Steve Bartman didn't want to leave Wrigley Field. He wanted to stay exactly where he began Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series: in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113.
But it wasn't his call. Cubs leftfielder Moisés Alou was going all Lord Voldemort on him. And Cubs fans were hurling full payloads of f-bombs at him, not to mention cups of beer and ice. Meanwhile, up in the booth, the Fox TV crew was circling the poor dude on the telestrator—just in case America didn't see him during the eight slo-mo replays and the four live close-up shots.
Give Bartman credit, though. As an entire stadium turned on him, the then-26-year-old Little League coach sat stubbornly in his seat, wearing brown glasses, blue Cubs cap, cheapie black headphones, green turtleneck and blue sweatshirt. And he remained there, even when security personnel asked him to leave for his own safety.
Minutes earlier, Bartman had reached innocently for a foul ball hit down the leftfield line by Florida's Luis Castillo. Just below Bartman's outstretched hands? The outstretched glove of Alou. The ball caromed away, Alou freaked, and Castillo was still alive. "If Alou had just jogged back to his position, Steve Bartman would have sat down and watched the rest of the game," says Paul Rathje, stadium operations director at the time. "Nobody would have ever known about him."
Instead, Bartman is a tabloid phenomenon. Oprah and Dr. Oz would hug him tomorrow—if only he'd come out of hiding.
The whole situation was so Cubs. With Chicago leading 3-0 and five outs from the club's first World Series since 1945, a Major League Baseball official wanted to place "NL Champs" T-shirts on the clubhouse chair of each Cubs player. But then-marketing director John McDonough, who'd seen too much during his 24 years with the tortured franchise, ordered that the boxes stay sealed until the final out. "It was at that precise moment," McDonough remembers, "that it happened."
When security coordinator Julius Farrell saw the broadcasters circle Bartman on-screen, he thought, Okay, this could be a problem. Already near Bartman's section, Farrell ordered a guard to get Bartman out of there. When the guard returned and said that Bartman wouldn't budge, Farrell replied, "Tell him he's going to leave." Farrell then hustled to the field boxes and eventually steered Bartman down an exit well and into a concourse swelled with angry Chicagoans. Security pinned several fans against a wall as a terrified Bartman, still wearing his headphones, pulled his crumpled jacket over his face.
You know what happened next. The Marlins scored eight runs on their way to winning the game, and the following night they took the pennant. And everybody blamed Bartman. Media types and vigilante fans searched for him during and after Game 6. But Bartman walked out the front entrance of Wrigley in disguise, his clothes swapped for a security guard's uniform. Not far from the ballpark, though, he was spotted by a belligerent fan. "I'm thinking, Oh god, we're gonna die," says Cubs security staffer Erika Amundsen, who ducked Bartman into her nearby apartment to evade the mob. "The poor kid is fanatically flipping through TV stations, trying to get information. He's asking, 'Did I really ruin the game?'"
The next day, Bartman issued a written apology and vanished. He still lives and works in the Chicago area, but he continues to decline all interview requests, book deals and six-figure TV-commercial offers.
Yet Bartman went virtually unnoticed among thousands of Cubs fans at Ryne Sandberg's Hall of Fame induction in 2005. "I would have liked to have met him," Sandberg says. "I would have shaken his hand and thanked him for being a Cubs fan."
And one other thing: Sandberg, who also was at Game 6, says he would have reached for the foul ball too.