As the new 2017 MLB season is now fully underway, we again celebrate the incredible and unforgettable championship run that the Chicago Cubs made in 2016. Of course we know the story, the Cubs won their first World Series championship since 1908, a span of 108 long years. However, the Cubs have been close before, 1945, 1969, 1984, and 2003. All those years hurt for Cubbies fans, but which once leaves the darkest mark? 1969 is when the team let go of a playoff spot with over a ten game lead late in the season, and 1984 is the time Chicago squandered a 2-0 lead in the playoffs against the Padres, losing three straight and series. In my opinion, its 2003 that hurts the most, and it all comes down to one play that makes the difference.
In the 2003 NLCS, the Cubs held a strangle hold on the young Florida Marlins with a 3-1 series lead, and looked poised to make their first appearance in the Fall Classic since the second World War. A loss in game 5 in Florida moved the series back to the Windy City, and it seemed that there was no way the Cubs could lose at home, especially with star pitcher Mark Prior starting game 6. Fast forward to the eighth inning, and Chicago held a 3-0 lead, and Prior was wheeling and dealing. With one out in the inning, second baseman Luis Castillo lofted a fly ball into left field, right when the stands were in play. We all know the story, left fielder Moises Alou went up to make the catch which seemed to be catchable, and a fan interfered. The fan’s name was Steve Bartman, and what ensued was complete chaos. After that play, Castillo got on base, and the Marlins went on to score an amazing eight runs in that inning, now with an 8-3 lead, and would go on to win the game, and the series, and eventually the World Series.
I’m not here to talk about Bartman, because ESPN and fans everywhere has made his life a living hell, but I do want to talk about what would have happened if that play had not occurred. What would the current status of the Chicago Cubs be if Moises Alou had made that catch? Also, what would fate have for the Marlins?
Let’s start with that game alone. If Alou makes that catch that he seemed to have, there’s two outs in the inning, and four outs away from the World Series. Ivan Rodriguez is the next batter, then Miguel Carbrera, who in the real game, grounded to shortstop Alex Gonzales who made an error, resulting in everyone safely on base. In this scenario, Prior gets him out, and the Cubs are out of the inning. Prior gets through the ninth and Chicago is marching on to the World Series. They face the Yankees, and if the Marlins were good enough to beat New York, Chicago may have as well. Looking at the matchup, its definitely possible. Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano against the Yankees and Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite and Mike Mussina. Offensively the teams were very similar, with contact and power hitters on both sides. The Cubs had Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Corey Patterson and Alex Gonzales. We all know who the Yankees had, Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. Win or lose that series, it proves as a huge momentum swing for Chicago in the years to come. The next year in 2004, Derrick Lee, the first baseman from the Marlins joined the Cubs, and Chicago is looking at more playoff births. Instead, they went on to miss the playoffs every year until 2007.
For the Marlins, its hard to say because after their world series win in 2003, several of the players were gone by the next year. Lee, Brad Penny, Ivan Rodriguez were all gone. However, if they had gone on to lose that series, those players may have stayed the next year to get another shot at the championship. The talent on that Florida team was really incredible, with players like Miguel Cabrera, Lee, Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano. If all those players stay a few more years, the Marlins are looking at not just one, but multiple winning seasons in South Florida, and un-seeding the Braves as NL East champs.
In all, the Bartman play affected two teams, the Marlins because they went on to win the World Series, and the Cubs because they then lost the series, and were the laughing stock of the National League for several more years. Now that they did win in 2016, I’m not quite sure how Cub fans look back at that game and year, with either continued anger and disappointment, or a release of cares.