Before Being Destroyed, Bartman Ball Was Insured

By | April 5, 2004

A combination of heat, pressure and explosives was used last February to blow to smithereens the baseball involved in a play that some Cubs fans say cost their beloved team a trip to its first World Series in 58 years.

But before the ball was destroyed in a publicity stunt covered nationally on live TV, it was insured by Salt Lake City, Utah-based excess and surplus lines carrier Prime Insurance Syndicate Inc.

Prime, whose other office is in Chicago, was contacted to evaluate, quote and underwrite the destruction of the infamous ball, which hapless Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached up to grab as it veered into foul category in game six of last year’s National League Championship Series.

Cubs’ left-fielder Moises Alou appeared to have a good chance to make the catch, timing his leap perfectly, but just as Alou squeezed his glove to make the play, Bartman reached out to try and snag a souvenir.

Alou, the Cubs and seemingly the entire city, reacted with furor. The Marlins scored eight runs in the inning and went on to beat the Yankees to win the World Series. The ball was destroyed without a mishap, the Prime announcement noted. Prime boasts its expertise in addressing hard-to-place exposures such as recreational risks, sporting events, nursing homes and towing agencies.

The Bartman ball was taken home by a Chicago lawyer, who auctioned it off last winter to the highest bidder, which turned out to be Grant DePorter, who bought it on behalf of Harry Caray’s Restaurant for $113,824. The restaurant staged the event in an attempt to assuage some fans’ still festering anger and resentment, as well as raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

“We received a call 24 hours prior to the event from a large broker we’d marketed over a period of years,” Prime CEO Rick Lindsey told Insurance Journal. “We contacted fire marshal, talked to the pyrotechnician involved and the coverage was bound.”

The pyrotechnician was Michael Lantieri, a die-hard Cubs fan with years of experience in Hollywood working on films such as Jurassic Park, The Hulk and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. The restaurant had to get a fire marshal’s permit in order to use the explosives involved, and the permit was contingent on a certificate of insurance for the event, Lindsey said.

It is unusual to insure a one-off event such as this, Lindsey admitted, and discussed some of the factors he examined in underwriting and rating the policy.

“When it comes to me it does raise your awareness,” Lindsey said. “You have to check it out, make sure there’s not some good reason [it wasn’t insured elsewhere] like the guy doesn’t know what he’s doing. His background is movies for the most part and he definitely had the skills and ability to do it. From an explosion standpoint, it was more precise and technical than it was loud and scary. I think it was somewhat anticlimactic from a risk standpoint. It was very controlled and precise.”

The pyrotechnician told Lindsey that he had tested the explosion on about a dozen different balls a day in his California lab. Holes were drilled in the bottom of the box to minimize any risk.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Lindsey said. “The explosions weren’t loud or dangerous in any way.” The fire marshal saw videotape of test runs Lantieri had done on other balls, making him one of only a select few who knew exactly how the ball would be destroyed before the national TV event.

“He’d seen video of the actual tests they’d done to other balls,” Lindsey said. “When you can get visuals, even photographs with digital images, it makes it easier for people to feel better real quick. In a case like this, you can’t afford all the delays. I talked to fire marshal 24 hours before event.”

The permit set a mandatory 20-foot distance from the explosion and the audience. Lindsey said he asked why that was the case, and also asked about the decibel-level of the explosion, which once again was not very loud. The shutters from all the media cameras in the room probably made more noise than the explosion, Lindsey joked.

“There was zero risk of injury, as far as decibels or sound,” he added. “The risk was about a one on scale of one to 10.”

Lindsey said that in spite of all the information he was provided, it is always difficult to underwrite a policy for an unprecedented event such as this.

“Obviously after the first time you’ve seen it, you’re going to do it 10 more times,” he said. “You see it, and you get more comfortable with it each time. They had difficulty getting the coverage. Why does it end up on my doorstep at this late date? Fundamentally as an underwriter there’s that kind of unknown.”

It certainly appears that this group of Cubs fans would stop at nothing to accomplish their mission.

“That ball’s gotta go,” DePorter told the Associated Press. “It’s like the ring from The Lord of the Rings and we’re kind of like Frodo, trying to get it over with.”

Lindsey said he thought Prime, which has $15 million in capacity from Lloyd’s and specializes in recreational and special events risks, had done its part.

“We hopefully helped end the curse,” he said.

On a related note, the Cubs — who are widely favored to win the National League pennant this year — announced that ace pitcher Mark Prior will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list with an inflamed Achilles’ tendon.

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Insurance Journal West April 5, 2004
April 5, 2004
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