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The Accidental Baseball Villain American Fans Are Desperate To Forgive, If Only He'd Listen

Americans can't bear a story with no ending.

27/10/2016 1:41 PM AEDT | Updated 30/10/2016 7:30 AM AEDT
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That's Bartman with the blue cap.

Steve Bartman. The name is once more on everyone's lips in America this week as the Chicago Cubs try to break a 108-year drought and win American Major League Baseball's World Series.

Wait a minute, Steve who?

Bartman is the fan pictured above, who in 2003 tried to catch a foul ball, as his Chicago Cubs sat on the verge of qualifying for their first World Series since 1945. Then came the accident of fate which made Bartman, then 26, a pariah he never deserved to be.

Here's what happened. Bartman was sitting in the front row watching the game and listening to commentary on the radio. Serious fan, Steve Bartman. Loved the game. Loved his Cubs. Loved trying to catch foul balls, as all fans do. Indeed, many bring gloves for this very purpose.

But Bartman's attempt to catch a foul ball went horribly wrong.

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Not even NASA could work out whether the ball was in play or not. Actually, maybe NASA could work it out. Anyway, the point is there's a split hair either way.

Without intending to, he spoiled Cubs player Moisés Alou's catch attempt. And after that happened, the whole game and indeed the whole season went to hell for the Cubs. They missed the World Series. And everyone blamed Bartman. Here's the video.

To their credit, the commentators were careful not to blame Bartman.

"If Alou [the fielder] has to reach into the stands, it's fair game for the fans to catch the ball. If the fan reaches out over the [fence], then it can be ruled fan interference. That is very very close."

It was indeed very, very close. Arguments rage to this day over whether Bartman impeded Alou's air space. But at the time, the mob pretty much decided. It was Bartman's fault. He was even escorted out of the stadium by security, lest someone take the rage a little too far.

But Bartman didn't just have an angry crowd to contend with. Seemed like the whole of Chicago was mad at him. He spoke once, and only once, by way of a public statement released after the game.

"There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last 24 hours.

I've been a Cub fan all my life and fully understand the relationship between my actions and the outcome of the game. 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.

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.

To Moises Alou, the Chicago Cubs organization, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Cub fans everywhere I am so 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."

And then he disappeared. Like Kevin Spacey's fictional villain Keyser Söze, he vanished, just like that. Well, not 100 percent vanished, but Bartman had no interest in being a public figure of any kind. He declined talkshow circuit offers, and has never since been to a Cubs game since. He is not on Facebook or Twitter and has precisely zero public profile.

There is one person who occasionally speaks on his behalf. Frank Murtha, a longtime family friend acts as his spokesman. Murtha has confirmed that Bartman still lives in the Chicago area where he works for a financial services consulting firm.

"He's happy and healthy and he's still a Cubs fan," Murtha said in 2013. "He values his privacy."

This week, with the Cubs into their first World Series since 1945, Murtha again spoke to U.S. media.

"Steve is cheering for the Cubs and continues to be a Cubs fan," Murtha said. "He just wants everybody, moving forward, to respect his privacy and let his life continue to unfold as the grand plan has it, unimpeded by things that have been blown out of proportion. I think that's the one message. It's not necessarily a new one."

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Nope, didn't end well.

This is a story which America is loving, but which is also driving it crazy. America doesn't normally work this way. You get your 15 minutes, you cash in on it. That's how the system works. And everyone gets redemption, or comeuppance, or whatever it is they deserve. Story arcs are story circles in American life. Stories don't just end. But that's what's happened with Bartman.

The Cubs are currently 1-1 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians with five matches of the best-of-seven series to play. They could easily win the whole thing. Finally, this could be their year. How good would it be if Steve Bartman was seated in left field right when the Cubs won, sneaking in while no one was watching? That's how the Bartman movie would end.

But it's not how the story looks like ending in reality. Real life is not a movie. Oh, people are trying to coax Bartman out. Many have called for him to throw the first pitch at Chicago's Wrigley Field in Game Three (the first two games were in Cleveland). There are Steve Bartman fan pages and forgiveness pages galore on Facebook, and a #ForgiveBartman hashtag on Twitter.

The overwhelming mood out there is to embrace Bartman, who is now 39 years old. Make him part of the Cubs story, and this time, make him a good part of the tale. Assure him that 2003 was never his fault.

Bartman himself? Well, was it not F.Scott Fitzgerald of Gatsby fame who famously wrote "there are no second acts in American lives"? Steve Bartman is the embodiment of that. He never asked to be famous. He now lives his life safely and privately, far from those treacherous foul balls.

But maybe, just maybe, he's enjoying putting everyone else through the wringers. They want closure? Bartman won't let 'em, have it. Perhaps his ongoing reclusiveness is his quiet little act of revenge for a life disturbed. That'd be a pretty powerful second act after all.

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