It’s game six, National League Championship, Marlins vs Cubs, Wrigley Field, top of the eighth, Cubs lead 0-3. With one out, the Cubs are only five outs away from advancing to the World Series, a first since 1945. Then the event that sent the Cubs spiraling out of control: life long cubs fan, Steve Bartman, sitting along the left field foul line, reaches out for a foul ball, a ball that may have been in play for Moises Alou and keep the Cub’s momentum going, to win the game and series.
The Marlins scored eight runs that inning and the Cubs would not be able to recover, losing the game 8-3, and eventually going on to lose game seven, destroying the hope that this was indeed the “Year” the Cubs would make it to the World Series. The immediate response toward Bartman by Cubs fans was not pleasant, in fact he would be quickly labeled the “Human Goat” tying him to the famous curse of the Billy Goat.
The now infamous ball, which Bartman didn’t even end up with, was sold at auction on December 19, 2003. Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group in Chicago, bearing the name of famed Cubs radio announcer, purchased the ball for $113,824.16. As an opportunity to turn bad into good, Harry Caray’s restaurant hosted an event to destroy the ball. The event dubbed “Destroy the Ball – Find a Cure” paired Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundations with the destruction of the ball in an effort to raise one million dollars for JDRF. The ball’s destruction took place on February 26th in conjunction with the 6th annual toast to Harry, the legendary Hall of Fame announcer. It would also serve to absolve Steve Bartman of any wrong doing, and keep the ball out of any Marlins trophy case.
Upstaging, which was recently named Pollstar’s “Lighting Company of the Year”, was called upon to light this historic event. An event with this magnitude of course came with a series of unique challenges. For example, due to City of Chicago ordinances, taking place on a public street the event tent was restricted in size. This left a limited ceiling height and very little to hang from. “The lighting design had to be very flexible and accommodating,” said Jerry Swatek Account Executive for Upstaging. “There was an enormous amount of activity in a relatively small space.”
The evening was filled with a variety of acts and activities leading up to the destruction of the ball. Actor/Director Harold Ramis played Master of Ceremonies to the festivities, which included a Harry Caray impersonator contest, an auction of Cubs items, a skit by Second City, and a host of musical performances. The crowd enjoyed music by former Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielson, and Columbia Recording artist Alice Peacock.
Since purchasing the ball, Harry Caray’s had Cubs fans from around the world submit ideas for its destruction. For the final execution though, Cub fan and Academy Award winner in Special Effects, Michael Lantieri, was brought in to do the job. For weeks Michael experimented with different balls in his Los Angeles lab. “It was unknown to us what the final method of destruction would be.” said Jerry. The means in which the ball would be destroyed was kept in a shroud of secrecy even from those involved in the production. This meant programmer Jim Michaelis was charged with the task of being prepared for anything and making sure it looked great for the cameras and spectators alike.
The majority of the lighting was kept to the floor and to lighting trees on either side of the stage. “It was organized chaos.” said Steve Wojda, Upstaging Lighting Director. “We had to instantly deviate from our original design to accommodate the needs of everyone, changes in the layout and of course all the media.” The system compiled almost entirely of moving lights allowed Upstaging to keep pace with the ever changing event and still provide a spectacular show.
The toast to Harry and the destruction of the ball was broadcast live on MSNBC, covered by national and local networks, as well as, the MLB network.