My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University notes the one and only time the world saw Steve Bartman.
It is odd how things work on the beat. If you asked sports journalists about the one interview they truly would like to land, a bucket-list subject so to speak, it would be with an individual who never played in a game or even sat on the sidelines as a coach.
He appeared on our TV screen for 30 minutes, if that long, before disappearing completely from sight. Come to think of it, we’ve never heard this person speak.
And still haven’t a decade after he was unwittingly thrust into our public consciousness.
No. 1 on most of our dream interview lists: Steve Bartman.
Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the night Bartman’s life changed forever. On Oct. 14, 2003, during the top of the eighth inning of Game 6 of the Cubs-Marlins series at Wrigley Field, the meek-looking fan with the geeky headphones was transformed into a symbol for a century-plus of futility for the Cubs. All because he reached for a foul ball.
The story has been told many times over and continues to be told. In Chicago, Comcast Sports Net will air a documentary, “5 Outs,” Tuesday night on that ill-fated 2003 Cubs team.
Even though I have seen the film many times, I had to watch again. And then again. The incredible random nature of what happened to Bartman, an ordinary fan among 40,000 people on that night, arguably makes it the strangest, if not the most compelling sports story of all time.
The aftermath only served to take the story to an even higher level. The following day, a devastated Bartman issued a statement, apologizing to Cubs fans for his misdeed. That was it. No interviews. No nothing.
Bartman completely faded from view. In fact, during the “Catching Hell” documentary, ESPN’s Wayne Drehs said if you saw Bartman walking around the mall without his Cubs cap and headphones, you probably wouldn’t recognize him.
The Tribune‘s Paul Sullivan writes: “Bartman has remained Sphinxlike, staying out of the public eye, ignoring interview requests and monetary offers and basically keeping a low profile, becoming the J.D. Salinger of sports fans.”
Indeed, that’s part of the on-going fascination with Bartman. In an age when everyone seems to be running towards the spotlight like moths to a flame, he wants nothing to do with it. Bartman has turned down six-figure offers to do interviews.
In the Tribune piece, Sullivan quotes Frank Murtha, an attorney who spoke on behalf of Bartman: “Because of the kind of person he is, he has continued to live his life in a manner with the same moral fiber he had going into this incident. He continues to work. Has this incident posed challenges to him? Yes. Has he more than overcome them? Yes. But he has been bigger than those who have commercially exploited the incident.”
After his story appeared, I contacted Sullivan, a long-time Chicago baseball writer, about what he would ask if he had the chance to interview Bartman.
“If he did talk, of course I would love to be the one he goes to,” Sullivan said. “I guess I would ask him how he refrains from being bitter at the fans and media; how he feels about the ball being blown up; if he considered changing his name; if any good came out of this and of course if he thinks the Cubs will win in his lifetime?
“Many other questions depending on his answers, but those would top my list.”
All relevant questions to be sure. However, there is a part of Sullivan who hopes Bartman never answers them from him or anyone else.
“Actually I think Bartman has gained immense respect for not talking and for not cashing in, so I would hope he continues to remain out of the public eye,” Sullivan said. “The response I have received so far has basically cemented my thinking that his decision to disappear was the correct one.”
To some extent, I can see his point. There is a certain nobility in Bartman’s desire to remain in the shadows. He owes the public, and specifically Cubs fans, nothing. If anything, they all owe him an apology for the intense reaction that altered his life forever.
Yet it’s been 10 years. I think it would be great to hear from Bartman himself. I want to know how his life is going and his thoughts about what happened on that night and the following days after Game 6. There’s a possibility an interview would serve as some sort of closure for him–and perhaps us.
Who knows if it will ever happen? In Sullivan’s piece, Murtha said, “Steve has no intention to personally speak about it. When and if he did, it’d be under his terms and conditions.”
Until then, sports journalists will keep Bartman’s name high on their wish list.