He wore glasses, a green turtleneck, and most damningly, Walkman headphones so he could listen to the Cubs’ historic pennant-clinching game on the radio. We would later find out that he was a computer consultant who still lived with his parents, but he looked like a little kid, which is what Fox announcer Steve Lyons initially thought he was. Steve Bartman, the 26-year-old Chicago Cubs fan who reached onto the field for what seemed like a meaningless foul ball in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 National League playoffs, fit a profile. Even his name — Bartman — seemed to contribute to making him a villain, the scapegoat who cost the cursed Cubs a chance for their first World Series title since 1908.
The television cameras lingered on Bartman after Cubs leftfielder Moises Alou failed to come up with the flyball. Lyons added to the palpable anger, saying, “I’m surprised someone hasn’t thrown that fan onto the field.” And when the Cubs subsequently collapsed that inning, allowing the Marlins to score eight runs, the crowd turned on him. He had to leave the stadium for his own protection, and the image of him hiding his face while being being escorted away captures a man who himself understands — the radio announcers had probably already whispered his sudden notoriety into his ears — that his momentary and natural impulse to catch a foul ball had resulted in a great sports crime.
Of course, Bartman wasn’t the only man in his row who reached for that foul ball. Nor was he playing shortstop on the easy groundball that Alex Gonzalez subsequently bobbled. Nor was he one of the Cubs pitchers who squandered a three-run lead when they needed only five outs to make the World Series. He was just a fan, doing what fans do.
Tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN, Alex Gibney, the documentary filmmaker who made Taxi to the Dark Side, searches for the reclusive Bartman in his documentary, Catching Hell. Check out this clip: