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10 Years Later: Could Twitter Have Saved Steve Bartman?

steve bartmanExactly 10 years ago yesterday, the unthinkable happened at Wrigley Field. With a 3-0 lead in the 8th inning against the Florida Marlins, and pitching phenom Mark Prior on the mound, the Chicago Cubs were within five outs of the World Series for the first time since 1945. The tension and excitement in the crowd was palpable; fans (including this one) were just starting to believe that the impossible might happen.

Then the impossible did happen – just not as anyone could have imagined. A foul ball off the bat of Marlins’ second baseman Luis Castillo sailed into the stands in shallow left field. Many folks in the stands did what any fan would do – they tried to nab a souvenir. Lifelong Cubs fan Steve Bartman had the misfortune of actually touching the ball, deflecting it away from Cubs left fielder Moises Alou’s outstretched glove. A million replays later, it is still impossible to tell whether Alou would have caught it.

The rest is history. The entire Cubs team imploded, gave up eight runs in that inning, and went on to lose the game and the series. They haven’t won a playoff game since.

Bartman, who was forced to evacuate Wrigley Field with a security escort, was vilified by fans and the media, both of whom took a cue from Alou, who slammed his glove down in frustration and appeared to be yelling at fans in the stands after the play. Bartman has remained estranged from the public eye since the incident.

What Bartman needed was Twitter. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t launched for three more years. Today the news cycle of big events – sports and otherwise – is so short, the public consciousness is on to another story hours if not minutes later. Very few sports stories today have that much lasting impact on the public discussion. This story, however, has lasted a decade.

More than that, Twitter would have helped Bartman because it would have provided a forum for other people to tell their version of the story, and perhaps to come to his defense. Surely some of the other fans in that section would have been tweeting about the play, if only to brag about how close they had come to the ball. Some might even have snapped pictures with their smart phones and posted them seconds later. There would have been discussion in all corners of the Twitter world – surely #Cubscurse or #Herewegoagain or #Waittilnextyear would have been trending that night.

And then it would have been over. Everyone would have moved on to the next big thing. It’s possible that Bartman’s name may never have surfaced, for the public discourse would likely have resulted  in fewer fingers pointing at a single fan and more pointing at a frazzled team that just plain blew it. Even when Twitter gets the news wrong, as it often does when misinformed individuals try to be the first to scoop the media and everyone else, the truth eventually surfaces. Twitter is a relatively efficient market in that sense; its currency is information. In this case, the truth is that Bartman was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the team that choked deserves all of the blame.

Had Twitter been there, Bartman could have continued to live his life in obscurity rather than infamy. And some day, when the impossible really does happen, hopefully he’ll join the rest of us in creating a new trending hashtag: #Cubswin.

(Steve Bartman's catch / wikipedia)

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