Game Six of the 2003 National League Championship Series: Who Is to Blame for The Cubs Loss?

Steve Bartman, fan, and Moises Alou, left fielder for the Chicago Cubs, both attempting to catch a foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. | Courtesy of Sports Fix Chicago

Winner of the Spring 2017 StMU History Media Awards for

Best Explanatory Article

In Game Six of the National League Championship Series in 2003, the Chicago Cubs were about to win over the Florida Marlins, when a fan reached over the railing and interfered in one of the last outs of the game. From there, after leading the game 3-0, the Cubs went on to lose 8-3. Although the fan passed the railing, the umpire missed the call, and the fan, Steve Bartman, was harassed continuously throughout the rest of the game until he was finally escorted away by security. Since that game, he has yet to talk to the public, and the so-called “Curse of the Billy Goat” lives on for the Cubs.1 Although many people blame the fan for interfering, not many people know that he was not the one at fault, nor do they know what should have happened. Column writer John Kass believes that it is the curse itself that is at fault, and people do rituals to possibly break the curse.2 Steve Bartman’s attorney Frank Murtha believes it was the Cubs themselves that psyched themselves out and should have taken matters into their own hands.3 Authors Walter Yurkanin and Tom Hoffman on the other hand, believe the umpires called the play wrong.4 After analyzing the evidence from this event, I believe the batter should have been called out, rather than continue the at-bat.

Steve Bartman, like any other fan at a baseball game, was of course excited to be there at the game. Anyone that has the chance to catch a foul ball will not let that kind of an opportunity pass, especially at one of the most historic games in baseball history, which is what Bartman did. The Cubs were in the lead 3-0 in the 8th inning with five outs to go to clinch the first NLCS title since 1945. With a full count, Florida Marlins second baseman, Luis Castillo, hit a foul ball to the left field foul side and Steve Bartman reached over the railing and deflected the ball from Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. Had Alou caught the ball, that would have been the second out of the inning. Since that did not happen, the Marlins scored multiple runs, which led to the final score of 8-3, with the Marlins taking the win.5

William “Billy Goat” Sianis with pet goat “Murphy” | Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
In 1907 and 1908, the Chicago Cubs won back to back World Series titles, but they have not made it past the National League Championship Series since 1945. What is so bizarre about this huge gap between 1945 and 2015 is the strange plays or moments that have contributed to the lost chances for the Cubs.6 In 1945, a man named William “Billy Goat” Sianis brought in his goat named Murphy to Game Four of the World Series. People complained about the odor from the goat, and both Sianis and his goat were asked to leave. Insulted by the event, Sianis then cursed the Cubs, saying that they would never win a World Series ever again, thus starting the so-called Billy Goat Curse. That year, the Cubs were up in the series 2-1 over the Detroit Tigers in the NLCS, and ended up losing it in four straight games. Since then, Sianis’s family members have tried lifting the curse, but that has yet to work.

Another weird season occurred in 1969. The Cubs were in second place in their league, when a black cat got onto the field and circled around team captain Ron Santo.7 After this incident, slowly the Cubs lost their second place spot and failed to make it to the National League series. Then in the 1984 NLCS, a routine groundball was hit to first baseman Leon Durham. Unfortunately, it went under his legs, and going from what was once a lead of 3-2, the Cubs ended up losing the game and the series against the San Diego Padres.

Bill Buckner watches his misplayed ground ball | Courtesy of the Sports Resource Zone

Lastly, in a manner very similar to what happened to Durham, one of the most well-known plays in baseball happened to former Cubs player Bill Buckner. In 1984, Buckner was traded to the Red Sox, and two years later he got the chance to play in the World Series as a Red Sox player. With a runner on third, and the game already in extra innings, a simple ground ball was hit to him at first base. The ball went through his legs and the run scored, causing the Red Sox to lose the game.8 Although this did not happen to him while he was still with the Cubs, what is so strange about it is he was wearing his old Chicago Cubs batting glove under his regular glove, linking the event to the curse on the Cubs that Buckner brought with him into the Red Sox. From all of these various events, many people are convinced that the Cubs really are cursed.

Frank Murtha, Steve Bartman’s attorney, believes otherwise. Since the night that everything happened, he has worked with Bartman by helping him field and take the requests people make of him for television interviews, etc., even though in all cases the answer has been not to speak with Bartman himself about Game Six.9 Murtha has worked with sports law for many years and is a professor at Northwestern University, teaching at the graduate school. He believes that the Cubs should have taken the matter into their own hands and not let so many runs come in.10 As a Major League baseball team, it is their responsibility to play the best they possibly can, and letting the Marlins come back to score eight runs in a matter of one inning is unheard of. I agree to a certain extent, but I also think that when a situation like this occurs, one can become unfocused and frustrated, which to me seems to be the reason why everything seemed to fall apart in the eighth inning.

In the Major League of Baseball Rule Book, Rule 2.00 states that if a fan reaches onto the playing field, it is fan interference; and Rule 3.16 states that if any fan reaches over the railing and interferes with a potential play, the batter is out.11 The umpires in Game Six failed to make this call, and the Cubs’ coaching staff did not have a proper angle to see what had happened. Also, Wrigley Field at the time did not have a big screen to replay the incident, so no one at the park at the time had the means to see the play again for themselves. When the incident happened, ESPN and other networks that were broadcasting the game continuously replayed the foul ball. Fans that were standing outside the park were watching the game from a small television that a man in the crowd was holding up. Fans outside the stadium started chanting vulgar things to Bartman, and soon enough, the whole stadium was chanting along with them. What is so frustrating about this game, along with the many other reasons already mentioned, is that everyone continuously did this to Steve Bartman and threw food and drinks in his direction, but I am sure very few people in that park even knew the proper call. Had the fans known the fan interference rule, surely they would have been chanting their displeasure aimed at the umpire, but instead they put all the blame on Bartman. No fan should ever have that much impact on the outcome of a game, or even be blamed for it. The umpire, Mike Everitt, who failed to make the call, claimed the ball was in the stands, and Alou must have jumped into the stands to catch it.12 Although Alou did jump to prevent the ball from hitting the railing, it is physically impossible to jump that high to pass the railing and end up in the stands of Wrigley Field. The way the wind was blowing that night in Chicago gave the umpire the impression that the ball was in the stands, given that the ball was blowing from left to right. But regardless, that is not an excuse to call the play wrong. As a Major League Baseball umpire, one has to be properly trained and know the rules very well. Mike Everitt and the rest of the umpires that night failed to call one of the most well-known plays in baseball history. Had they called it properly and implemented the rule book in this instance, fans all over the park would have been cheering for Steve, rather than making this game change his life forever.

Umpire Mike Everett in 2011 | Courtest of Keith Allison, Flickr

Although these types of plays rarely happen, I do not think that it gives the umpires any reason to not be on top of it. Being that the Cubs were about to win the pennant for the first time in over half a century, the umpires should have been on their toes even more for that reason. After viewing multiple angles of the play, it is very clear that Bartman did pass the railing and interfered with Moises Alou’s catch. Even Moises Alou himself said he would have caught the ball had Steve not reached over.13 Alou slammed his glove down right after the deflection happened and pitcher Mark Prior was pointing over at the left field stands and looked around the field for answers as to why the call was not being made. It is as if the players themselves knew something was not right, but the coaches and managers did not even see the play happen and were oblivious to how that call would have paid off in the long run. As an umpire, one’s job is to make the right call every time. Even though that is asking for perfection, it is just that; perfection. In baseball, as in all other sports, there is no room for mistakes from anyone that is not a player or coach. The umpire is expected to know every rule and to never miss a beat of the game. Many people have had their say on what to blame for the loss of the game, from the Cubs not bouncing back, to the Billy Goat curse, the umpires, the fans, and the list goes on; but the Cubs since then have not gotten that close to a World Series pennant.

A visualization of the scapegoat as mentioned in Leviticus 16:21 | Courtesy of James Tissot

Steve Bartman has been blamed for this game for years now, pretty much like a scapegoat to the loss. What is so strange is that he is being placed in this scapegoat role, while the Cubs are believed to be under the Billy Goat curse. The scapegoat and the curse take on Biblical proportions. In the book of Leviticus, on the Day of Atonement, a goat was used to be prayed over and the priest would put his hand on the goat’s head to transfer the peoples’ sins onto the goat.14 The goat would be escorted out and the people would cheer and insult and “throw their sins” onto it. Afterwards, this innocent goat would be locked out of the city and never allowed to return, or it would be thrown off a cliff, so the sins could be gone as well. This scenario is essentially what had happened to Steve Bartman. In the 8th inning, he was led out of the stadium, while people were throwing food and drinks at him, along with yelling horrible things at him. Kathleen Rolenz, a minister in Ohio said, “Scapegoats are solitary and vulnerable and in that sense, he was the perfect scapegoat.”15

Since Game Six in 2003, umpires have been more assertive about the fan interference rule in numerous games. During a game in 2015 between the Cubs and the Dodgers, a foul ball was hit into right field, when a fan interfered and caught the ball while passing the railing.16 The batter was called out, and that ended the inning. Another instance occurred during a game between the Giants and the Pirates. A fan interfered with the Pirates’ right fielder from catching a foul ball and the batter, Giants catcher Buster Posey, was called out for fan interference.17 Although these plays and others were called properly, it is puzzling that the umpires working the night the Cubs lost in 2003 were not trained properly to know what to do, as were the men umpiring in the games mentioned above. It seems as if the Major League of Baseball had to mess up once to understand how much of a toll it would take on a game’s outcome otherwise.

Since October 14, 2003, Game Six of the World Series, Steve Bartman has been extremely private about his life due to the Press, but tries to live as much of a normal life as possible. From being offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to talk, to getting death threats, his life has changed completely, all because of one foul ball and uneducated fans and umpires. That night of the game, he did not even end up with the ball, and instead it got sold for about $118,000 and subsequently blown up at a restaurant in Chicago in hopes of breaking the curse.18

The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs preparing for the National Anthem at Game 1 of the 2015 NLCS at Citi Field | Courtesy of Editosaurus, Wikipedia

In the recent 2015 season, the Cubs won the Wild Card against the Pittsburgh Pirates and beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the Division Series. They then advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003 to play the New York Mets. Sadly, they lost in four straight games to end their season. Oddly enough, Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy has also been seen as part of the Billy Goat curse due to having the same name as the goat, Murphy.19 During the series, he hit numerous home-runs against the Cubs and surpassed all expectations of his play. After the Mets went on to the World Series, Murphy went back to his old playing habits and was not nearly as successful against the Royals as he had been against the Cubs.

Although everyone’s opinion as to who is to blame for the Cubs’ loss has merit, I yet argue that my answer is the most valid. Yes, there may be a curse that has something to do with all of this, and yes the Cubs should have taken matters into their own hands; but the umpires are given a job to not let things like this happen, and this is the exact reason why. If the umpires had done their job properly as they have been doing since, who knows what would have happened. For the fans’ good and safety, it is the umpires’ job to be on top of plays like these to avoid such cases like Steve Bartman’s.

  1. The Billy Goat curse occurred in the 1940’s when a man brought in his goat to the Chicago Cubs stadium. When the two got kicked out for the goat’s foul odor, the owner William Sianis cursed the Cubs to never win a World Series ever again.
  2. John Kass, “Cubs Fans, Apologize to Steve Bartman before It’s Too Late,” Chicago Tribune, September 12, 2015.
  3. Frank Murtha, “What Do You Think Should Have Happened?” telephone interview by author, November 1, 2015.
  4. Tom Hoffman and Walter Yurkanin, Mad Ball- The Bartman Play (Chicago IL: Networlding Publishing, 2011), 2.
  5. Retrosheet, “Florida Marlins 8, Chicago Cubs 3”, Retrosheet, http://retrosheet.org/boxesetc/2003/B10140CHN2003.htm (accessed September 11, 2015).
  6. Evan Andrews, “How a Billy Goat ‘Cursed’ the Chicago Cubs”, History, http://www.history.com/news/how-a-billy-goat-cursed-the-chicago-cubs  (accessed November 11, 2015).
  7. Paul Sullivan, “Ron Santo’s Memory Endures as Cubs Go For Sweep Over Mets,” Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2015.
  8. Leigh Montville, “They Were Just One Pitch Away”, Boston Globe, October 26, 1986.
  9. Frank Murtha, “What Do You Think Should Have Happened?” telephone interview by author, November 1, 2015.
  10. Frank Murtha, “What Do You Think Should Have Happened?” telephone interview by author, November 1, 2015.
  11. Official Playing Rules Committee, Official Baseball Rules (Sporting News, 2003).
  12. Tom Hoffman and Walter Yurkanin, Mad Ball- The Bartman Play (Chicago IL: Networlding Publishing, 2011), 96.
  13. Tom Hoffman and Walter Yurkanin, Mad Ball- The Bartman Play (Chicago IL: Networlding Publishing, 2011), 182.
  14. Leviticus, 16:21, New Revised Standard.
  15. “Catching Hell,” ESPN Films: 30 for 30, directed by Alex Gibney (Chicago IL: Jigsaw Productions, 2011) Film.
  16. Adrian Gonzalez, “Fan Makes Great One-Handed Catch At Cubs Game While Bottle Feeding Baby”, ESPN, http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/13138017/chicago-cubs-fan-keith-hartley-robs-los-angeles-dodgers-first-baseman-adrian-gonzalez-foul-ball-holding-7-month-old-son.html (accesed November 11, 2015).
  17. Jorge Ortiz, “Pirates Beat Giants with Help from Reversed Call on Fan Interference”, USA Today, 2 June 2015.
  18. Frank Murtha, “What Do You Think Should Have Happened?” Telephone interview by author, November 1, 2015.
  19. Stephen Douglas, “Chicago Cubs: Cursed by the Name ‘Murphy,'” The Big Lead, 22, Oct. 2015.
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55 Comments

  • I really enjoyed this article as reminds me of Stan Lee of the NBA or the curse put on the NBA player Kevin Durant. I can see why this article got a award for “Best Explanatory Article” because it truly deserves this award for the structure and everything. I couldn’t imagine the situation and the crowd when this all took place. Its crazy to think ” what if…” thats the biggest cliff hanger that could’ve led to many great things.

  • I think this article serves the events of game six very well. He did indeed interfere, but there is a reason that the MLB has made rules for such incidents. It is sad that his life was ruined for being excited about a ball being hit his way. This article hits the nail on the head when it says it was the umpire’s job to get it right, and people need to stop blaming Steve Bartman for it. At least the Cubs finally were able to win a World Series.

  • I am certainly a fan of baseball but not necessarily into the World Series or anything like that. This article with no doubt deserved the award of “Best explanatory article” since there was so much information that was cited perfectly with so many sources. Sports has so many arguments and I think the argument of just this one did the job well!

  • I believe the author makes a very compelling case that is backed by a lot of evidence from credible sources. It is no mystery as to why this article won the “Best Explanatory Article” award, because the author did an amazing job of gathering credible sources and using it to build a strong argument. Now, it is because of the author’s strong argument that I agree with them in the fact that Steve Bartman is not to blame for the Cubs consecutive losses. Along with everything the author described I would also like to add that I believe all sorts of superstitions are only as powerful as you make them. So, with my belief I see it as that had majority of Cub fans and players not bought into these “cursed” ideas and just enjoyed/play the game then they might have seen better result.

  • I really enjoyed this article as reminds me of Stan Lee of the NBA or the curse put on the NBA player Kevin Durant. I can see why this article got a award for “Best Explanatory Article” because it truly deserves this award for the structure and everything. I couldn’t imagine the situation and the crowd when this all took place. Its crazy to think ” what if…” thats the biggest cliff hanger that could’ve led to many great things. Sports is a very controversial industry but also a very rewarding one.

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