • The American Professional Football Association (the NFL's ancient ancestor) was 12 years from the first game.
  • The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was 5 years away.
  • The first use of the Designated Hitter was 65 years away.
They had reached the playoffs and the World Series several times but they just had not won.  This was the year.  All the years of hearing "wait 'til next year" was now over.  They were a great team.  They had beaten the jinx by taking out the Atlanta Braves.  They had beaten great teams to get here and now they just had to beat these new kid Florida Marlins. 

It was fitting that they would advance to the World Series today. October 14. It was 95 years ago to the day that the Cubs of Tinker, Evers and Chance beat Ty Cobb's Tigers for the second straight (and last) Cubs World Series title.  This Cubs team took a 3 games to 1 series lead into game 5 but lost 4-0.  They now were in the 8th inning of Game 6 and they had a 3-0 lead with young Mark Prior on the mound and cruising through the Marlins lineup.  Florida had only 3 hits to this point.

Mike Mordecai flied out to start the inning and Cubs fans could start counting down.  5 more outs.  Then Juan Pierre doubled and Cubs fans were nervous. The Marlins had the big bats coming up with only one out and now everyone knew something would happen.  Something bad.  The city of Chicago was positive it was coming but the pressure of waiting to see what it would be was agonizing.

The next batter, Luis Castillo started an epic, 9 pitch at bat, although for Cubs fans this at bat is still going on.  On a 3-2 pitch Castillo lifted a fly ball down the left field line and left fielder Moises Alou tracked it right up to the stands.  He jumped and had this timed perfectly. 

It was just at the wall.  Anywhere between five and ten fans were sure they had a souvenir from the day the Cubs clinched their first trip to the World Series since 1945.  Alou was sure he had out number two. Then the ball bounced off the hands of a fan and Alou landed without the ball.  Alou went berserk.  He was furious.  Regardless of Alou's anger the at bat continued.  Just like the 1985 World Series, it isn't important what causes the chaos, it is how you react to the chaos that is important and the Cubs didn't react well.  Castillo finished the nine pitch at bat with a walk.  Ball four got past the catcher and Juan Pierre advanced to third.

Ivan Rodriguez faced off against Prior.  Prior had the advantage of an 0-2 count but Rodriguez stroked a single to left field scoring Pierre.  The lead was down to 2 and a young Miguel Cabrera, future Triple Crown winner, stepped in to face Prior. Cabrera hit an easy bouncing ball to Shortstop and this would get them out of trouble.  An easy 6-4-3 double play and the inning is over.  The ball bounced.  Shortstop Alex Gonzalez turned to backhand the grounder. It hit in his glove and then dropped straight to the ground.  Everyone was safe.  Bases loaded.  Instead of being out of the inning it was the start of dark times.

Derek Lee, future Cubs' legend, stepped in and doubled to left and the game was tied. Prior was gone but they could still salvage this thing.  It wasn't the end of the world.  Mike Lowell was walked intentionally to load the bases and a sacrifice fly from Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine, gave Florida the lead and gave the Cubs their second out.  Todd Hollandsworth was walked intentionally to load up the bases and Mike Mordecai, the first out of the inning stepped in with the bases loaded.

Steve Lyons, the Fox broadcaster, told everyone as the 2-1 pitch was being delivered that Mordecai was a great fastball hitter.  Mordecai was lucky because that was exactly what he was getting and it was exactly where he wanted it.  Right down the middle.  Mordecai rifled the pitch to left-center field and it was a shot right at the very symbol of the Cubs.  It smacked up against the Wrigley Field ivy clearing the bases and scoring three runs.  An RBI single by Juan Pierre followed giving Florida an 8-3 lead.  Luis Castillo mercifully ended the inning with a pop out to second base but the curse had struck.  Despite the wild pitch, botched double play ball and conga line of batters to the plate Cubs fans knew exactly who to blame.  It was the guy who tried to catch the ball.

The guy's name is known to everyone:  Steve Bartman.  His life was ruined.  He received death threats.  He had beer poured on him.  He had to be escorted out of the stadium by security.  His entire life changed for the negative because of one foul ball.  There are a trillion reasons (other than the regular common sense reasons) that you cannot blame Steve Bartman.  Here are just a few:

1.  Steve Bartman did exactly what you would have done.  Deny it all you want but if you are at a regular season game (let alone a potentially series clinching game) and a foul ball comes your way your first thought is going to be "I've been coming to games for years and I am finally getting a foul ball."  Watching the replay at least five other fans are going for the ball.  A fan two seats in front of Bartman comes within an eye lash of touching the ball before Bartman does.

2.  The Cubs themselves did not blame Bartman.  The team issued a statement after the game saying "games are won on the playing field-not in the stands.  It is unfair and inaccurate to suggest that an individual fan is responsible for the events that transpired in Game 6.  He did what every fan who comes to the ballpark tries to do-catch a foul ball in the stands.  That's one of the things that makes baseball the special sport that it is."

3.  The Cubs self destructed.  A wild pitch and a botched double play ball are only part of the story. All of the Marlins hits were clean base hits that were nowhere near being outs.  Mark Prior,the Cubs young ace, said after the game "We had chances to get out of that situation.  I hung an 0-2 curveball  to Rodriguez that he hit for a single.  Alex Gonzales, who's a sure thing almost at Shortstop, the ball came up on him...Everybody in the clubhouse and management knows that play is not the reason we lost the game."

4.  The Cubs had a 3 games to 1 series lead.  The Cubs jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in Game 1 but ended up losing 9-8 in 11 innings.  That could be seen as their first missed opportunity. Game 2 was a blow out 12-3 in favor of the Cubs.  Game 3 was a tight 11 inning game won on a top of the 11th RBI triple by Doug Glanville.  The emotion and momentum of that win translated into a Game 4 8-3 win which was actually not even as close as it sounds.  Game 5 was the Cubs opportunity to ride their scorching hot bats into the World Series but Josh Beckett dominated them with a 4-0 two hit shutout.  The Cubs also had a chance to win Game 7.  They gave up three runs in the first to Florida but in the second and third they roared back and took a 5-3 lead.  Two innings later the Cubs gave the lead back and kept giving until Florida led 9-5.  From the time the Cubs took their 5-3 to the end of the game they had exactly 0 base runners and one hit.  A two out solo, pinch hit Home Run by Troy O'Leary in the 7th.

5.  This Marlins team was good.  We didn't know it then but we can see it now.  The Marlins had won the World Series in 1997 with an amazing collection of talent including Bobby Bonillia, Moises Alou, Gary Sheffield, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown and quite a few others.  That team was immediately torn apart and the Marlins went into a rebuilding mode.  Entering the 2003 season they were a joke with little proven talent, other than Ivan Rodriguez.  When their season record hit 16-22, last place in the N.L.East, nine games out of first and losers of 12 of their last 16 games,  the management changed managers.  Jeff Torborg was out, 72 year old Jack McKeon was in and the laughter got louder.  These poor Marlins.  Not only did they have the worst team in the league, now their manager might be late for games because he was taking advantage of an early bird special somewhere.  The Marlins went 75-49 under McKeon and won a Wild Card berth.  At the time we looked at the team as an inexperienced group of kids with no proven talent.  What we know now is that this team was full of All Stars and some possible Hall of Famers.  Ivan Rodriguez was a former MVP and Todd Hollandsworth was a former Rookie of the Year and All Star.  Other than these two there were very few recognizable names.  That would change.  It has been ten years since this series and few fans won't recognize the names that were on this roster:  Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre, Juan Encarnacion, Miguel Cabrera, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett.  Every one of those players became (or still is) a major contributor to playoff teams in other cities.  The Marlins of 2003, mostly because of the perception they had coming into the season, are one of the most underrated World Series teams in history.

The Chicago Cubs moved into Wrigley Field in 1916 although the stadium was opened in 1914.  What team originally occupied the Stadium?  (for imaginary bonus points, what was the original name of the stadium?)

Answer to last week's question: 
Congratulations to TJD who got the answer to last week's question correct.
Garry Maddox made his debut in Centerfield for the Giants on April 25, 1972.  Starting for the Giants that night was future Hall of Fame Pitcher Juan Marichal.  Facing off against Marichal was future Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton.  Maddox went 0-3 with 2 strikeouts against Carlton (the Giants only got one hit in the game) as Carlton won his third game.  Maddox would be traded to the Phillies on May 4, 1975.  Carlton and Maddox would play together for a number of years during the Phillies most successful period, each being major contributors to the Phillies first sustained period of success.


  1. i always thought the problem for this game was the potential double play messed up by Alex Gonzalez. Maybe if there were 2 outs, Gonzalez would have been positioned differently and had an easier play for just a force out or a play at first. Still, maybe, maybe, maybe. The play should have been made.
    On a side note, you mentioned Harry Carey being associated with the Cubs. As a teenager I use to listen to him broadcast the Cardinal games on KMOX from St. Louis. So when his name is mentioned I associate it with the Cardinals.
    I thought it was always known as Wrigley Field. I am going to take a guess and say the White Sox played there the first 2 years and the stadium was known either as Sears Stadium or Tribune Park.


  2. The double play ball by Gonzalez is definitely the key to the inning. Even if he gets one out on the ground ball things may have been much different. Regardless, the Cubs had a 3 games to 1 lead in the series and a lead in game 7 so blaming Bartman for going for a foul ball is ludicrous.

    Harry Caray is definitely associated with the Cubs but spent quite a bit of time with the Cardinals. He started with the Cardinals in 1945 and was also an announcer for the American League St. Louis Browns in 1945 and 1946. He was fired after the 1969 season and was replaced by Jack Buck. He spent one year as an announcer for the Oakland Athletics but he could not get along with (depending on the version you hear) Charlie Finley, Monte Moore or both. He broadcast for the White Sox from 1971 until he moved to the Cubs broadcast booth in 1981.

    Sorry, the answer to this week's trivia question is incorrect. The White Sox were already playing in Comiskey Park by the time the stadium we now call Wrigley Field was built. The stadium names are good guesses as well because of the two businesses so closely associated with the team but league parks at that time were most often named after the owners of the teams such as Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and Comiskey Park in Chicago. The stadium now known as Wrigley Field (named after the Cubs owner, Phil Wrigley the chewing gum magnate) was originally named for the owner of the team that originally played there.

  3. The funny thing is, is that I remember Steve Bartman's name, but if I was on a game show and they asked me to name anyone else involved in that series, I wouldn't know! lol You're right though - it is instinctual to reach for a ball if it's coming toward you so not make that fan in the stands a scapegoat is totally unfair.

  4. Thanks for commenting. Unfortunately Bartman has become the center of Cubs fans memories. Fortunately for the players most people have ignored the other mistakes.

  5. To answer your trivia question: The Whales played in Wrigley field before it was called Wrigley field. Back then it was called Weeghmann field (thanks Google!)

  6. even before i read this post, i had known about some of the chances the cubs had to end the inning. espn's great series "30 for 30" had an installment about steve bartman. so yes... the cubs could have ended the game and gone on to the world series. BUT, to me steve bartman still started the down fall. sure, it could have been any fan... but it happened to be this guy. regardless of who it was the cubs still had the bad luck. and what makes it worse is that steve bartman is such a nerd! with the headphones and that fuckin turtleneck... oh my god. what a dork. i dont mean to be mean, but somehow it makes it all so much more worse. imagine: the ball never gets touched by the fan... the cubs have one more out, the game is completely different. to me, that shows that the fan going for the ball made all the difference


    1. I think you and I will have to disagree on this one. The Bartman ball is nothing but a foul ball. We are making the assumption that even if Bartman doesn't touch the ball that Alou makes the catch and controls it after hitting the brick wall. It's a tough play with or without fans.


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