Recently, I was watching the 30 for 30 documentary Catching Hell which talks about Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS or as so many people know it, “The Bartman Game.”
Let’s zoom to the top of the eighth inning. Mark Prior has looked electric allowing only three hits through the first seven innings. The Cubs retired the first guy on a fly ball. The Cubs are 5 outs from hosting the World Series for the first time since 1945. Juan Pierre doubled and then a routine foul ball to the stands was hit by Luis Castillo on the 8th pitch of the at bat. You notice a bunch of hands reaching for the ball including Moises Alou. It touches one fan’s hands and changes his life forever. Alou exacerbates the problem by throwing a temper tantrum on the field because he felt he could have gotten the ball and pointing to Steve Bartman. Following the game, Alou said he probably could not have gotten the ball but has since retracted the statement in the years that have passed.
The very next pitch is a wild pitch by Prior which walks Castillo and advances Pierre to third. Pudge Rodriguez then singles to left to score Pierre on an 0-2 pitch. Miguel Cabrera then hit a tailor made double play ground ball that Alex Gonzalez boots and from there the flood gates open as the Marlins plate 8 runs in the inning. The Friendly Confines went from a party to a morgue very quickly.
The Cub fans blame it on Bartman as he became the scapegoat for the team’s failures but what about Prior’s wild pitch or the boot by Alex Gonzalez on the ground ball or a host of other plays. Bartman did what many of the fans in the same area were doing and what I would have done which is go after a foul ball that was hit towards me.
The scapegoat is an interesting phenomenon as one player takes the blame for the team’s failure like Bartman, Bill Buckner, Chris Webber, or Kyle Brotzman. There are so many plays in a game that one doesn’t make or break but our emphasis seems to be drawn to those. For example, Buckner was not the only on with a knuckle-headed play or decision in that fateful inning and he was one of the reasons the Red Sox were in the position they were in due to his play in the ALCS. Kyle Brotzman, the Boise State kicker, last year missed a field goal that could have sent the Broncos to the National Championship but he was Boise State’s most accurate kicker in school history. There is clearly no way the Fab 5 get to the National Title Game without Webber’s contributions.
Since the beginning of time, humans have always looked to assess blame and in our microwave society where we have to have an opinion right as it is happening, we assess it even more quickly. Do each of those plays have an effect on the game? Certainly, but they are a part of the game not the reason a team loses.