On Oct. 14, 2003, the Chicago Cubs entered the eighth inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series with a 3-0 lead over the Florida Marlins. With a 3-2 lead in games, they were just six outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945.
Then, Steve Bartman happened.
Or, that’s at least what many believe.
Cubs starting pitcher Mark Prior was cruising, shutting down the Marlins lineup for seven innings. With one out in the top of the eighth, Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre hit a line drive into left field and legged it out for a double.
Up came second baseman Luis Castillo. During the at-bat, Castillo lifted a lazy fly ball that was drifting toward the left field stands along the foul line. Marlins left fielder Moises Alou ambled over and appeared to be camped under the ball, ready to make the catch for the second out.
A fan, now known as Steve Bartman, reached out beyond the stands into the playing field and touched the ball just before it reached Alou’s glove.
The umpires declined to rule fan interference on the play, and Castillo’s at-bat continued. He would eventually draw a walk, and the Marlins would go on to score eight runs in the inning. It was a key turning point in the game and in the series—the Marlins would go on to capture Games 6 and 7 and deny the Cubs their first World Series appearance in 58 years.
To this day, Bartman is unfairly blamed for the Cubs’ collapse. In fact, he has never publicly commented on the incident since that night.
Bartman was simply not the cause for the Cubs’ demise in 2003. But it gave the long-suffering Cubbies fans something, or someone, to blame for their team once again failing on the field.
First, there is absolutely no guarantee that Alou would have caught the ball. Reaching into the stands to try and snatch up a pop-up in any situation is a dicey proposition at best. Sure, Bartman may have made a mistake in interfering with the flight of the ball, but Alou cannot say with absolute certainty that he was going to catch that ball.
Second, the Cubs had a three-run lead with five outs to go. They had plenty of opportunity to shut down the Marlins and failed to do so. Blaming Bartman for the Cubs’ inability to get out of that inning is simply foolish.
Mike Everitt was the designated left field umpire for that game, since the playoffs expand the umpiring crew to six instead of the normal four during the regular season. At the time, Everitt thought the play was plain and clear—there was no interference.
"The ball was in the stands. It was clear," Everitt said. "I just zeroed in on the ball, and it was an easy call."
It was easy for Everitt, but for Cubs fans, they needed something tangible to blame the collapse on. Heck, at one time, a billy goat was the cause of all the Cubs’ problems, so why not blame Steve Bartman?
Ten years later, Bartman is still a pariah in Chicago. And while history has been a bit kinder to Bartman in regard to his responsibility for the Cubs collapse, he’s still remembered in a not-so good way.
How about Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, a normally sure-handed fielder who booted an easy double play ground ball to get out of the inning? How about manager Dusty Baker, who left starter Prior in far longer than he should have?
There was plenty of blame to go around for that particular game, and Bartman’s gaffe shouldn’t have even registered anywhere near the top three.
But Cubs fans needed a villain. And Steve Bartman was unfairly given that moniker, one that he still wears 10 years later.