Want to find Bartman? Good luck.
This relatively obscure sports agent gives the same answer, over and over again
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.