The most infamous “Cubs fan catching a batted ball” story involves Steve Bartman, who snared a foul ball from Moises Alou in the 2003 NLCS and kept the game alive for the Marlins to eventually win. But five years before Bartman, there was another notorious fan incident at Wrigley Field – and the bad blood still remains.
In 1998, sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were locked in a legendary chase to pass Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61, featured in ESPN’s upcoming 30 for 30 “Long Gone Summer.” McGwire had already gotten to 62, but on Sept. 13, Sosa launched two balls out of Wrigley to tie him (and pass Maris’ record as well).
The second home run soared out of the left field side of the stadium onto Waveland Avenue, where a rabid pile of fans tried to be the one to snag the soon-to-be-famous ball. Moe Mullins, who had been a ball hawk since 1958, ended up being the one to grab it – but was instantaneously jumped and mauled by a pack of rabid fans.
“They grabbed me and then they flung me to the ground,” Mullins told Midway Minute, a Chicago sports blog, recently. “Everyone all piled on and tried to rip it from me. I was yelling ‘I got it! I got it! What are you doing’ and there were people yelling ‘Moe’s got it! Moe’s got it! Let go!
“It went on for about five minutes, but to me it seemed like forever. I actually blacked out for at least five seconds. I was on the bottom of the pile thinking, ‘Man, this really isn’t worth dying over.’”
He lost his grip, and bystander Brendan Cunningham ended up snatching the ball and escaping into police custody. He posed with it in the Chicago Tribune, planning to sell it. But Mullins was furious and filed an injunction against Cunningham, which is when the story exploded into the public eye.
Fans supported Mullins, urging Cunningham to return the ball. The lawsuit and media frenzy got so out of hand that Cunningham decided that selling it wasn’t worth it, and suggested to Mullins that the two could jointly present the ball back to Sosa. But Mullins wouldn’t even go for that.
Cunningham gave the ball to Sosa himself and Mullins eventually dropped the lawsuit. But when the Midway Minute’s writer caught up with the two men, he found that Mullins still has not forgiven Cunningham.
“That’s one name I don’t like to hear,” Mullins said of Cunningham. “He and a bunch of others mugged on me. He’s a thief and he knows it.”
Meanwhile, despite Cunningham having his “name dragged through the mud,” he appeared much more willing to let bygones be bygones.
“He seems like good guy, I know I’m a good guy,” Cunningham said. “I think that if we ever met, we’d get along.”