The Bartman Story…in three horrible parts (PART III)
From Bear Down and Get Some Runs:
THE BARTMAN STORY…in three parts
PART III: Game 7
…and so it was back to Yogi’s the next night, this time running into a few guys who graduated with me from New Trier. SANTO 10 once again on my back, and this time, a different section of the restaurant.
Pierre triples to start the game, Castillo flies out, Pudge walks, and then Cabrera unleashes a monster shot to give the Marlins a three-nil lead. And our hearts sink, and it feels as if we are about to trudge through a leach-infested swamp, barefoot and pantless, just to get to the the guillotine that awaits us…But then in the second inning, things turn around. Karros singles with one out, Gonzalez doubles Karros to third, and then Damien Miller grounds into the fielder’s choice to score Karros. 3-1 Marlins, with Kerry Wood coming to the plate, and he works the count full, and after two consecutive balls, BAM! He launches one to left-center…shades of Game 1 against Atlanta…and as the ball sails high I swing my feet up to the top of the waist-high stool, and now I’m squatting on it, and the ball doesn’t bang off the wall but flies over it instead, and now I am standing on top of the bar stool screaming like a child and actually jumping up and down on top of a high bar stool, and my loose jeans fall to my knees and I don’t care. Nobody else does either. Three to three, and Wood puts the Marlins down 1-2-3 in the third.
Up come the Cubs, and after Mark Redman plunks Sosa on what would have been ball four, Alou comes to the plate. First pitch: ball. Second pitch: a swing and a drive and OH MY GOD THAT BALL’S GONE! CUBS LEAD 5-3!
At that point, I was absolutely convinced that the Cubs would win. It made sense. Finally, things are different. I felt certain that the Bartman play was going to go down as the turning point, the play that in past seasons would have killed the Cubs. But not this year. Not in 2003. That’s how I felt.
Brad Penny replaces Redman for the fourth, retiring the Cubs in order. Brian Banks pinch-hits for Penny to lead off the fifth, and in his first AB of the series Banks draws a walk. Come on Kerry. Not now. Keep it together. Pierre flies out, and Castillo works the count full before getting Wood to walk him. And then Pudge…always Pudge…Pudge comes up and doubles to score Banks, and then Cabrera grounds out to score Castillo, and now the game is tied, and then Derrek Lee singles, and now it isn’t. 6-5 Marlins.
And that was that.
Josh Beckett—hero of Game 5…and later, hero of Game 6 of the World Series—replaces Penny for the fifth, and ends up pitching four innings, striking out three and giving up one run on one hit, a solo home run from Cubs’ reserve Troy O’Leary with two outs in the seventh. Florida had already added three runs at this point—all three runs coming off of the stale and crusted Farnsworth—and so O’Leary’s shot only makes it 9-6. Remlinger and Borowski fight off Florida in the eighth while Beckett brushes aside Grudz, Sammy, and Moises, and after Borowski gets the last out of the top of the ninth, Beckett hands the ball over to Marlins’ closer Ugueth Urbina.
Aramis hit by a pitch.
Simon hitting for Karros.
Simon strikes out swinging on 1-2.
Gonzalez strikes out swinging on three pitches.
Bako flies out to left. Cubs slink away.
Florida celebrating on our field.
Me walking out of the bar.
A guy in a Cubs shirt crying while his girlfriend consoles him.
Me in shock.
Me calling my parents.
My mom’s shoulder.
And it’s over.
Did I believe in the curse? No, not really. I come from a fairly supernatural family, but as far as sports are concerned, curses are kind of silly. To be fair, I probably used the curse more as a fall guy, perhaps as a defense mechanism to deflect the feeling that, quite often, this team has been very bad as well as very unlucky. No, there was never a curse, and there isn’t one now. What there is, however, is a horribly negative energy mixed with some bizarre and twisted luck. If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all…
The negative energy at Cubs games is a brutal force. What makes it particularly powerful is the fact that Cubs fans at Wrigley are generally overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. We’re not like a bunch of Philly fans out there, always expecting the worst all the time. We are usually expecting the best. And so, when something bad does happen, everything flips. The sheer speed of the turnaround is most frightening. Oh no. What now? We’re up ten with two outs in the ninth. Why does that double bother me? How are they gonna blow this one? How will it happen? How?
That’s the big one. How. Hitting the Nervous Point is bad enough. When it comes in a way you didn’t see possible even when you’ve already seen everything that is possible, well, it’s unsettling. And over the past twenty years, Cubs fans have been unsettled many times, most notably:
1. The Cubs blowing a two games to none lead in the ’84 NLCS to the Padres, including…
2. …a pre-Buckner Buckner error from Cubs first baseman Leon Durham in the seventh inning of the decisive Game 5 that led to four runs.
3. Maddux winning a Cy Young with the Cubs in ’92 as a 26-year-old and then being allowed to leave for Atlanta, where we watched in horror as he won three more Cy’s and a World Series.
4. Brant Brown. Nuff said.
When your recent history contains all that—not to mention plenty of losing seasons and horrible yet unmemorable games—watching one of your own fans knock away what appears to be a sure out when you are only five outs away from your first World Series appearance in 58 years…well, you can see why we would be nervous. And then Alou’s outburst confirmed our fears, and we all went just a little bit crazy.
And when over 40,000 fans in a contained space all go just a little bit crazy, that’s when trouble happens. After all, if a team can thrive on the positive energy of its fans—and they can (and do)—then certainly they can somehow be affected by a sudden shift in fan-mood. What effect did Bartman have on the players that night? Who can say. But it’s probable that, at the very least, they noticed our collective nervous breakdown.
Bartman didn’t do anything, but he definitely felt like a sign of Things To Come. Perhaps our energy distracted Prior just enough to get him to throw the ball four wild pitch to Castillo. Or perhaps it made Alex Gonzalez antsy, causing him to over-think on the Cabrera ground ball. Again, it’s hard to say.
A sports-curse—any curse, for that matter—is all about design and effect. What will the embodiment of the curse look like, and what will be the ultimate effect of the curse? The negative energy thing explains the effects of the Bartman play.
As for the design, I always found it interesting that the ball landed where it did. If you watch the tape, there are a bunch of fans reaching for the ball. It could have hit any of them. But it hit Bartman, a 26-year-old white male with a sad-sack face, a distinct outfit, and a memorable name that was easy to pronounce. Would fans have been so quick to attack him on the spot if he’d been a woman, or a kid, or a senior, or a minority? Would he have been as memorable if he didn’t have the Cubs hat, glasses, and grey turtleneck? And of course those head phones…not just any head phones, but very specific head phones, the old ones with the thin silver connector piece that arches across the top and the circular black felt.
And what about the name? His name could have just as easily been Swearingen or Syrjamaki or Larrecq or McCarthy-Frankenheimer or something crazy with a bunch of consonants all in a row that nobody could pronounce. But no. It was Bartman. Sounds like a cartoon character…perhaps a super villain even. And then a “Steve” right in front of it. Easy to remember, easy to say. It may not have been the result of a curse, but everything about the play stood out. It was almost too obvious, like a bad movie director sacrificing subtlety in an effort to create Something Memorable.
In the end, it was simply a one-of-a-kind situation that preceeded a lot of bad baseball. It was Prior and Gonzalez and Dusty and Farnsworth. It was Cubs fans at Wrigley, and, somehow, everywhere else. And though we don’t like to admit it, I have to say: it was fun. It may have been twisted and sadistic, and it may have been a horrible mess at the time, but in the end, it was fun.
Why not? Think back on Bartman. Go ahead. Think back. It’s almost so far-fetched and absurd that, in retrospect, it’s kind of funny. It’s awful, yes, but admit: it’s funny. In the end, it’s a memory, and that’s all we really want.
MORE on the 2003 Cubs from readjack.com…
Silverstein IDS column from 10-14-03, the morning of the Bartman Game