Steve Bartman doesn’t need pity, he doesn’t need redemption and he sure as hell doesn’t need forgiveness.
What he needs is peace.
Thirteen years after Bartman was made the modern-day goat for the Chicago Cubs’ epic run of futility, the object of ridicule and much, much worse, he’s being dragged into the spotlight once again. With the Cubs in the World Series for the first time in 71 years, some fans are begging him to return to Wrigley Field for this weekend’s games or, better yet, throw out the first pitch.
Not to be outdone, the handful of people outside of northeastern Ohio who haven’t piled onto the Cubs bandwagon are invoking his name as if he’s some kind of high priest of voodoo.
And all Bartman wants, all he’s ever wanted, is to be left alone. Left out of the conversations about curses and the many cruel fates that have befallen the Cubs. Allowed to live his life quietly while rooting for the team he still loves.
“Steve is cheering for the Cubs and continues to be a Cubs fan. He just wants everybody, moving forward, to respect his privacy and let his life continue to unfold as the grand plan has it. Unimpeded by things that … have been blown out of proportion,” said Frank Murtha, the family friend who has acted as Bartman’s agent, spokesman and gatekeeper these past 13 years.
“I think that’s the one message. It’s not necessarily a new one.”
To be clear, Bartman, now 39, was never to blame for the Cubs’ collapse in 2003.Moises Alou, Mark Prior, Alex Gonzalez, Dusty Baker – every one of them played a part in the Shakespearian tragicomedy that was the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS against the Florida Marlins.
For those now fuzzy on the details, the Cubs were five outs from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945 when Luis Castillo hit a high foul down the left-field line. Bartman, like every other fan in the history of baseball, including those sitting around him, reached for the ball only to have it bounce off his hands and into the stands.
Now, Alou was never going to catch that ball. Nor, with a 3-0 lead and only five outs to get, should it have mattered.
But Alou and Prior threw tantrums over the interference no-call that even 4-year-olds would find embarrassing, and the Cubs’ fragile psyches were irreparably damaged. A wild pitch by Prior and a booted double-play grounder by Gonzalez, and the next thing you know the Marlins had scored eight runs.
And yet it was Bartman who got the blame, the latest in a long line of evil forces conspiring against the Cubs.
“Steve became the perfect cover for bad baseball and bad managing of baseball,” Murtha said.
Maybe had Bartman looked different, more like the typical Wrigleyville “bro,” the reaction would have been different. Instead his glasses, turtleneck and headphones made him the perfect stooge, and he quickly became the focal point for a fury as vile as it was irrational.
He was mocked incessantly, fodder for Halloween costumes and Saturday Night Liveskits. Police cars sat outside his house for weeks afterward, ensuring no one did anything stupid.
To this day, he still receives the occasional death threat. He remains the easy tagline for some fans and media for the Cubs’ futilities.
“What’s his greatest wish?” Murtha asked. “That this would go away and fade into the sunset.”
Murtha won’t say if Bartman has been back to Wrigley or not since 2003. As for whether he could show up this weekend, Murtha said “it’s safe to say Steve will not be in attendance.”
It’s that elusiveness, Bartman’s fierce determination to disappear while remaining in plain sight, that fuels much of the fascination with him now. He still lives in the Chicago suburbs and hasn’t changed his name or appearance. But aside from a statement after Game 6, he’s never made any public acknowledgment of his place in Cubs’ lore.
Grant DePorter, the CEO of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, has made Bartman shaming a cottage industry, blowing up the ball, using its remnants to make spaghetti sauce and, now, proudly displaying the pile of blackened strings in the lobby of his signature restaurant.
Bartman, meanwhile, has flatly rejected every effort to turn him into a third-tier celebrity. Interviews, appearances, tickets, trips, money – Bartman has turned them all down and, Murtha said, will continue to do so.
“He is a very, very positive person and yes, he’s happy,” Murtha said. “A less solidly footed individual could have had serious problems with this. … He’s wanted to and has been successful in getting on with his life.”
If only everyone else would.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.