CHICAGO (Reuters) - It turns out winning does cure everything, even the decade-plus grudge that Chicago Cubs fans have held against “Bartman.”
Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan scapegoated for a missed catch in a 2003 playoff game, is staying quiet during this year’s playoff series against the St. Louis Cardinals. He has said little since feeling the wrath of fans who blamed his interference with a foul ball late in the game for sparking a Cubs collapse that ended with the Florida Marlins reaching the promised land - instead of the Cubs.
But the surprising performance this year from a young team has Chicago fans hoping the Cubs can make their first World Series appearance since 1945. The last time the “lovable losers” won it all was in 1908.
This year’s winning streak, and confidence about the next few years, has Cub-crazy fans saying it is time to put the Bartman incident in the past, along with the team’s long-losing record.
“People blame him because it’s an easy narrative,” said Al Yellon, author of the blog “Bleed Cubbie Blue.” “People don’t look into the actual facts of the game ... It’s time to move on.”
Cubs fans have found this tough, since the 2003 game was so traumatic. With nearly 40,000 fans cheering them on at home in Wrigley Field, the Cubs needed just five outs to protect a 3-0 lead and close out the Marlins.
Bartman reached out to catch a foul ball, probably causing Cubs left fielder Moises Alou to miss it.
Bartman received death threats, and the incident joined a 1945 curse by a Chicago tavern owner as a way of explaining the Cubs’ long drought.
After the missed Alou catch, there were other mistakes, including a misfielded ground ball that cost the team a chance for an out or a double play. The Marlins ended up scoring 8 runs in the inning.
Yellon said this year’s team is more talented and well-rounded than the 2003 team, and not limited to one or two stars. “They’re so young, they don’t know they’re not supposed to be this good,” he said.
Stephen Schueller, a Northwestern University psychologist, said that since sports fans cannot control the play on the field, they sometimes blame external factors like curses to cope with losses.
Superstitions can also affect players’ performance, Schueller said, noting that the Cubs in that 2003 game seemed to have “had a bit of a mental breakdown” after the Bartman incident. If they had thought “it’s just one out,” the outcome could have been different, he said.
“I want to put my arm around him and buy him a beer,” said Scott Rowan, of Bartman. Rowan wrote the 2014 book “The Cubs Quotient: How the Chicago Cubs Changed the World.”
Grant DePorter, CEO of Harry Caray’s baseball-themed restaurants, bought the Bartman ball for $113,824 at auction in order to destroy it in a televised 2004 event. DePorter said he thought it was “cathartic” for fans, and hoped it helped.
DePorter pointed to the prediction in the 1989 movie “Back to the Future Part II” that the Cubs would win the series this year.
“Everyone feels it’s time now,” DePorter said.
Editing by Edward Tobin and Matthew Lewis