Commentary

'It wasn't meant to be'

Cubs fans know heartbreak, but it reached a cruel new low 10 years ago

Updated: October 14, 2013, 11:32 AM ET
By Jesse Rogers | ESPNChicago.com

It's known as the "Bartman Game."

Ten years ago, on Oct. 14, 2003, the Chicago Cubs had their best opportunity to reach the World Series for the first time since 1945. Leading the Florida Marlins three games to two in the National League Championship Series and owning a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning of Game 6, it all came apart.

Starter Mark Prior was cruising until that fateful inning. With one out and a runner on second base, Marlins batter Luis Castillo hit a foul ball down the left field line. Left fielder Moises Alou got under it as the ball came down right along the left field wall. But as no one watching that day will forget, Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached up and touched the ball just as Alou was seemingly going to catch it.

The near-out kept Castillo's at-bat alive, and he walked. Two batters later, Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a ball that could have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, the Marlins went on to score eight runs and win the game 8-3. The next night they beat Kerry Wood 9-6 in Game 7 at Wrigley Field on their way to a World Series victory over the New York Yankees.

Bartman became an instant villain, and he has never commented publicly about that night since.

He remains quiet, but other participants reflected on their memories on the 10-year anniversary of that fateful night:

Prior, who won 18 games and finished third in Cy Young voting in his first full season, cruises until that fateful inning. He retires the first batter, Mike Mordecai, on a fly ball to left field. Juan Pierre doubles, bringing up Castillo.

Kerry Wood, former Cubs pitcher: "I don't remember any of the games before 6 and 7. I have no idea or remember anything about the first 4 or 5 games. I'm sitting on the bench going over the Yankees lineup in the sixth or seventh inning of [Game 6], getting ready for the World Series. Mark is cruising. You see no signs of any trouble. He's going to finish the game no problem. We're going to win, and I'm going get Game 1 of the World Series. It was set up perfect."

[+] EnlargeSteve Bartman
AP Photo/Amy SancettaCubs fans quickly turned on Steve Bartman after he reached over the railing for a foul ball above Moises Alou.

Castillo hits a foul ball down the left field line. Alou gets under it as the ball comes down right along the left field wall. But Bartman reaches up and touches the ball.

Eric Karros, former Cubs first baseman: "It looked like a popup from where I was, and then I saw Moises running over there, it goes into the stands. From where I was at first base, from Moises' reaction, I can tell he felt like he could catch the ball."

Joe Borowski, former Cubs closer: "I was in the bullpen, but the way the bullpen is, and the way the wall bends down the left-field line, I couldn't see exactly what happened. I didn't see it until I saw it on the news what everyone was going crazy about."

Jack McKeon, former Marlins manager: "What made it so dramatic is this show that Moises put on like he could catch it. A couple years later he says there is no way he could catch that ball, after that kid took a beating."

Wood: "You don't think much of the foul ball at the time. Is he going to call fan interference? No? OK, move on. Mark is still dealing. Happens all the time. Foul balls one row into the seats."

Aramis Ramirez, former Cubs third baseman: "I thought Moises had a play on it. The ball is up in the stands but if no one touches it Moises had a play on it."

Borowski: "It seemed like after that play, all of a sudden, it's 3-3. All of a sudden we're behind. It was like in a blink of an eye. Every first pitch was a hit, and before you could react the game got away."

Karros: "The one thing I remember vividly, and when it happened I went what the [expletive] is this guy doing? It's when [comedian] Bernie Mac said 'Let's go champs,' singing in the seventh-inning stretch. It sounds stupid but as a baseball player you don't do that. When I heard that I legitimately paused in my mind and thought what the [expletive] is he doing?"

Wood: "There were six other guys going for the ball in that picture. It changes whoever's life it hits. All those other guys in the picture should be praying every day it didn't hit them because their lives would be different."

Karros: "You look back and say, god, man. We pulled the rug out from underneath the city of Chicago. It's usually a personal thing as far as you and your teammates but I genuinely felt bad for the city. I don't think I ever felt like that."

[+] EnlargeMac
AP Photo/Morry GashBernie Mac calling the Cubs "champs" when singing the seventh-inning stretch sounded odd to Eric Karros.

With Pierre on third and Castillo on first, Ivan Rodriguez singles to left field, scoring Pierre and cutting the Cubs' lead to 3-1. That brings up a 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera. He hits what looks like a routine ground ball to shortstop and a double play that would have ended the inning with a two-run lead. But Gonzalez, who had just 10 errors in 150 games that season, can't handle the chopper and the bases are loaded.

McKeon: "The key was the next pitch that was hit for a double-play grounder that went through the shortstop. He booted the ball. That basically was the game and when that happened I realized this is going to be our year."

Wood: "Alex [Gonzalez] knows it. He could have been [Bill] Buckner. Buckner was a phenomenal player but no one remembers him for anything but that [misplayed ball in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series]."

Karros: "There were so many other things that happened besides the Bartman play you start to think maybe it wasn't meant to be."

Alex Gonzalez, former Cubs shortstop: "I don't think the attention was just on him [Bartman]. It was tough. Tough all the way around, for everybody."

Ramirez: "We walked Castillo so you can't blame Bartman for that. It was a big play, but we're still leading 3-0. It's still hard to believe, we're leading 3-1 in the series and we have Prior and Wood. No one thought they could beat us three in a row, but they did."

Wood: "Unbeknownst to us they're drawing circles on [Bartman], then comes a walk and a missed grounder and you just feel the stadium gasp. Don't do that now. They haven't even scored a run yet let's not do that yet. But it's the history of the team, the history of the stadium. It comes with this organization."

Soon after Bartman touched the foul ball, security has to escort him from his seat as the crowd turns on him. The blame game begins even before the Cubs lose the game or the series. A raucous crowd takes their frustrations out on the lone person they can at the moment: Steve Bartman.

McKeon: "I feel bad for Bartman because he took a real beating that wasn't deserved."

Borowski: "What happened was an absolute shame. It's awful people would try to use him as a scapegoat. There were 4, 5, 6 other people with their hands in there too. It's the double play that wasn't turned. A two-hopper that wasn't turned. That's the defining moment of the game for me."

[+] EnlargePrior
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesMark Prior's immediate reaction was that the Bartman play was fan interference.

Dusty Baker, former Cubs manager: "How many people go to the ballpark to cheer on their team and then one event changes your whole life?"

Wood: "If he does it in Pittsburgh or Cincinnati or somewhere it doesn't have the life that it does because it's the Cubs. And our history."

Ramirez: "Any fan was going to reach for the ball anyway."

With the bases loaded and one out, Marlins first baseman Derrek Lee laces a double to left field, scoring Castillo and Rodriguez to tie the game 3-3. Kyle Farnsworth replaces Prior, who had retired eight straight batters before walking Castillo. After an intentional walk of Mike Lowell, Jeff Conine gives the Marlins the lead with a sacrifice fly. Despite losing the lead, the Cubs are still down just one run. Until Mordecai comes up for his second at-bat of the inning and doubles to left field, clearing the bases for a 7-3 lead. A Pierre RBI single later and the stunned Cubs are facing an 8-3 deficit.

McKeon: "Outside of the final game in Yankee Stadium, when we win Game 6, that has to be the key game [of the Marlins' postseason]. Down 3-0 I'm thinking what am I going to say to the players with our season ending, and all of a sudden we score eight runs."

Gonzalez: "Occasionally it comes up. Anytime they ask about my career. It comes up. I leave it as a positive because everyone says what a great team we had."

Ramirez: "I don't think the team was down at all. We knew we had Woody for the next game. I don't remember who was pitching for the Marlins but we'll take Woody over anyone."

Wood: "It didn't really click until the last out, 'man, we just lost that game,' and all of a sudden, it was like 'oh, I'm pitching Game 7 tomorrow.' "

The next night the Cubs still have a chance to advance to the World Series. A back-and-forth game turns the Marlins' way for good when they score six runs combined in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Even though he hits a home run in the game, Wood has his worst start in weeks, giving up seven runs in 5 2/3 innings in the 9-6 loss.

Karros: "Kerry Wood walks Brian Banks in Game 7. Brian Banks never has another at-bat in the big leagues after that postseason. Do you know how many things had to go wrong for us to lose that series?"

Baker: "I'll always have fond memories. You can remember the best of the situation or remember the worst."

Wood: "I have one bad memory from that season. The rest of them are great ones."

Baker: "I wanted to be the first manager to take the Cubs to the World Series in a long time. I had that in mind. I hated to leave because I felt like I was on your side. I wanted that for Chicago. I really wanted to win next year and invite Bartman to the ticker tape parade down Michigan Avenue. That's what I really wanted to do."

Jesse Rogers | email

Chicago Cubs beat reporter
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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