Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Chicago Cubs get their own back on infamous ball

REUTERS , CHICAGO

A flash of explosive charges shredded an infamous baseball into a spaghetti-like heap on Thursday as fans of the Chicago Cubs publicly demolished the ball that may have cost the team its first trip to the World Series in 58 years.

With an international cable-TV audience on hand and beer-drinking fans cheering in a tent set up on a closed city street and in bars around town, the ball was exploded inside a clear protective case by an Oscar-winning special effects expert.

The destruction of the ball followed weeks of hype that also raised money for juvenile diabetes research.

Not present was the Cubs fan who bobbled the ball out of play during the National League playoffs last summer.

The "execution" was arranged by Harry Caray's Restaurant, founded by the late Hall of Fame Cubs broadcaster. The restaurant bought the ball at auction for US$113,824 from another Cubs fan who ended up with it during the game.

The long-suffering Cubs were leading 3-0 and five outs away from their first trip to the World Series in 58 years when a Florida Marlins pop-up in the eighth inning of game six sealed their fate. Cubs outfielder Moises Alou said he had a chance at the ball but for a fan who tried to grab it, sending it into the seats and out of play.

The Cubs collapsed, allowing eight Marlin runs in the inning and the win. Florida went on to take the deciding seventh game and later to win the World Series against the New York Yankees.

Umpires ruled there was no fan interference, but the man who deflected the ball was showered with abuse, had to be escorted from the stands for his own safety, and remains an object of ridicule on Internet sites to this day.

The lifelong fan, Steve Bartman, issued a blanket apology saying he had no idea the ball was playable and would never have done anything to stop the Cubs from getting to the championships, which they have not won since 1908.

The ball wound up in the hands of a 33-year-old lawyer who was seated nearby.

Thursday was chosen as the date for the ball's destruction because the restaurant founded by Caray holds a worldwide toast to him on that day, which falls between his birthday and the day he died in 1998.

The restaurant said the destruction occurred along with a simultaneous toast to Caray at drinking establishments in all 50 states and viewing parties were also planned from Uganda and Pakistan to Tokyo.

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