Commentary

Isn't it about time we left Bartman alone?

Originally Published: August 4, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

[+] EnlargeSteve Bartman
AP Photo/Amy SancettaMoises Alou found out the hard way that it didn't pay to torment Steve Bartman.
Maybe it's a coincidence, maybe it isn't, but bad things seem to happen to people who torment Steve Bartman, the Chicago Cubs fan who innocently reached for a foul ball nearly six years ago -- and then had his life tied at the ankles and wrists and thrown into a cement mixer.

Bartman was just a guy sitting in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113 at Wrigley Field. I was there that same October night, watching that same Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. The Cubs were five outs from reaching their first World Series since 1945. Clubhouse attendants had already put bottles of champagne on ice. Team and league officials were coordinating the postgame trophy presentation. Marlins president David Samson had just called his wife to tell her she wouldn't be coming to Chicago for a Game 7 after all. It was over.

And then it wasn't.

Mark Prior threw a pitch. Luis Castillo flicked a foul ball toward the left-field line. Moises Alou ran toward the brick wall and iron railing. Bartman, and others, reached out. A 3-0 Cubs lead soon became an eight-run Marlins inning.

You know the rest. The Cubs lost the game, and eventually the series. And a 26-year-old Cubs fan became a recluse.

But slowly, surely, and one by one, those who blamed or mocked Bartman for what happened that night have gotten theirs.

Then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich humiliated Bartman in the days following the game by offering to place him in a witness protection program. He told reporters, "If he commits a crime, he won't get a pardon from this governor."

Speaking of crimes, Blagojevich was impeached and then indicted on 16 federal felony counts of corruption earlier this year. If the feds get their way, Governor Hair Mop will be spending lots of time in prison. Maybe Bartman can visit him and they can discuss pardons.

Alou, the Cubs left fielder whose post-foul ball hissy fit all but empowered the Wrigley crowd to turn on Bartman, saw his career end last year in the obscurity of Double-A Binghamton. A torn right hamstring did him in.

Prior, who glared angrily in the direction of Bartman after the infamous play, was released late last week by the San Diego Padres. Injuries -- and, who knows, maybe the Curse of Bartman? -- prevented him from ever coming close to repeating his 18 victories of 2003. In a cruel tease, he would face the Marlins only twice more in his career, and win each time. His last big league appearance was in August 2006.

The Chicago Sun-Times, which published Bartman's name and workplace, is clinging to financial solvency.

Then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who offered Bartman asylum, is no longer in office.

The ESPN.com reporter who staked out Bartman in an employee parking lot in 2004 is spending the next eight months at the University of Michigan -- torture for an Iowa grad.

Brian Boland, who played Bartman in The Second City's 2004 production of "Doors Open On The Right" (Bartman is blamed for racial division, political corruption, even for weapons of mass destruction), has since left the famed improv group. He appeared in the horror flick "The Unborn" earlier this year. The reviews were scarier than the actual movie.

And then there are the Cubs, who haven't reached the NLCS since 2003. Cubs fans, including those knuckleheads who threw debris at Bartman that night and threatened him with bodily harm, have suffered playoff sweeps in 2007 and 2008.

Now comes news that ESPN has hired Oscar-nominated filmmaker Alex Gibney to direct a documentary on Bartman -- the central theme being, can Chicago and Bartman ever kiss and make up? And why, especially in Chicago, was there a need, almost an urgency, to create a scapegoat?

It's way above my pay grade, and nobody asked, but Bartman needs a documentary like Blagojevich needs Rogaine. Doesn't matter if it's directed by Gibney, Martin Scorsese or Ken Burns. How can you ask if Bartman will forgive and forget when, well, you never let him forget?

"To me, it's all about you can't move forward until you reckon with the past," said Gibney during a Tuesday phone interview. He added, "My goal is not to bring [Bartman] more pain. Maybe it's a way forward for everybody."

[+] EnlargeSteve Bartman
AP Photo/Morry GashThe last thing Steve Bartman wanted when he reached for this foul ball was to be the subject of a documentary.
Fair enough. But Bartman hasn't said a public peep about the incident since issuing a heartfelt statement in 2003. He asked for understanding. He didn't try to cash in on his notoriety. He tried to move on.

But Cubs fans had to blame something or someone for the NLCS meltdown. So with the help of an outraged Alou, they blamed Bartman. It was textbook mob mentality.

Almost six years later, they know better. If injected with truth serum, here's guessing they're embarrassed by the way they acted.

Any Cubs fan with a working brain will at least acknowledge that Prior, not Bartman, was the guy who walked Castillo in the eighth inning, then threw a wild pitch, and then gave up a run-scoring single to Ivan Rodriguez. Prior was the guy who threw the potential inning-ending double-play grounder and Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez was the one who booted it. And Prior was the guy who gave up the two-run double to Derrek Lee that tied the game, 3-3.

They'll admit that Kyle Farnsworth, not Bartman, is the guy who replaced Prior and gave up a sac fly and a three-run double, and that Mike Remlinger followed Farnsworth and gave up a run-scoring single. And there's no getting around that Bartman wasn't in the ballpark the next night when the Cubs blew a Game 7 two-run lead -- and the series.

Nothing against Red Sox Nation resident Gibney, who remembers Billy Buckner and the abuse the first baseman endured after his error in the 1986 World Series, but a documentary will ultimately tell us what we already know -- that Bartman deserved better. He was wrongly convicted and unjustly imprisoned in baseball hell.

Bartman doesn't want an apology or a 60-minute film. All he really wants is to be forgotten.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter