Cubs say it’s time to stop playing the blame game with Bartman

Cubs say it’s time to stop playing the blame game with Bartman
October 15, 2013, 11:15 am
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Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki

Steve Bartman didn’t want one second of the 15 minutes of fame that has lasted 10 years.

The rest of Bartman’s life began on Oct. 15, 2003, the day after the Cubs completely unraveled in a Game 6 NLCS loss to the Florida Marlins. A Game 7 loss that night guaranteed his name would live forever in Chicago.

But there’s something noble about the way Bartman has refused to cash in on his overnight celebrity, declining all interview requests and guarding his privacy while his image became a Halloween costume: Cubs hat, glasses, headphones, turtleneck.

[MORE: Kerry Wood will never forget the wild ride with 2003 Cubs]

That unbelievable season is recreated in “5 Outs…,” the documentary that premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. For all the hysteria in the moment — see Moises Alou’s temper tantrum in left field — a decade later everyone finally sees it for what it was: A guy reached out for a foul ball.

Just listen to the people whose lives were also changed forever that night.

Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre was at second base when Luis Castillo hit the foul ball that jumpstarted an eight-run rally. Castillo drew a walk and several Marlins recalled pitcher Mark Redman yelling the same thing over and over. Pierre remembered it this way:

“I saw (Alou) reacting a little bit, but guys do that throughout the season. It was heightened so much…I heard Redman keep saying ‘Let’s make this guy famous! Let’s make this guy famous!’”

Derrek Lee — who wound up being traded from the Marlins to the Cubs a month later — also heard Redman’s rallying cry:

“I don’t think I thought much about it. But looking back, you saw the replay and Moises is under it. That play happens all the time. But in that situation — with Mo’s reaction and the combination of everything — it turns out to be one of the biggest moments.”

[RELATED: Guillen recalls Chicago's suffering after 2003 NLCS]

FOX broadcaster Thom Brennaman — who had worked Cubs games for WGN on the TV and radio sides earlier in his career — made the call heard in living rooms across the country:

“I didn’t think Alou would catch the ball, but I have no idea. I know there have been studies where all the smart guys in the world figure out the wind and the direction of the ball. That’s way above my pay scale. (But) when that happened, you didn’t think that all of a sudden this was like some omen. It’s easy for people to look back on it now, (but) you didn’t think that was a precursor.”

Aramis Ramirez had a good view from third base when Alou went up for the foul ball:

“Moises had a play on it, but the ball was in the stands. You don’t want to blame Bartman because of what happened. Any other fan would have done the same thing.”

Sammy Sosa – whose relationship with the Cubs organization would disintegrate in the coming years – called out his teammates for that epic eighth-inning meltdown:

“Our concentration there went south. Period.”

Dusty Baker — who probably would have cemented a spot in the Hall of Fame by managing the Cubs to a World Series title — decided to stick with pitcher Mark Prior and still feels Bartman’s pain:

“That poor guy. You go to the ballpark to support your team, not knowing that four hours later you’re going to be the most maligned guy in town. I felt bad for the guy. I remember seeing his face and it motivated me for the next year. I wanted to win and have Bartman sitting next to me in the ticker-tape parade.

“Boy, that could have been anybody at any time. I mean, how many people would have the presence of mind NOT to catch a playoff ball?”

[MORE: After missing Cubs-Red Sox in 2003, Theo sees Wrigley rocking again]

Prior — who was shutting out the Marlins and had the Cubs five outs away from their first trip to the World Series since 1945 — believes Alou would have made the catch:

“I looked at the tape. I thought it was fan interference. Honest opinion. But I don’t think he changed the course of the game, history or all those things that have unfortunately been blamed on this particular person.”

Outspoken analyst Steve Stone — who was in the Cubs radio booth that night — isn’t so sure about Alou:

“I have never been to the home of Moises Alou, but I do guarantee there are no Gold Gloves on his shelf. So does he make that catch? I dunno. He made a lot of catches that year. He missed a lot of catches that year. It’s supposition whether he could get it or not.

“It’s pretty horrible. I think trying to pin all those things that happened subsequent to that play on Steve Bartman is absolutely ludicrous.”

Remember the Cubs still had Kerry Wood throwing Game 7:

“Yeah, you think it’s fan interference at the time. But the call’s made and Moises got done arguing. You just go back to work. I’ve seen hundreds of (baseballs) land in the seats right there since then. It’s just a foul ball. Maybe he had a chance to catch it. Maybe he didn’t. (That kind of thing) happens every game.”

Jim Hendry — the former Cubs general manager who helped build the 2003 team — was counting down the outs in his box:

“I feel bad for the young man because the guy next to him was just as much a part of the action as (Bartman) was and I don’t think anybody’s ever brought his name up or found out who he is or talked to him.”

[RELATED: Prodigal son Sammy Sosa wants to come home to Wrigley]

CSN personality David Kaplan — who was doing a radio show on WGN after Game 6 — had a call into the station directed to his cell phone:

“(This fan said): ‘We got his address, he’ll be dead by midnight.’ And I said: ‘Excuse me?’ He said: ‘We know who he is. We’ve got his address. He lives in Northbrook. He’ll be dead by midnight.’

“I said: ‘Dude, relax, this is just a baseball game.’ He said: ‘No, it’s not a baseball game. This is our life and he’s going to pay for what he did.’

“We got word that there was already police on (Bartman’s) street and he was going to be fine and there weren't going to be any problems.

“But people were — at that moment — livid. It’s like they found out there was a witch living in their village and they had to go find where this witch was and take care of the problem. It was scary. It was out of control. I’ve never seen a fan base so out of control.”

Dontrelle Willis remembered it differently after celebrating with the Marlins, beating the New York Yankees and winning a World Series ring. But 10 years later, he still gets “hammered” with questions about that NLCS:

“It’s the reason why we love sports. It’s the reason why we attend games. I don’t want to make it a ‘Saturday School Special.’ But it’s the reason why we love what we do, because there’s always a sense that you might be part of something great.”

David Kaplan (@thekapman) and Ryan McGuffey, senior producer of original content (@RyanMcGuffey), also contributed reporting.

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