The "Steve Bartman game," otherwise known as Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series between the Cubs and Marlins at Wrigley Field, was 15 years ago this Sunday. Here are some things to know about the game and the aftermath.
1. The ball's journey
After Luis Castillo's foul ball with one out in the eighth bounced off Bartman's hands, it landed in the lap of a 33-year-old lawyer sitting behind him. The unnamed attorney, who said he planned to fund his child's college education with the profits, put the baseball up for auction in December 2003. Harry Caray's restaurant bought it for $113,824. Then in February, 2004, at the restaurant on West Kinzie Street, Oscar-winning special effects coordinator Michael Lantieri drilled a hole into the ball, inserted explosives and blew it up. Emcee Tim Walkoe told the crowd and a national TV audience: "You're now looking at $113,000 worth of string." The remains are now on display in a glass case at the Chicago Sports Museum in Water Tower Place.
2. Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113
It's an excellent seat. First row, on the aisle, along the third base line, not far from the left field wall. Steve Bartman stood up from that seat and reached for Castillo's foul ball on Oct. 14, 2003. Since that game, the seat has become a tourist attraction with fans recreating the notorious play. For Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS, up 3 games to 2, (the same spot the Cubs were in 13 years earlier), a 38-year-old Cubs fan named Bryan (he did not give his last name) was in the seat. When asked what he planned to do if a foul ball came his way, he said: "We're going to stay out of the way." One note, when the lower grandstands were reconfigured before the 2017 season, that seat number was changed. It is now Section 2, Row 8, Seat 108. The Cubs said the connection between the new seat number and the fact that the Cubs' 2016 World Series triumph was their first in 108 years is purely coincidental.
3. It never was called the "Alex Gonzalez Game"
Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez built a reputation as a sure-handed shortstop. But two batters after the Bartman incident (Castillo had walked and Ivan Rodriguez singled), with runners on first and second and still one out, Miguel Cabrera hit a ground ball to Gonzalez, seemingly a sure double play that would have ended the inning with the Cubs still up 3-1. "I was trying to get an out there and the ball ate me up," Gonzalez said. "I didn't expect it to get there that fast. It was an unfortunate inning." The ball bounced out of his glove. Everybody safe. "We thought we had a ground-ball double play, because Gonzo ... he has only made 10 errors all year," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's the stunning part, because he doesn't miss anything. And then after that we couldn't stop the bleeding." By the time the Cubs came to bat in the eighth, the Marlins had scored eight runs. (Gonzalez played three more years in the majors, none as a regular. His career ended May 21, 2006 after playing 20 games for the Phillies that season.)
4. Mark Prior still might get that World Series ring
Prior had been cruising in Game 6, giving up four hits and no runs through 7 1/3 innings, when Juan PIerre doubled and then Castillo sliced that foul ball down the third base line. He and the team then fell apart. Prior walked Castillo, gave up a single to Ivan Rodriguez scoring Pierre, then the Gonzalez error and a two-run double to Derrek Lee. Baker then mercifully pulled him for Kyle Farnsworth. Prior never had another year like 2003 (18-6 with a 2.43 ERA). He played in five injury-plagued big-league seasons through 2006, all with the Cubs. After several failed comeback attempts, he gave up that dream. Now he is finishing his first year as the Dodgers' bullpen coach. If they can beat the Brewers in the NLCS and then win the World Series, he might get what he came deliciously close to getting in 2003.
5. Moises Alou: Would he or wouldn't he?
One of the searing images of that 2003 game was Cubs left fielder Moises Alou's angry reaction after Castillo's foul ball deflected off Bartman's left hand. The ball was clearly coming down into the seats and Alou had to reach over the wall breaking the plane between the field and the stands, so it was not fan interference (despite Dusty Baker's vigorous claims that it was). But did Alou think he could have caught it, likely preventing the Marlins comeback? Initially he said he did. Then in 2008, he told the Associated Press: "Everywhere I play, even now, people still yell, 'Bartman! Bartman!' I feel really bad. You know what the funny thing is? I wouldn't have caught it anyway." Months later Alou changed his mind: "If I said that, I was probably joking to make (Bartman) feel better." Then in 2016, after the Cubs had won the World Series, he told Tribune reporter Mark Gonzales that he reiterated that he would have made the catch: "I had the ball. (But) it don't matter anymore. ... I got upset at the time. It was not the kid's fault." Alou, who was in his 10th major-league season in 2003, played five more years, one with the Cubs and then moving to the Giants and finally the Mets.
6. Maybe all fans sitting in the first rows should sign an oath
Nearly 15 years to the day, on Sept. 26, the Cubs were playing the Pirates at Wrigley Field in a crucial game in a pennant race. With the Cubs up 6-4 in the ninth inning, Pirates pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli hit a foul popup to the first-base side. First baseman Anthony Rizzo trotted toward the stands, extended his glove and was about to catch the ball when a fan in the first row snatched the ball away. Instead of two outs and a runner on first, Cervelli got another chance. He doubled to put men on second and third with one out. Both runners eventually would score. Tie game. Not again! As it turned out, not again: In the 10th, Cubs outfielder Albert Almora hit a game-winning single, clinching a playoff berth. The other difference in that play was Rizzo's reaction. He seemed miffed he didn't make the play, but no anger toward the fan. "It was just one of those weird plays," he said later. And who was that fan? Doesn't matter now.
7. So where is Steve Bartman?
Perhaps the most remarkable storyline in the years since the 2003 game is that Steve Bartman has managed to remain private. Other than his statement soon after the game ("There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last 24 hours. ... "), a close encounter with a ESPN reporter who tracked him down in a parking garage and his comments after getting a World Series ring ("Although I do not consider myself worthy of such an honor, I am deeply moved and sincerely grateful..."), he has lived quietly, possibly in the Chicago area. In 2017, after news of the ring gesture, Bartman's attorney and spokesman Frank Murtha said: "We're not about to begin a celebrity book tour or anything like that." In this age where privacy is rare and too many people are eager to expose others, it's amazing and affirming that he has not been outed on social media or by the media. His friends, his co-workers, his family, the people he encounters every day, apparently have protected him. So the next time we hear from Steve Bartman, if ever, it should be on his terms.