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BLEACHER BUMMER

A Fan Must Bear Up Despite Threats, Loss

October 16, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

All Steve Bartman really wanted was to catch a foul ball headed his way and to see his beloved Chicago Cubs clinch the National League championship series with a victory Tuesday over the Florida Marlins, sending his team to its first World Series since 1945.

Neither came to pass, and, thanks to Chicago's 9-6 loss Wednesday to the Marlins in Game 7, Bartman's name will forever be linked to a dark new chapter in the curse of the Cubs, whose World Series championship drought dates to 1908 and is the longest of any major league baseball team.

Longer than the Boston Red Sox, who last won in 1918.

Longer than the Chicago White Sox, who last won in 1917.

With the Cubs five outs from the World Series in Game 6, Bartman not only failed to catch a popup, he prevented Chicago outfielder Moises Alou from possibly making a spectacular grab against the stands along the left-field line.

The misplay prolonged the eighth inning for the Marlins, who turned a 3-0 deficit into an 8-3 victory that will be included among the great postseason comebacks in major league history ... and one of its greatest collapses.

Unlike Jeffrey Maier, a cherubic 12-year-old from New Jersey who gloved a potential fly-ball out and turned it into a hotly contested home run for the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1996 American League championship series against the Baltimore Orioles, Bartman's play hurt rather than helped the home team.

Maier was the toast of the town for the rest of the playoffs that year.

Bartman's name was mud all day long Wednesday, prompting him to make a heartfelt apology late in the day.

"I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented toward my family, my friends and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs," Bartman said in a statement.

Bartman, who said he was heartbroken, described in his statement how the play unfolded.

"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 on the ball," said Bartman, a youth baseball coach.

"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."

The governor of Illinois jokingly chided him for his misplay that prolonged the Marlins' eight-run inning that kept the Cubs from the NL pennant, saying he might be able to get Bartman into the witness-protection program.

"If he commits a crime, he won't get a pardon from this governor," Gov. Rod Blagojevich told the Chicago Sun-Times. "You've got to be looking out for your team."

While discouraging fans from making Bartman's life more miserable than it already was, because of the threats of violence reported against him, Blagojevich took another swipe at Bartman.

"Nobody can justify any kind of threat to someone who does something stupid like reach for that ball," the governor said.

Earlier in the day, the same Chicago newspaper "outed" Bartman in an article that also named his place of employment and his hometown, in the suburbs north of town. Reporters questioned Bartman's neighbors.

Other news outlets initially withheld the 26-year-old man's name, fearful for his safety after he was pelted with debris and taunts in the pivotal eighth inning on Tuesday.

Security personnel escorted Bartman from the stadium after Game 6.

The paper's editor in chief took the unusual step of defending the decision to name Bartman, his employer and hometown.

No other local newspaper, including the rival Chicago Tribune -- owned by Tribune Co., which also owns the Cubs and the Los Angeles Times -- printed Bartman's name.

"It is the biggest news story in town, and this is Chicago," Michael Cooke told the online edition of Editor & Publisher, a journalism trade publication, Thursday afternoon.

"We talked about it for a little while and came down on the side of publishing it. It was not 100-0, but the decision was made and on we go."

Although most Cub fans blamed Bartman for helping to prolong Florida's big inning, some Marlin fans were grateful for Bartman's contribution to the rally.

One, a hotel president, offered Bartman a free three-month stay in sunny Pompano Beach, Fla., with free airfare, dinner and drinks and a water taxi ride along the Intracoastal Waterway.

"As dedicated Marlins fans, it is our honor to return the favor," said Phil Goldfarb, president of the local Holiday Inn.

At least one former Cub, shortstop Don Kessinger, defended Bartman's right to catch the foul ball.

"I think he did what 40,000 people would have done," said Kessinger, who often battled fans along the left-field line for popups during his playing days in the 1960s and '70s.

*

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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