Want to find Bart­man? Good luck.

This rel­a­tively ob­scure sports agent gives the same an­swer, over and over again

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY KENT BABB kent.babb@wash­post.com

A sports agent has given the same an­swer to any­body seek­ing the un­lucky Cubs fan.

It was Wed­nes­day evening in Pittsburgh, and the Chicago Cubs were win­ning. Frank Murtha knew his phone would be ring­ing soon.

In most parts of Chicago, or at least on the city’s north side, beat­ing the Pittsburgh Pi­rates in the Na­tional League wild-card game meant it was party time: The Cub­bies were head­ing to the Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries to take on the St. Louis Car­di­nals, the next step to­ward the World Se­ries and the lift­ing of all curses.

Murtha, though, un­der­stood that the Cubs’ na­tional rel­e­vance meant it was time once again to go to work. “I know it’s silly sea­son again,” said Murtha, a long­time but rel­a­tively ob­scure sports agent, who since a mid-Oc­to­ber day a dozen years ago has been the man in charge of keep­ing Steve Bart­man — per­haps the most in­fa­mous fan in base­ball history — in­vis­i­ble.

The Cubs, of course, have not won the World Se­ries since 1908 and haven’t even played for a cham­pi­onship since 1945. The best chance, at least re­cently, to end that drought and ex­or­cise all curses, real or imag­ined, came in 2003, when the Cubs needed five outs to pro­tect a 3-0 lead to close out the Florida Mar­lins and ad­vance, fi­nally, to the World Se­ries. In­stead, Bart­man, at the time a 26-year-old man wear­ing a green turtle­neck, black sweat­shirt and head­phones near the left field line, leaned for­ward to catch Mar­lins sec­ond base­man Luis Castillo’s foul ball. His at­tempt dis­tracted Cubs left fielder Moises Alou, and any­way, the Mar­lins wound up scor­ing eight runs that in­ning. The Cubs lost. They were elim­i­nated the next night. The curse lived on.

Bart­man left Wrigley Field that night but, in the fol­low­ing hours, barely knew where to turn. A day ear­lier, he had been an anony­mous Cubs fan who worked in a con­sult­ing of­fice; now he was a pariah, the cause and sym­bol of more los­ing. Strangers swarmed him, at­tempt­ing to ques­tion or con­demn or maim him. In­ter­view re­quests over­whelmed him. Death threats fil­tered in. Rod Blago­je­vich, at the time the Illi­nois gover­nor, sug­gested Bart­man en­ter wit­ness pro­tec­tion.

Bart­man’s fam­ily re­mem­bered Murtha, who had dealt in high­pres­sure mat­ters be­fore. He had worked in sports law, ne­go­ti­at­ing con­tracts for NFL play­ers Kevin Carter and Olan­dis Gary and Al Del Greco. Bart­man had known Murtha’s daugh­ter while they were both in high school and, as the years had passed, had kept in touch. Bart­man needed a fa­vor. Murtha said yes.

They be­gan by re­leas­ing a pre­pared state­ment: “There are few words to de­scribe how aw­ful I feel and what I have ex­pe­ri­enced within these last 24 hours,” it read, go­ing on to ask Cubs fans to re­di­rect their anger into pos­i­tive energy.

That didn’t hap­pen, so Murtha asked Bart­man how he’d like to han­dle it. He just wanted to be anony­mous again, just go back to work and be left alone. SoMurtha went to work, form­ing a wall around Bart­man that, even dur­ing a gen­er­a­tion in which pri­vacy is a hope and hardly an ex­pec­ta­tion, rarely has been breached.

If some­one hoped to in­ter­view Bart­man, the an­swer then — as it has re­mained each time since, no mat­ter the out­let or an­gle or cir­cum­stance — was no. Murtha, who said he never asked Bart­man to pay for his ser­vices, acted in­stead out of gen­eros­ity as Bart­man’s spokesman, as his de facto at­tor­ney when his name or like­ness had been in­ap­pro­pri­ately used, as his first and last line of de­fense as weeks turned to months and then years.

“He’s not the kind of per­son or per­son­al­ity that wants at­ten­tion or needed at­ten­tion be­fore all this hap­pened,” Murtha said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

As time passed, the re­quests and vit­riol con­tin­ued. Bart­man spent his days at a sub­ur­ban Chicago of­fice avoid­ing at­ten­tion, but the re­sponse sur­round­ing his name never sim­ply dis­solved. If any­thing, it in­ten­si­fied when the Cubs were des­tined for last place or the play­offs. Murtha’s tem­po­rary fa­vor turned into a long-term as­sign­ment, re­newed ev­ery few years.

In 2005, an ESPN re­porter fol­lowed Bart­man from his fam­ily’s home to his em­ployer’s park­ing garage, wait­ing hours in an at­tempt to get an in­ter­view. Later, when ESPN was pro­duc­ing a “30 for 30” seg­ment about Bart­man, it reached out in hopes of in­ter­view­ing him. News or­ga­ni­za­tions have made sim­i­lar re­quests, and the way Murtha sees it, there’s noth­ing in it for Bart­man, and the an­swer— in­clud­ing to those 15 or so re­quests Murtha has fielded since just this past Wed­nes­day — is al­ways no.

A few years ago, Murtha said, a play­wright reached out to dis­cuss a po­ten­tial Broad­way show de­pict­ing Bart­man’s ex­pe­ri­ence, com­plete with an of­fer to send over story boards. Murtha told the play­wright not to bother.

And even if there is in­cen­tive, the an­swer hasn’t changed. A tax com­pany of­fered Bart­man a six­fig­ure sum, Murtha said, to come out of hid­ing and ap­pear in a com­mer­cial to be aired dur­ing the Su­per Bowl. An au­to­graph show of­fered $25,000 for Bart­man to sim­ply show up and sign a pho­to­graph of the in­ci­dent from 2003. Jeb Bush, at the time Florida’s gover­nor, of­fered “asy­lum” should Bart­man wish to es­cape his na­tive Chicago area.

Each time, Bart­man re­mained silent be­cause Murtha was there to re­spond in­stead. No, Bart­man was not in­ter­ested in the Su­per Bowl ad or ap­pear­ing at the au­to­graph show, and no, he wasn’t in­ter­ested in mov­ing to the state Bush gov­erned at the time. No, Murtha said, Bart­man wouldn’t take Bl­o­go­je­vich up on his of­fer for wit­ness pro­tec­tion, but af­ter the for­mer Illi­nois gover­nor was im­peached and in­dicted on 16 felony counts of cor­rup­tion in 2009, Murtha fired back that maybe it was a shame the of­fer couldn’t be trans­ferred back to Bl­o­go­je­vich.

“It has just been Ground­hog Day, I guess, and has been over the years — field­ing calls for him, do­ing re­quests for in­ter­views and ap­pear­ances,” Murtha said. “But it’s an end­less log.”

Even now, Murtha said, the at­ten­tion has barely waned. A Bart­man im­per­son­ator lurks on Twit­ter — and has oc­ca­sion­ally duped a few na­tional re­porters — and a group of Cubs fans started a Go Fund Me cam­paign to pay for Bart­man to at­tend last Wed­nes­day’s wild-card game in Pittsburgh; af­ter Murtha de­clined on Bart­man’s be­half, another man dressed in a black sweat­shirt, green turtle­neck and blue Cubs hat pa­raded around PNC Park any­way.

Murtha said he speaks oc­ca­sion­ally with Bart­man, though the 2003 Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries rarely comes up. They talk about ev­ery­day mat­ters — work, fam­ily and what­ever else — though Murtha keeps the de­tails of those con­ver­sa­tions pri­vate, too. He won’t even say whether Bart­man, whowas sin­gle a dozen years ago, now has his own fam­ily or whether, in the years since ’03, Bart­man has at­tended a Cubs game. He said he still wor­ries about Bart­man’s safety— the im­age of a T-shirt, fea­tur­ing a like­ness of Bart­man hang­ing from a rope, re­cently found its way to Murtha — and the fact is, Bart­man has never in­di­cated his de­sires have changed. “Steve has not put his life on hold be­cause of this, nor will he,” Murtha said.

In fact, whether a re­porter calls or a paid ap­pear­ance is of­fered or some­one asks if Bart­man would be in­ter­ested in throw­ing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, Murtha said he no longer needs to ask.

“Noth­ing has changed,” he said. “Steve doesn’t think ‘ the world hates me’ by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion,” Murtha said. “He has one de­sire in all of this: at some point see it end.”


Steve Bart­man has gone down in Cubs lore for his brush with left field­erMoises Alou in the 2003 NLCS.

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