October 14

This Day in History

Sports

Oct 14, 2003:

Steve Bartman catches ball

On October 14, 2003, a Chicago Cubs fan named Steve Bartman plucks a fly ball out of the air before outfielder Moises Alou can catch it—a catch that would have been a crucial out—in the sixth game of the league championship series against the Florida Marlins. As a result of Bartman’s interference, the Cubs lost their momentum and the game. Bartman was escorted from Wrigley Field by security guards as bloodthirsty fans hurled beer cans and other debris at his head. The next day, he went into hiding—but not before he told the press that "I’ve been a Cub fan all my life and fully understand the relationship between my actions and the outcome of the gam—I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan’s broken heart."

It was the eighth inning of the sixth game of the NLCS, and the Cubs were just five outs away from their first World Series since 1945--five outs away from proving once and for all that the famous Curse of the Billy Goat was dead. (Legend has it that a local bar owner and Cubs fan brought his pet goat to the fourth game of the 1945 World Series against the Tigers, but got thrown out in the middle of the game because, his seatmates said, the pair smelled like a barnyard. The goat’s insulted owner then declared that the team would never win another pennant. When Chicago lost to the Tigers a few days later, he sent a telegram to Wrigley that said simply: "Who stinks now?")

Pitcher Mark Prior had a 3-0 lead, and he was on a roll. Cubs fans were sure their team was finally going all the way. Even when Florida’s Juan Pierre hit a double, things still looked good for the Cubs. Then, all of a sudden, they didn’t: Switch-hitter Luis Castillo stepped to the plate, worked a full count and cranked the ball hard toward the left-field fence. Moises Alou raced backward, jumped up and reached for the ball. He would have had it, too, but just then Bartman reached out and grabbed it just before it landed in Alou’s glove. The ump called the ball foul; Castillo went back to the plate; and an agitated Prior walked him in nine pitches. In the meantime, Pierre had moved to third on a wild pitch. Florida had men on the corners, the tying run at the plate and just one out.

All hell broke loose. A single to left scored Pierre. Then Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez missed a routine grounder and the bases were loaded. After that, team manager Dusty Baker said, "we couldn’t stop the bleeding. They just started hitting the ball all over everywhere." By the end of the inning, the Marlins had scored eight runs and forced a seventh game.

Making matters worse for Bartman, Florida won the next game—and the NLCS—9-6. The Sun-Times printed his name and his picture under the headline "Cursed." A Chicago alderman pointedly suggested that Bartman might consider moving to Alaska; Florida governor Jeb Bush gleefully recommended that he consider moving south instead. It seemed clear, as one Marlins fan noted dryly, that "this guy is their new goat." Chicago has begun to forgive him, but it’s unlikely to ever forget. Meanwhile, the Cubs still haven’t won a pennant.

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