As the 10-year anniversary of the most talked-about moment in Cubs history approaches, it turns out everyone was wrong all along.
Touching the famous foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series wasn't the worst thing to happen to Steve Bartman.
Having it auctioned for more than $113,000 and blown up on TV was worse, leading to bitter feelings between the world's most vilified Cubs fan and the head of a restaurant group bearing the name of the team's most beloved announcer.
After biting his lip for the last decade, Bartman spokesman Frank Murtha said they have had enough. They were never on board with the ball being blown up at Harry Caray's restaurant or with the subsequent promotions of Harry Caray's president and managing partner, Grant DePorter.
"We are no more fine with it now than we were then," Murtha said. "No one person has perpetuated the storyline more than (DePorter) did."
By now the Bartman story is familiar to most baseball fans, and his name is known around the world.
With the Cubs five outs from advancing to their first World Series in 58 years, Bartman's deflection of a foul ball that Moises Alou may or may not have been able to catch preceded an eight-run eighth-inning Marlins rally that sent the series to Game 7. Bartman was abused and ridiculed, forced to leave the ballpark with security and blamed for the Cubs' blowing their big chance.
Murtha pointed to shortstop Alex Gonzalez's critical error, adding, "Don't forget, there was a Game 7, and some pitcher named Kerry Wood starting."
Wood blew an early lead in Game 7 to lose the series, and the Cubs have not won a playoff game since. Game 6 remains the closest they have come to a World Series since 1945, and their last championship was in 1908.
After enduring death threats and hate mail and becoming a household name, things have settled down for Bartman as the years marched on. Murtha said he has lived a relatively normal existence in the Chicago area since, with his family, friends and workplace fiercely protecting his privacy.
"Because of the kind of person he is, he has continued to live his life in a manner with the same moral fiber he had going into this incident," Murtha said.
"He continues to work. Has this incident posed challenges to him? Yes. Has he more than overcome them? Yes. But he has been bigger than those who have commercially exploited the incident."
Bartman has remained Sphinxlike, staying out of the public eye, ignoring interview requests and monetary offers and basically keeping a low profile, becoming the J.D. Salinger of sports fans. He never has spoken publicly about the events of Oct. 14, 2003, aside from issuing a written apology the next day, and last was quoted in any media outlet in 2005 while trying to get away from an ESPN the Magazine reporter who stalked and surprised Bartman in the parking garage of his workplace.
"Steve has no intention to personally speak about it," Murtha said. "When and if he did, it'd be under his terms and conditions."
Murtha said Bartman has turned down "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in inducements over the last decade, saying no to all offers and media requests, including TV's "Dr. Phil," who wanted to probe his psyche. Murtha, an attorney, said he is "aggressively moving on any attempt to commercially exploit the (Bartman) name," though that particular barn door has been open too long to shut now.
Bartman probably could have starred in a wacky Super Bowl commercial by now, perhaps selling headphones or turtlenecks or Snickers bars. The incident has inspired dozens of Bartmanesque references in modern culture, whether blatant or oblique.
• Two weeks after the playoff incident, actor Kevin James told Tribune columnist Terry Armour he was considering starring in a movie project called "Fan Interference." James said it would not specifically be about Bartman but conceded the incident was ripe for a movie: "I feel sorry for him, but to love a city so much and to love a team so much and to have one event completely change your life and now you're public enemy No. 1 is a great story." A movie, however, never has been made.
• A ripped-from-the-headlines "Law and Order" episode centered around an infamous "foul ball guy" who was discovered murdered before the opening credits. Murtha sent a letter to NBC chiding the network for putting that idea in viewers' heads.
• A "Family Guy" episode featured a 10-second non sequitur in which the Stewie character, sitting at a Cubs-Marlins game at Wrigley Field, convinces a turtleneck-wearing fan in headphones named "Steve" to try to make a catch. ("It's a foul ball. What harm could it do?")