Posted October 14, 2013

Ten years later, Cubs’ loss in 2003 NLCS is still not Steve Bartman’s fault

Chicago Cubs, NLCS, Steve Bartman
Moises Alou, Steve Bartman

Steve Bartman and Moises Alou will forever be connected in baseball history. (John Biever/SI)

Ten years ago tonight, the Cubs were five outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945. Chicago led the Marlins 3-0 in the top of the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs gave up eight runs in that inning to lose the game, and then blew an early 5-3 lead the next night to lose Game 7. In the 10 years since, they haven’t won a single postseason game, and they haven’t won a World Series title since 1908.

For many, the flashpoint of Chicago’s 2003 collapse came on a foul ball hit by Florida second baseman Luis Castillo, which came down over the wall in shallow left field. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou leaped to catch it, but a fan in a black sweater, green turtleneck, Cubs cap, glasses and headphones — who didn’t notice Alou — also went for the ball. It bounced away from both of them, of course, and landed in the seats.  Before that half-inning was over, Chicago trailed by five runs. When the Cubs lost the series the next night, the Windy City had someone to blame.

But blaming the fan ignores several important facts. The first is that the Marlins had five hits in that inning, none of them by Castillo, who walked later in his fateful at-bat. Second, Chicago subsequently issued two intentional passes that also came around to score. Third, and most importantly, with runners on first and second and one out, and with the Cubs still up 3-1, shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a sure out, an error that made five of the eight runs that Florida scored in the inning unearned. If there was a key moment in Chicago’s eighth-inning collapse, it wasn’t Steve Bartman knocking a foul ball away from Moises Alou, it was this:

I started my first baseball blog in August 2003 and wrote this about the game immediately after its conclusion:

The lingering image from all of this is the fan knocking the ball away from Alou, but, while that may have signaled to the baseball gods that the curse was on, the crucial mistake of the inning was the error by Gonazalez. Not only was it a routine play, but it very well could have been an inning-ending double play, despite the missed out on the foul ball. On the other hand, even if Alou catches Castillo’s foul, if Gonzalez still makes his error, chances are the Marlins still tie the game.

Fan interference was not called on the Castillo foul because the umpire judged that the ball would have come down outside of the field of play, thus making it fair game for the fans. Had the fan reached into the field of play, the umpire could have called Castillo out. The unfortunate Cubs fan who attempted to catch the ball was quickly drenched in beer and pelted with other items by his fellow Cubs fans (some of whom also reached for the ball but didn’t touch it). He left the stadium with a security escort. While what he did may have been foolish, it did not cost the Cubs the game. That rests on the shoulders of the Cubs pitchers and Gonzalez. It’s one thing for a professional athlete to become a lifelong goat along the lines of Fred Merkle or Bill Buckner — it’s an occupational hazard — but this poor fan technically did nothing wrong and very well may have to move if he maintains a residence in the area. It’s a painful thing to see.

On [ESPN's] Baseball Tonight, Bobby Valentine . . . blam[ed Mark] Prior’s meltdown on the length of the seventh-inning stretch (during which Bernie Mac surely angered the baseball gods by saying “let’s hear it for the Champs” and singing “root root root for the Champs, Champs!”) and the Cubs’ run-scoring bottom of the seventh. Prior’s a young pitcher who sat too long after throwing seven innings, claimed Valentine. It’s possible that had something to do with his performance in the eighth, but it’s the job of the Cubs coaching staff and Prior’s catcher to detect that sort of thing and nip it in the bud by going to the ‘pen. Otherwise, it’s Prior’s job to keep warm during those long layovers late in the game. That still doesn’t explain [Kyle] Farnsworth giving up a three-run double to [Mike] Mordecai, or [Mike] Remlinger giving up an RBI single on his first pitch. And it doesn’t explain Gonzalez’s error.

It’s unsettling to note that Mac died in August 2008 having never seen the Cubs win the NL pennant that he had prematurely bestowed on them, and that Prior, one of the brightest young stars in baseball in ’03, threw his last major league pitch at the age of 25 in ’06 due to a variety of arm injuries. Chicago manager Dusty Baker, who had seen his Giants suffer a similar collapse in Game 6 of the ’02 World Series, also hasn’t managed a team that has advanced in the playoffs since. And the Cubs have been swept in their only two subsequent postseason appearances, losing in the Division Series in ’07 and ’08.

Gonzalez, a Miami native, pops up occasionally as a television analyst and became a certified player agent last year, but he has otherwise been forgotten, due in part to the fact that the other starting shortstop in that game was also named Alex Gonzalez and remained active through this season. The player who hit the ball that Gonzalez booted, and who later scored the go-ahead run for Florida, meanwhile, was a 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera.

As for Bartman, though the Cubs didn’t win Game 7, he didn’t have to move. Instead, he took control of his unfortunate baseball legacy by refusing to participate in it. Bartman apologized to his fellow Cubs fans in a statement released the next day, which remains his only public act since. Despite many lucrative offers, he has never given an interview, and he has never appeared on camera since leaving Wrigley Field with a security escort that night.

51 comments
unclebobbyg61
unclebobbyg61

if Alou is allowed to catch the ball it's 2 outs and Gonzalez does not have to play double play depth, he can play back making it a much easier and routine play and throw


Tom14
Tom14

If Alou catches that ball it's two outs Gonzalez had a force at second or a throw to first, no need to rush to turn a double play. I guess Alou should have called Steve off.

duckfan59
duckfan59

Note also that Bartman wasn't the only fan reaching for the ball. He's just the one that got blamed.

x72
x72

Dusty Baker could have squashed this right after the game, but nope he added fuel to the fire by blaming Bartman.

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

Alou was never going to make that catch. He was a punk for not admitting it immediately.

MattBugaj
MattBugaj

If you can do the Bart-man, you're bad like Michael Jackson.

Dirty_Bob
Dirty_Bob

At the end of the day, regardless of the arguments about who was at fault, the Cubs had another game to win it.  Just like Buckner with the Sox.  Everyone seems to forget those weren't the final games of those series.


That error was by far the biggest mistake that night though.

dwdkc
dwdkc

Bottom line is, the Cubs fans had a chance to allow the out, helping their team over the finish line, and the dilettantes couldn't make the right play.  Typical of Cubs fans.  On the south side, you wouldn't have seen home fans reaching for the ball.  Bartman wasn't even the only one reaching for it!  

nycsports4life
nycsports4life

The loss definitely was his fault. He should have committed ritualistic suicide in that same seat in Wrigley Field to exorcise the demons! Only then will the Cubs win a World Series. Die, Bartman, Die!

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Good write, Cliff, but wonder why you didn't take issue with umpire's ruling ("outside the field of play").  Bartman looks to be reaching "into the field of play" and I suspect the umpire had good vantage point in viewing.  Oh, for an umpire with Hank O'Day's hutzpah in 2003 NLCS. 

stratus5ss
stratus5ss

It was a foul ball, nothing more than that. The Cubs never blamed him or used him as an excuse. Foul ball! Play on. The Marlins beat the Cubs in that series. A foul ball is nothing. It happens like 50 times a game. Get a grip already.

robert.bruce.parsons
robert.bruce.parsons

Bill Buckner should be on Bartman's side of the line instead of Merkel's.  If the Sox had made the plays, there never would have been a ground ball hit through Buckner's legs.  The Red Sox blew that game without Buckner's help.  He was just the after-dinner mint.

Bazelope
Bazelope

The irony is, if he would have made the exact same play with the Marlins fielding and the Cubs batting, he would have been the toast of the Windy City!  Imagine this:  Bartman Helps Cubs Win Their First World Series in 95 Years.  

Bazelope
Bazelope

Had Bartman NOT interfered, the Cubs win that game and they win the World Series.  Period! 

That being said, iIt's a natural inclination to go for that foul ball in that situation.  It doesn't matter who was siting int hose seats, they would have gone after that foul ball.  It's just unfortunate that "Bartman" became the "Eddie Mush" of the 21st Century that night

TCUfan
TCUfan

What bounces in and out of Alou's glove between seconds :18 and :20?

PaulSharpe
PaulSharpe

Sorry, Cubs INSTANTLY became the most cowardly & gutless team in HISTORY for 40 players Utterly Collapsing and blaming someone for what Countless fans have done over the years...   #FtheCUBS

Sam_I_Am
Sam_I_Am

if that was in St Louis, the Cardinals fans would have let their player have a clear shot at catching that foul ball.


But hey, any club can have a bad century of baseball!

Go_paul
Go_paul

I would hope that Mr. Bartman read the bible and sought forgiveness from our savior.

doublejtrain68
doublejtrain68

Bartman did what any other fan would have done. He probably wasn't aware that Alou could have had a play. You can't blame Bartman for the Cubs giving up those runs at the end of that game, and blowing game 7 of that series as well with a lead. I would hope Bartman would come out of hiding and be acknowledged.  

1cubfan2002
1cubfan2002

Cubs fans moved on a long time ago. We all know it's not Bartman's fault...but of course, a few idiot white sox fans and fans of other assorted teams, along with the media, keep this myth alive. Why can't you all just let this man live his life in peace. Of course he'd be welcome at Wrigley, that's not even an issue.

tonybot3
tonybot3

of course its not his fault.
He's simply directly responsible for it... 2 completely different things.

ngk11
ngk11

cub fans have nobody to blame but their own dumb @ss fans for continuing to buy tickets to the games and therefore accepting and embracing mediocrity or less in many cases

ianlinross
ianlinross

Cold comfort for Steve Bartman. The media and those dumb Cub fans that dragged his name through the mud. I'm putting my own curse on the Cubs, don't care if they get Tony LaRussa.

TheTeflonMan
TheTeflonMan

Remember this was game 6. The next night, the great Kerry Wood, Cubs Legend, the "Ace", had a chance to erase the pain, make Bartman a footnote, just a funny story. Wood took the mound for game 7 with a chance make things right. Instead, he crapped the bed. 7 earned runs in 5 and 2/3 innings. Cubs Nation reveres Kerry for his 20 strikeouts in a no-pressure April game but forgets he was the one who really choked away the Pennant.


abigsoxfan
abigsoxfan

Everybody with half a baseball brain knows it wasn't Bartman's fault, but the curse (Billygoats) and the aura of Cubs losing will cause the Bartman blame to never go away for some. Sad that such a diehard Cubs fan will probably never set foot inside his favorite team's baseball yard ever again. If the Cubs ever do win a championship in Bartman's lifetime, the team should do something on his behalf the way the Red Sox did for Bill Buckner. And the Red Sox fans gave him a standing ovation. But Bartman appears to be the kind of guy who wouldn't accept it. I wish him the best. 

surferdad
surferdad

Cliff - I couldn't agree more that it wasn't Bartman's fault - and I didn't think it was his fault then either - But I also could not disagree more on what you've said about Gonzalez.  Yes, it was an error, but only after a delay caused by Alou's ridiculous temper tantrum.  Rather than move on he ranted, screamed, delayed and brought the entire stadium into a chorus of boos and delay.  What do you think that does to one's team and team mates?  He created his own rain delay and his team suffered.

BosephHeyden
BosephHeyden

We all know Bartman isn't the reason for the loss.  We stopped blaming him years ago.  The only reason people keep saying he's the one to blame is because otherwise sports sites and ESPN can't do a Bartman story every year.  Leave the guy alone:  he doesn't want to be a part of the spotlight.

Bearsclone
Bearsclone

@dwdkc On the South Side, you'd have seen either empty seats, or shirtless trash attacking a first base coach.  

Nice effort pretending that White Sox fans are somehow knowledgeable or sophisticated, but any one who lives in Chicago knows the only difference between South Side and North Side fans is that North Side fans tend to have more money.

Thanasaki
Thanasaki

I agree that Buckner was not the only to blame but part of the wrath he endured was his attitude afterwards.  I was watching after Game 7 and he was asked, "Is there anything you want to say to the fans of NEw England?"  He was his chance and what did he say, "I know people want me to apologize, but I just can't.  I had so much fun playing in the World Series I just can't apologize for having fun."  I will never forget that.  Bob Stanley, who threw the wild pitch, which was really a passed ball, that tied the game, DID apologize after Game 7.  This was a guy who got booed during the season and said, "When I'm standing on the mound jumping up and down when we win the World Series I'm going to tell the fans to go to hell!!"  But he said sorry to the fans, and no one gave him a hard time.  He became more of a pathetic figure.  But Buckner,  never apologized and to this day will not take blame for what happened.  Even in 2004 when the Sox won, signs said he was forgiven.  His comment, "Forgiven for what?  What did I do?"  Come on, granted that was not the only play in that debacle, the game was tied at that point, but his error DID end that game instead of going to another inning.  Now he claims it was a loose glove that flapped closed because of his momentum moving over to field the ball.  Bartman showed more class and responsibility than Billy Buck.

RCH
RCH

@Bazelope Wrong. In that case fan interference would have been called, the batter called out, and Bartman still lives in infamy.

Ever see the Final Destination movies where even if you cheat death one way, death gets you another. Well that's the cubs here. You can't cheat the goat.

Thanasaki
Thanasaki

@Bazelope That's assuming, Moisies "No Gold Gloves for Fielding" Alou makes the catch.  Even so, what was the score after that play?  3-0, Cubs leading.  So everything after that was Bartman's fault?  Give me a break.  If the Cubs players were sooooooo distraught over that one play, they did not have the mental toughness of a champion.  Something else would have happened.  Just look at the rest of that series.  Cubs up 3 games to 1, what is the excuse for Game 5?  That was before Bartman, Cubs had a chance to win the pennant in Florida and blew it.  Up 5-3 in Game 7 and lost. Every time that team got close to sniffing the World Series, they blew it.  I highly doubt this team would have beaten the Yankees.  

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@Bazelope its ridiculous to say that the cubs win the game and the series... when they haven't won series since.... when?

riley8
riley8

@Bazelope So you are guaranteeing Alou catches the ball if not for Bartman?  You sir, need to purchase my lottery tickets.

Thanasaki
Thanasaki

@Go_paul  WHAT????  I would hope the people of Chicago seek forgiveness for the way they treated Bartman.  Throwing beer on him?  Death threats?  Putting his name and address in the newspaper?  YOu would have thought he committed the worst crime in Chicago since the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.   Bartman for his part DID apologize. 

PaulSharpe
PaulSharpe

@Go_paul   When someone says 'Savior', they are saying they believe in Adam & Eve & all the other utter Lies & Nonsense from the bible...  #PleaseGrowUpandGetABrain

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@tonybot3 lol what a joke of a comment.... they still gave up a ton of things after that play - assuming Alou makes the play in the first place

PaulSharpe
PaulSharpe

@tonybot3 What part of FOUL BALL do people not get...?!  You, as a player, reach into MY territory, I'll smack you outta my face...

PaulSharpe
PaulSharpe

@TheTeflonMan  All cub's player Crapped out...  Don't forget they were Still a coup[e runs up after this Foul Ball...   #losers

Jim62
Jim62

@surferdad 

I thought Baker needed to take a visit to the mound there to calm things down and refocus the players.  Would it have helped I dunno.

robert.bruce.parsons
robert.bruce.parsons

@Thanasaki It was a strange year for playoffs.  The Red Sox were in the Series because of a dropped foul tip strike three that would have gotten the Angels into the Series, and then Dave Henderson's home run that took the wind out of star pitcher Donnie Moore's sails.  He was never the same for the Angels, and later took his own life.  

The Astros had the Mets' number, and were ahead in the ninth inning.  Had they won, the decisive game would have been pitched by Astros' ace Mike Scott, who also had their number.  The Met batter interfered with a routine throw to first, and was given the base for reasons I still do not understand, the Mets went on to win, won the next day, and it got them all the way to the series. 

All in all, it was a much stranger, more tense playoff year than the Cubs series mentioned above.

Thanasaki
Thanasaki

@AaronDunckel @Bazelope Totally agree.  It is assuming they beat the Yankees four times.  Given they had three chances to beat the Marlins one time, I doubt they would have taken four from the Yankees.  Was Bartman at Game 5 in Florida?  Nope.  Cubs lost.  Was Bartman at Game 7?  Nope Cubs lost.  IF the Cubs WERE a championship team, they would have shown some guts and come out and won Game 7.  

1cubfan2002
1cubfan2002

@PaulSharpe @Go_paul ...and you, Paul, with your comments are showing how unbelievably ignorant you can be. You're the one who needs to grow up.

Jim62
Jim62

@abigsoxfan @1cubfan2002 

So a video uploaded 5 years ago of events that took place in 2003 is your proof that Cub fans are not over it?  Good grief, as for the game sure I was a bit miffed at Bartman, but like the author of the article states the killer play was Alex Gonzalez's error.  He makes that play, I think the Cubs would have pulled it out.  The announcers that game were harping about how great Alex Gonzalez's fielding percentage was that year and how long he had been going without an error.  I was slightly miffed after Bartman, but after the dropped double play ball ugh.......  

TheTeflonMan
TheTeflonMan

@PaulSharpe @TheTeflonMan sure they did.  but even so, Wood (and the rest of them) could have made it right the next night with a clutch game 7 performance.  but they failed.