Bartman, 27, has never said a word beyond the statement. He has vanished from the public eye, like a perfectly executed trip into the witness-protection program. Is he still a Cubs fan? Is he married? How has he dealt with having his name associated with the biggest failure in his favorite team's dubious baseball history?
I wanted to know. Deep down, every Cubs fan wants to know. This is why I'm in Chicago.
The research begins
I start by throwing Bartman's name into Google, which is putting a cramp into the business of private investigators everywhere. The results are sickening. "Death to Steve Bartman" message boards. Blogs that encourage Cubs fans to, "not let him do this to us" and to "seek revenge."
Then there are the doctored photos. Bartman hiding in Saddam Hussein's bunker. Bartman pushing the button that set off the World Trade Center bombings. Bartman holding a match to the Hindenburg explosion. And a mug shot with Bartman as the lead suspect in the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings.
There are T-shirts: "Sit Down Steve." "The Curse Lives -- Thanks Steve." And, "Cub fan Rule No. 1: Keep both hands on your Old Style."
And then this shirt, mocking the MasterCard "priceless" commercials:
- Tickets to Cubs game: $200
- Chicago Cubs hat: $20
- 1987 Walkman: $10
- F-----g up your team's chances of winning the World Series: Priceless
No wonder Bartman has gone into hiding, using his press release as his only public words. No wonder his family and friends protect him like an innocent family member who has been accused of a crime he didn't commit.
Armed with stacks of information, I move to the telephone. I start calling people who know people who know Bartman. Names from old stories, people who commented on television in the days after the infamous night, people who know people. The old friend of a friend of a friend trick seems to get the job done in my line of work, but each time I reach someone close to Bartman, I get nowhere. Now I know why.
"I'd really like to tell you Steve's a great guy," a college friend of his from Notre Dame tells me. "But I'd rather Steve not know I talked to a reporter."
And if I don't use a name?
"He still could figure it out," he tells me. "And it's not worth it. He has been through enough."
His co-workers at an international consulting firm, including my mother's former co-worker's current co-worker's son (hey, the Six Degrees of Steve Bartman was worth a shot), won't return my calls.
Most of the people in his neighborhood refuse to talk. Only his next-door neighbor Ron Cohen, through his explanation of why I should "leave Bartman alone" and not "bring back uncomfortable wounds of the past," says much of anything. Cohen has spoken about his neighbor in the past, on morning talk shows and in television interviews, and clearly doesn't want to continue being one of the few glimpses into Bartman's life. But he does, but only because I refuse to hang up, talking about the Cubs, the weather, anything I can to keep him on the phone.
"Look," Cohen says. "He's doing well now. He's fine. He leads a normal life, as far as I know. Every so often, I see him head into the house, I wave, ask how he's doing and he always smiles back."
What about the rumors that he was transferred to London? Or that he had plastic surgery? Or shaved his head? Any of it true?
"What a farce," he says. "Every rumor I hear I don't run next door and check to see if it's true because none of them are true."
"Now go on with your life," he tells me, his tone sounding like a father encouraging his son to put dreams of being a private detective behind him. "There's more important things in the world than the Cubs."
This time I laugh. Although it's beginning to seem that it would be easier to get into George W. Bush's inner circle than make contact with Bartman, I'm too far into the search to quit now.
Does anybody care?
Close your eyes and picture life as Steve Bartman.
Imagine the Cubs being the core of your existence and having your name and photo right alongside the billy goats and black cats of past Cubs failures. Imagine the realization you likely will never visit Wrigley Field again. Your eyes will never gaze upon the dark green ivy, bright green scoreboard or muted brown bricks. Imagine turning on a random St. Louis Cardinals game, watching Albert Pujols chase a foul ball into the front row at Busch Stadium and listening as it sparks a 10-minute conversation about you. It's enough to prompt a swoon into a lifetime of unspeakable depression.
To better understand the pain, I call the psychology departments at Northwestern and the University of Chicago. They don't seem interested in local problems, so I enlist the help of Dr. Richard Lustberg, a New York-based sports psychologist who has worked with everyone from Little Leaguers to major leaguers in his 30 years practicing and studying sports psychology.
Lustberg has never met with Bartman, never spoken with him. But he insists he can help me. His ego is immense. He tells me that if ESPN flies him to Chicago, he can convince Bartman to join us on a trip to Wrigley Field. I tell him he's nuts.
"It's what I do for a living," Lustberg explains. "I get people to talk. Just give me a shot."
I politely decline, but press him for insight into Bartman's head. The way Lustberg talks, with his authoritative, non-stop psychobabble, he sounds like he has the entire situation figured out.
"He simply loved the Cubs too much," Lustberg takes 15 minutes of premium couch time to explain. "That's why it hurts."
I argue that it's impossible. That if Bartman loves the Cubs too much, then I love the Cubs too much.
"That's why you think this is such a big deal," Lustberg said. "But in the grand scheme of things, it isn't. Nobody cares. And that's what I would try to tell Steve."
Preposterous. Clearly, the lifelong New Yorker doesn't get Chicago sports. Bartman's blunder is one of the biggest sports stories in the Windy City's modern sports history. Jordan's six championships, Super Bowl XX, Sosa's Summer of '98 and Bartman. But Lustberg doesn't budge. He challenges me to ask 100 random Chicagoans -- white, black, young, old -- if the name Steve Bartman means anything to them. He contends less than half of the city will recognize the name.
I laugh again, hang up the phone and head to Blues Fest, a melting pot of Chicago's multicultural diversity in Grant Park. On this humid, overcast Sunday, the park is filled with more than 100,000 people. I talk to everyone from homeless men begging for change to the economically elite sipping on wine and nibbling on cheese. I talk to police officers, preachers, garbage men, yuppies, even four Indian women sitting on a park bench bobbing their heads to the blues.
I ask every single one of them, 100 people total: "Does the name Steve Bartman mean anything to you?"
Twenty-seven say yes. Seventy-three say no. One "no" is a guy wailing on a harmonica in a tattered Cubs hat. When I clue him in that Bartman has something to do with the Cubs, he still can't guess.
"I just wear the hat," he says.
Cracking the code of silence
Lustberg had helped me, but in the wrong way. His argument was that nobody cared. I argue Cubs fans care. Plus, I care immensely, and that burden must be eased.
I soldier on and put in a call to Jeff Lashey, an executive vice president and crisis management expert at Edelman, one of the world's top public relations firms. PR agencies usually are the enemy in stories such as this, always looking to place things in a positive spin. Good PR is about staying on message, but with Bartman the message is doom.
So I go straight for the jugular, seeking to learn how they would advise Bartman if he hired them.
Lashey is downright energized about my call, a break from the monotony of helping Fortune 500 companies overcome PR disasters. He begins by analyzing Bartman's statement.
According to the expert, the message was flawless.
"It was very personal, with his own real feelings and emotions in it," Lashey said. "And that's an effective way to deliver your message. He did it right."
So right, that Lashey says Bartman has every right to not talk to me. Or anyone else for that matter.
"It depends how much he wants to bleed his heart," Lashey said. "If he feels he needs to further convey what this has all been like for him, then maybe I would say do a select interview. If he's still struggling with how he's going to live his life and this is just going to re-ignite the pain, then maybe you don't go that route."
But in this day and age, everybody talks. From victims of child abuse to mistresses of convicted murderers, everyone ends up telling their stories to "Dateline," or "20/20" or "Entertainment Tonight."
With offers from media outlets across the nation, why would Bartman be any different? We're approaching the two-year mark. Surely, it's time for his story to be told.
Lashey, a former television reporter, can't keep the instincts from his previous job from kicking in. In one sentence he blows up the argument from the shrink and further fuels the fire that people still care.
"If I were a sportswriter, I'd do what I could to get him to talk to me," Lashey said. "Because whether he wants to admit it or not, that one play may have changed the course of baseball history.
"I was sick when I watched that happen. Absolutely sick to my stomach. But I still want to know what happened to him."
I need to find Bartman. See him. Know if he's doing as well as his neighbor suggests. So, I head to his parents' home in Chicago's comfortable north suburbs. Although many offspring leave the nest as they close in on their 30s, I have pieced together the fact Bartman currently lives at home.
The address is easy to find -- it's still plastered all over the Internet. So armed with the facts and just the facts, I head out a little before 7 a.m. on a quiet Friday. I head from city to suburbs, finally making my way down a quiet, peaceful street Norman Rockwell would have painted.