Years ago, this Cubs fan was a World Series scapegoat. Now, he's a mystery to reporters
At the 1997 Ryder Cup in Spain, I spent a morning walking the fairways with Michael Jordan and the afternoon hanging with former President George Bush for 45 minutes by the 17th green.
Now that’s some good name dropping.
I bring up that day because after more than three decades in the business, you accumulate a lengthy list of encounters with high-profile people. It takes quite a bit to be impressed by celebrity.
However, with the Cubs finally reaching their first World Series since 1945, I am reminded of the one person who is No. 1 on my interview wish list: Steve Bartman.
The Cubs’ success has put the spotlight again on that poor old fan who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thirteen years later, the image of Bartman is popping up on Fox, ESPN, the New York Times, and every other outlet chronicling the saga of Chicago’s forlorn team.
The story of the meek-looking guy with the geeky head phones has been told so many times, it has become the stuff of legend. With the Cubs five outs away from the 2003 World Series, Bartman, along with other fans, touched a foul ball in his front row seat along the left-field line at Wrigley Field. Instead of outfielder Moises Alou recording the second out of the inning — and it's still debatable whether he would've made the catch — the game turned quickly, as the Cubs descended into an unprecedented hell even by their low standards.
The avid Cubs fan became the convenient scapegoat. From that point, Cubs futility now had a name: Bartman.
The amazing thing about the story is that Bartman appeared live on television for maybe 20-25 minutes. As the inning disintegrated, the situation got ugly for him. Eventually, security whisked him out of the ballpark. It was the one night where the so-called “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field were anything but.
And that was it. We never saw Bartman again. In fact, we never have heard him talk. He issued a statement the next day, making an unnecessary apology for his role in the play. Everyone glossed over that the fact that Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez botched a sure double-play in that inning that might have made Bartman’s incident a mere footnote.
Bartman completely faded from view. No interviews. No nothing.
I always have been fascinated by the randomness of what happened to Bartman — it could have been the guy next to him — and how it forever changed his life. It is hard to imagine how he can watch his Cubs in the World Series knowing that there might be a 2003 flashback at any point during the coverage.
So many questions have gone unanswered:
- What was his version of what happened?
- Does he feel like he was treated unfairly by Cubs fans?
- Is he still a Cubs fan?
- And the big one: What is it like to be Steve Bartman these days?
It appears the closest any reporter came to talking to Bartman was Wayne Drehs. In a story for ESPN.com, Drehs encounters his subject walking to his car at a parking garage.
From the story:
"I'm sorry to do this here, like this. I feel pretty uncomfortable, but I want to introduce myself. My name is Wayne Drehs. I'm a die-hard, lifelong Cub fan and a feature writer for ESPN.com.
"My editors have assigned me a story about you, and I've wrestled all week with how to write it. I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to just talk to you, ask you, have you tell your story.
"I'm here to ask you for an interview."
Very politely, Bartman told Drehs he would have to consult with his legal team over the interview request. Drehs admitted to being caught off guard that Bartman had a legal team. Needless to say, he never got the interview.
The Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan actually did connect with Bartman’s lawyer for a story in 2013, the 10th anniversary of infamous game. The lawyer basically told Sullivan that Bartman is living his life, and that everyone should move on.
During a recent interview with me for a Poynter column on covering the Cubs, Sullivan said he hopes Bartman maintains his silence.
“I think it is pretty cool that he never has talked,” Sullivan said. “He never felt the need to explain himself. I admire him for that.”
In fact, Sullivan said it has been so long since Cubs fans have seen Bartman, he could be sitting next to them at a World Series game in Wrigley Field and they never would know it.
Indeed, Bartman must place a high value on remaining in the background. As he found out, fame isn’t what it is cracked up to be.
Maybe if the Cubs win the World Series, Bartman finally will break his silence. After all, the Cubs will be winners, and Bartman, along with the Billy Goat and the other Cubs curses, will be off the hook.
But don’t count on it. Bartman doesn’t owe anything to anybody, especially Cubs fans. Some questions don’t have to be answered.