Playoffs return to Wrigley Field, no sign of Steve Bartman
CHICAGO (AP) Steve Bartman is the most infamous Chicago Cubs fan the city has ever known, blamed by many for destroying dreams the same way Mrs. O'Leary's cow is blamed for destroying the city more than a century earlier.
Twelve years after that October night when Bartman deflected a foul ball that appeared destined to land in left fielder Moises Alou's glove and help land the Cubs in the World Series for the first time since 1945, 78-year-old fan Phil Grinstead feels only sadness for perhaps the most vilified fan in baseball history.
''I think he made a big mistake by going for that ball,'' said Grinstead, who was sitting maybe 20 feet away from Bartman that night and was back in the park on Tuesday night for Game 3 of the NL Championship Series against the New York Mets. ''But it wasn't big enough to bring the wrath of the world on him.''
Bartman was hustled out of Wrigley Field that night and as far as anyone knows he has never been back. He avoided the spotlight ever since.
Many feel he should be escorted back as a guest of honor.
''It would be great to have Steve Bartman come back to throw out the first pitch,'' said Wayne Broadfield, a lifelong Cubs fan who now lives in Washington, D.C. ''There is such a great feeling and moment right with this team now that I think everybody would embrace that.''
There has been talk over the years that the same man who issued an ''apology from this Cub fan's broken heart'' after the game is owed an apology himself. Some started a GoFundMe page to buy Bartman a ticket to a game, airfare and some spending money if he would just return to Wrigley for a game. To the surprise of no one familiar with the anger in and around Chicago after that game, he has declined the offer and many like it.
''Right after it happened, it could have easily made hundreds of thousands or more than a million dollars,' said Frank Murtha, a longtime family friend who has been acting as a spokesman for Bartman and saying no to the hundreds, if not thousands, of requests for interviews. Bartman was not interested in anything - from a ''six figure'' offer from a tax company to do a commercial to a playwright's proposal to tell his story on Broadway to an offer to sit behind home plate during a World Series game at Yankee Stadium.
''He has just gone about his life,'' Murtha said.
The Cubs have made it clear, Murtha said, that Bartman would be welcome to return to Wrigley any time he likes. But the team has not invited him to the park for the playoffs, the team confirmed. All of which is OK with Murtha.
''When this thing gets into the limelight again and things are written or said about him there will be calls that come in for him that are threatening,'' he said.
At Wrigley Field before the Mets beat the Cubs to take a 3-0 lead in the NLCS, there was a buzz around the so-called scene of the crime.
It is a simple seat down the left field line, aisle 4, row 8. Seat 113, unadorned but freighted with history nonetheless. The seat where Bartman sat that October day is hallowed ground for some. One after another, they came to sit in it, have their picture taken in it or just look at it. Tyler Weber, a 23-year old nursing student from Morton, Illinois, was among them. He praised Bartman's refusal of all those offers.
''Not taking all that money, that says a lot about him,'' he said.
Jean McClung, a 79-year-old Cubs fan whose seat was directly behind the Bartman seat, said she's been told by ushers that there is always a stream of interested fans coming and going.
''I think we all ought to just forget it,'' she said.
The man who had a ticket for the seat for Game 3 didn't want to give his name, saying only of Bartman: ''He didn't lose the game and he didn't lose the next game (Game 7), either.''
''To blame that game on one ball and one fan is ridiculous,'' said Ellen Schilling, a 71-year-old fan sitting nearby who grew up in the suburbs and now lives in St. John, Indiana. ''It is a shame he didn't come back and it is a sad commentary that he probably wouldn't be safe if he came back. And for what? For doing something any normal fan would have done. ''