Major League Baseball fans love memorabilia. Bats, balls, and uniforms of famous players are carefully preserved and displayed everywhere from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, to the private collections of devoted American fans. But not all renowned baseballs are treated with such respect.
Baseball fanatics have paid millions of dollars in recent years for record-setting balls off the bats of such sluggers as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. But one ball had the dubious distinction of perhaps keeping a team of lovable losers - the Chicago Cubs - out of last year's World Series.
Leading the best-of-seven game National League Championship Series last October, 3-2, the Cubs were ahead of the Florida Marlins 3-0 late in Game Six. They needed just five more outs to secure their first World Series berth since 1945. Then, disaster struck.
Cubs left fielder Moises Alou was trying to catch a fly ball as it curved toward the fans in foul territory. Just as he was about to make the grab, hapless Cubs fan Steve Bartman tried to catch the souvenir as it floated toward the front-row seats. Bartman deflected the ball away from a furious Alou, and the Cubs went on to give up eight runs and lose the game. The Marlins knocked Chicago out of the playoffs the following night, when the Cubs squandered another lead in Game Seven. Florida then went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Steve Bartman was vilified by Cubs fans across the country, but the ball was purchased at auction for almost $114,000 last December by the Harry Caray Restaurant Group in Chicago. Caray was a nationally renowned and beloved baseball broadcaster, who spent the final years before his death announcing the Cubs games on television.
Harry Caray's Restaurant used the ball to honor the six-year anniversary of Caray's death Thursday. But at the same time, the restaurant's Director of Special Events, Beth Goldberg-Heller, told VOA Sports the ball was destroyed to help exorcise the fans' demons. "The season ended in such a horrible way that we felt that we needed to have some closure to the season," she said. "So we decided to get this ball in our control and destroy it just to get ready for next year and win."
The ball was given the VIP treatment, complete with a farewell trip to the Cubs home stadium, Wrigley Field, a night on public display in a hotel suite, a final "dinner" of prime steak and lobster and even a massage. But then, a final reckoning - the ball was obliterated by special-effects expert Michael Lantieri on live television Thursday night.
"He is a special effects Oscar award winner," explained Ms. Goldberg-Heller. "He has been nominated six times at the Academy Awards and won for Jurassic Park. He was out in Los Angeles blowing up about 15 balls a day for the last two months trying to find the right way to destroy the ball."
But while Harry Caray's Restaurant had fun destroying the hated ball for the fans' entertainment, Beth Goldberg-Heller said the celebration of the ball's destruction will also do some serious good.
"One great thing we are doing with this ball is we are trying to raise about $2 million for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation," she said. "You know, it is just a really neat thing because they say they are so close to a cure, and if this ball raises the money that is going to help find the cure for this disease, then that would be just so great."
If that happens, everyone involved in the project will feel that the $114,000 spent for the ball was more than worth it.