2003 Marlins reflect on Bartman play

World Series champions offer different perspective on memorable moment

July 29th, 2016

MIAMI -- The famous Steve Bartman play in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field often has been told from the Cubs' point of view, but it's never really told from that of the Marlins, who went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series that year.

While Cubs fans consider it another blunder in a long history that stretches back to their last World Series victory in 1908, for the Marlins, it was just another improbable occurrence in an improbable 2003 championship season, their second in the franchise's first 11 seasons.

"Obviously, we were in dire straits at that moment. We're down, 3-0. Mark Prior's pitching a gem. He's got five outs to get the Cubs to the World Series," recalled Jeff Conine, the Marlins' left fielder in that game. "We were just looking for that opening, looking for that opening to take advantage of. We were in the dugout facing down the third-base line, so we had the best angle seeing it of them all."

Conine was part of panel on Thursday morning during the annual SABR Convention at the Hyatt Regency Miami that gathered members of the 2003 team. Manager Jack McKeon and center fielder Juan Pierre were also on the panel moderated by Dave Van Horne, the longtime award-winning play-by-play man for the Expos and still for the Marlins.

Van Horne was in the broadcast booth that fateful night of Oct. 14 at Wrigley, and he now calls the inning in which the Marlins scored eight times to turn around the seven-game series "the most exciting 27 minutes we've ever played."

The Wild Card-winning Marlins had 91 wins that season, finishing second in the NL East behind the Braves. They went on to defeat the Giants, Cubs and Yankees to win the World Series.

How improbable was that victory? The Giants had just come off losing the 2002 World Series to the Angels in seven games and had won 100 games and the NL West by 15 1/2 games in 2003. The Cubs had won the NL Central with 88 wins by a game over the Astros. The Yankees finished a run of six American League pennants and four World Series championships in eight seasons. Still, the Marlins prevailed.

And here we are, with nearly two months to go in the 2016 season, and the same set of teams are making a run at the postseason again: The Marlins at 55-46, are eyeing either their first East title or another Wild Card berth. The Cubs and Giants are leading their division. And the Yanks still have designs on making a playoff push.

Let the races continue.

What has become known as the Bartman ball was hit on a pop toward the left-field corner by Marlins second baseman with one out in the eighth inning and Pierre on second after a double. Cubs left fielder wandered over to make what should have been an easy play.

"And there were about six or seven fans, including Steve Bartman, reaching to catch this ball," Van Horne said.

Let's let Conine pick up the play-by-play from there:

"We see Louie's ball going up there and we're like, 'Oh, man. This is going to be an out,' " Conine said. "Moises Alou is playing pretty close to the line anyway, because Louie hits his left-handed shots over there. So we see Moises Alou coming over, and we're looking at the ball. He's there at the wall, at the fence and he's ready to go, and we see a hand come out and the ball clanks off."

Conine said the Marlins were waiting in the first-base dugout for left-field umpire Mike Everitt to call interference, and when he didn't, they were incredulous.

"We all looked at each other and said, 'Let's make that guy [Bartman] famous,'" Conine added. "And 25 minutes later, Steve Bartman was one of the most famous -- or if you want to call it infamous -- people in Chicago history. But we took advantage of that situation."

As often happens in the annals of baseball, after a play like that, a game can spin out of control. That's what happened to the Cubs.

Castillo drew a walk and Pudge Rodriguez singled in Pierre, but here was the heart of the unraveling: hit a double-play grounder to Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who muffed it. Eight runs, five hits and the error later, the Marlins led, 8-3.

The next night, the Marlins came back from a 5-3 deficit and won Game 7, 9-6. The collapse -- and the comeback -- was complete.

Alou has since said he believes the Bartman play was not fan interference, and the ball was detroyed -- via detonation -- in a bid by Cubs fans to eradicate the Bartman curse.

But one team's curse is the other team's manna from heaven.