The Bartman Ball
Moises Alou went ballistic. Mark Prior started the fingerpointing. And Alex Gonzalez committed the worst error of his career.
The meltdown has been reviewed over and over (and over), and several players poured gasoline on the fire.
So playing "what if" with Cubs fans about the Bartman Incident is like poking little caged bears with a long stick: they'll cry, whimper and complain, but there's nothing they can do about it.
It's just mean.
A recent episode of ESPN's 30 for 30 looked closely at what happened, interviewed players and fans sitting near Steve Bartman, and made a compelling case that he deserves an apology.
He was a lifelong Cubs fan, taught little league baseball, and got tickets to Game Six for himself and two friends.
Most of us weren't at the game, much less reaching for that ball like any good fan would. So we're lucky—it could have happened to anyone in his seat.
Even so, what followed is the stuff of legend.
And here are 10 things that might have been different if Bartman had never laid a finger on the ball.
Cubs were ahead 3-0. Ace Mark Prior had tossed a three-hit shutout. A foul ball down the left field line, off the bat of Luis Castillo, and Moises Alou was fixated on chasing it down.
So, too, was Steve Bartman, who would later say:
I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moises Alou, much less that he may have had a play. Had I thought for one second that the ball was playable or had I seen Alou approaching, I would have done whatever I could to get out of the way and give Alou a chance to make the catch.
So it's true of both guys: He thought he could catch it. He almost did. He came up short.
Alou got upset and threw his glove. He glared at the fans. And his reaction made clear he thought he had a chance.
After a few years of watching replays, he might have changed his mind.
In a 2008 interview, Alou reportedly said, "Everywhere I play, even now, people still yell, 'Bartman! Bartman!' I feel really bad for the kid. You know what the funny thing is? I wouldn't have caught it, anyway."
But later he said, "I don't remember that. If I said that, I was probably joking to make him feel better. But I don't remember saying that. It's time to forgive the guy and move on. I said that the night it happened."
So who knows if he could have caught it?
Either way, his tantrum inspired reactions from fans and teammates.
Because if that ball was two feet farther into the stands, it would have been just another foul. No drama.
Hey! That guy touched it!
Instead, Prior points at the umpire and asks if it's fan interference.
He's asking for a lot of good reasons: Alou's reaction, it's a close play, and (just maybe) because he's already thrown 100 pitches.
Most of all, he wants an out. Everyone wants an out. Cubs fans are counting outs, needing just five more to go to the World Series.
But when Prior asks if there's interference, it drew more attention to Bartman, Alou and the meltdown.
Umpire Mike Everitt ruled there was no fan interference, that the ball broke the plane of the wall separating it from the field of play, and entered the stands.
That means Bartman had a right to catch the ball.
But because there's no jumbotron at Wrigley, and no replays available, it was easy to think the Cubs got a raw deal, and that one of their own fans had cheated them.
The faithful were nervous; most of them had never been so close to seeing the Cubs in a World Series, and they'd been waiting for something bad to happen.
Could one of their own be to blame?
Despite the ruling, fans' fears of a collapse were legitimized when Prior walked Luis Castillo on a wild pitch.
That allowed Juan Pierre to go to third and put two runners on with one out and a three-run lead.
Next, Ivan Rodriguez lined a hanging 0-2 curveball for a run-scoring single, putting the tying runs on first and second while bringing Miguel Cabrera to the plate.
Rattled and weary, Mark Prior still induced Cabrera into the perfect, double-play grounder on the first pitch of the at-bat.
It headed right for Alex Gonzalez, the best fielding shortstop in the National League that year.
It's exactly what Cubs fans wanted to see. It should have been inning over, no big deal. Foul ball incident erased.
But he botched it.
Like Bill Buckner or Leon Durham, this was a "gimme" gone bad. Something had to be wrong with the Cubs.
The curse of Steve Bartman was born. Without him, fans would remember Alex Gonzalez in the same breath as Buckner and Durham.
Because instead of escaping, the Marlins had the bases loaded for Derrek Lee, down by just two.
Derrek Lee doubled. Mike Mordecai doubled. Jeff Conine hit a sacrifice fly. Juan Pierre got his second hit of the inning.
For Cubs fans, sometimes it feels like Florida is still batting.
But finally, Luis Castillo, the man whose fouled pitch earlier in the inning became The Bartman Ball, popped out to second.
And after posting eight runs in the eighth inning, the game was effectively over.
According to ESPN's documentary, fans on Waveland Avenue outside Wrigley Field had access to a few TVs, saw the replays, and were among the first to chant vulgarities in reference to Bartman.
This caught on inside the park.
And got worse.
Threats, beer and food were hurled at him, too. Security guards were required to safely escort Steve Bartman and his friends from the stadium.
Meanwhile, instead of celebrating, the Cubs faced a five-run deficit in the ninth.
They saw just seven pitches from Ugueth Urbina.
Paul Bako struck out.
Ramon Martinez hit the first pitch for a flyball to right field.
And Kenny Lofton ended it where the nightmare began, with a popout behind third base, not far from Bartman's empy seat.
Chicago lost 8-3. All eight runs were scored in the eighth inning.
A trip to the World Series meant the Cubs would have to win Game Seven.
In a game Cubs fans would have rather skipped, the curse reared its head early. Chicago gave up three runs in the first inning and Florida continued hitting everything in sight.
The Marlins pounded out 12 hits and nine runs, knocking another Cubs ace out of the game in consecutive nights.
Kerry Wood is famous for saying, "I felt I let the team down, the organization down and the city of Chicago down. I choked."
But at least he homered to help the offense to a 5-3 lead.
Kyle Farnsworth was ineffective during a close game, and the Cubs couldn't stop the bleeding, losing 9-6.
Florida went on to beat New York in six games in the World Series.
What if the Cubs had faced the Yanks?
Wood and Prior were depleted but would have pitched as much as possible. Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano had been strong through the playoff run, but the Cubs' closer was Joe Borowski, so the team had weaknesses, too.
The Marlins marched into New York, won Game One, then finished off the Yankees with three straight wins in Games Four, Five and Six, all by two runs or less.
Could Chicago have done that? Did the Bartman Incident cost the Cubs a chance at a World Series victory?
Some fans believed so, and were ready to rid the team of its demons in the offseason.
Remains of the Bartman Ball
Maybe a few believed the ball was cursed. Most just wanted to vent frustrations.
Everyone knew it would be fun see a baseball explode.
And why let an opportunity like that disappear?
Already rooting for a cursed organization, a mob of Cubs fans threw a party to blame the baseball and watch it blow up.
Mostly, this explosive diversion saved everyone from a harsh reality: the Cubs might have lost to Florida anyway, or lost to the Yankees in the World Series.
And expectations for the team were higher than they had been since the mid-1980s. Fans wanted to see the Cubs contending for championships. There was no room for another curse, with the black cat and billy goat still plaguing the franchise.
Bartman had already left Chicago, disappearing into anonymity after issuing an unnecessary apology.
But the ball was destroyed.
Alou reached for it. Bartman reached for it. Both missed. And what happened next was a litany of self-destruction.
The team imploded. The ball was exploded. Bartman was run out of town.
And the Cubs found themselves in the same place they'd been after every season for almost a century, wondering, "What if?"
Some things never change.
But Bartman deserves a better fate. The Cubs tried to quell the frustration of fans targeting him, releasing a statement after the incident that said:
The Chicago Cubs would like to thank our fans for their tremendous outpouring of support this year. We are very grateful. We would also like to remind everyone that games are decided by what happens on the playing field—not in the stands. It is inaccurate and unfair 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. This was an exciting season and we're looking forward to working towards an extended run of October baseball at Wrigley Field.
But maybe the Cubs will make another attempt to reach out.
New President, Theo Epstein, said, "From afar, it seems like it would be an important step, maybe a cathartic moment that would allow people to move forward together. I'm all about having an open mind, an open heart and forgiveness. Those are good characteristics for an organization to have as well. He's a Cubs fan. That's the most important thing."
Besides, the Cubs hired Bill Buckner as batting coach of the Boise Hawks, their Class A, minor-league team. People forget he won a batting title while playing 81 games at Wrigley Field in 1980.
That's a start.
And for Cubs fans, it represents the kind of change worth believing in.