- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

From combined dispatches

CHICAGO — Steve Bartman did not report to work yesterday. He might want to consider entering the witness-protection program.

The lifelong Chicago Cubs fan reached for a foul ball hit near him in the Wrigley Field stands on Tuesday night. It was an ordinary, instinctive act — but one that overnight made him a hated man among Cubs fans and helped keep alive his favorite team’s 58-year streak of futility.

The Cubs, baseball’s lovable losers, have not advanced to the World Series since 1945. That drought seemed about to end on Tuesday, with the Cubs comfortably ahead of the Florida Marlins late in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

Chicago led 3-0 in the top of the eighth inning, five outs from victory. The Marlins’ Luis Castillo was at the plate. The Wrigley crowd was on its feet. A World Series was within the Cubs’ grasp.

Enter Mr. Bartman.

Castillo lifted a long fly ball down the left-field line. Cubs outfielder Moises Alou ran toward the brick wall to make the catch. Mr. Bartman tried to grab the foul ball for a souvenir. He failed to catch the ball, but deflected it away from Alou. Alou slammed his glove in anger and gestured up at the stands. Castillo walked, and fans began to boo Mr. Bartman, dousing him with beer and pelting him with debris.

The failure to turn that foul ball into an out set off a series of events — a single, a key error on a routine grounder, an intentional walk, a pitching change, a sacrifice fly and two unlikely doubles — that allowed the Marlins to score eight runs in the inning. With the crowd sitting in stunned silence, the Marlins closed out an 8-3 victory and forced last night’s Game 7.

When last seen, Mr. Bartman was being escorted from the stadium by security guards — for his own protection — a jacket over his face.

“You cost us the World Series,” one fan yelled. “Kill him,” others chanted.

Angry broadcasters castigated him. A local newspaper found in a Web poll that thousands of people blamed him for playing a role in the Cubs’ loss. Even the governor weighed in.

“Nobody can justify any kind of threat to someone who does something stupid like reach for that ball,” Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said.

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush said an offer of asylum to Mr. Bartman might be a good idea.

The fuss yesterday prompted a scene usually reserved for the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Kaczinski and other serial killers: Reporters descended on Mr. Bartman’s home to find out from family, friends and neighbors just what made him do what he did.

Mr. Bartman, 26, works at a consulting firm in the suburbs, and a spokeswoman there said he did not go to work yesterday.

Finally, a contrite Mr. Bartman released a statement late yesterday.

“I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moises Alou, much less that he may have had a play,” Mr. Bartman said.

“Had I thought for one second that the ball was playable or had I seen Alou approaching, I would have done whatever I could to get out of the way and give Alou a chance to make the catch.”

Mr. Bartman apologized to Cubs fans everywhere, adding he was “truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan’s broken heart.”

“I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs.”

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