On Tuesday, September 27th, ESPN Films debuted director Alex Gibney’s documentary, “Catching Hell” as part of their excellent “30 for 30” film series. Before I continue with this blog, I want to say that I have lots of beefs with ESPN in general, but this “30 for 30” series of documentaries is one thing they do very well, producing great films about such subjects as The University of Miami and their controversial reputation, Southern Methodist University getting the Death Penalty from the NCAA and the aftermath, and about Ricky Williams, and many others. “30 for 30” is a great film series I do admit.
That being said, “Catching Hell” is about one of the most infamous scapegoats of all of sports, a young Cubs fan named Steve Bartman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was Game Six in the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley Field between the visiting Florida Marlins and the Chicago Cubs. Now, before I go further, the Chicago Cubs had not won the World Series since 1908, and were considered “cursed,” when in 1945, Chicago tavern owner Billy Sianiswas was asked to leave a World Series game at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and the Tigers because he had his Billy goat with him, and Sianiswas said because of that, he cursed the Cubs and the Cubs would never win the World Series ever, which they haven’t.
As most people know, several fans reached out for the ball as Moises Alou coming in from right field tried to make the catch, but could not because the ball was deflected by a fan. Alou then had a Fred Sanford like hissy fit, and was very irate. Pitcher Mark Prior was upset, and the Cubs wanted “Fan interference” called. The umpires refused because they ruled that the ball crossed the plane and was not in the field of play. Thanks to the TV producers replaying the incident over and over, it was eventually revealed that the fan who deflected the ball was a Cubs fan named Steve Bartman.
I think everyone knows by now what happened next. I have seen collapses in sports (Dolphins/Jets on Monday Night Football in 2000 comes to mind), but this one was crazy. Mark Pryor walks Castillo on a wild pitch. Ivan Rodriquez hits an RBI single, and the score is now 3-1. What happens next is very baffling. Cubs SS Alex Gonzalez misfields a ball , which would have been a sure fire double play which would have gotten the Cubs out of the inning. Derek Lee doubled, and Pryor was done for the night. I won’t go through everything, but a total of 8 runs scored, and even Sammy Sosa screwed up on a defensive play as well during this fiasco. Cubs eventually lost Game 7 even though they lead 5-3 at one point. Marlins went on to beat the Yankees 4 games to 2.
As for Steve Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, his life was destroyed. Fans outside the stadium eventually found out who he was thanks to a guy with a TV on his head , and the TV producers repeatedly showing the incident over and over. They started chanted ***hole, and then the chant permeated through the stadium. He had to be removed from his seat, and put in a room to be shown what he did, as he was sitting there all game with earphones listening to the broadcast. The media put out his home and work address, and he is now pretty much a recluse, all because he did what MOST FANS would do.
The movie itself was pretty well done. The director Alex Gibney, who is from Boston, tries to use two incidents of scapegoating, and try to show some correlation. At least, that is how I saw it. The large majority of the piece did discuss the Bart incident, but he tried to also tie in the infamous Bill Buckner incident also. As most sports fans know, in the 1986 World Series, Bill Buckner was the scapegoat for Boston fans when he mishandled a ground ball hit by Mookie Wilson of the Mets. I think he did get his point across somewhat. The Unitarian Minister’s explanation was very good when she talked about how back in Biblical times, the Priest would have a goat, and the people would put their sins on the goat, and then the goat would be taken away, or in some cases, the goat would be thrown off the cliff.
As fans, and by the way, fan is short for fanatic, we sometimes get so into our love for our team, athlete, wrestler, etc, that sometimes we get blinded, and rational thinking goes out the window. I think Gibney’s bringing up Buckner is that Boston fans wanted that Curse of the Bambino off their backs so badly , and that they were so mad that the Sox lost (especially to a New York team at that), that they could not think straight, and that someone had to take the blame, and that someone was Buckner. They didn’t care that before the play , the pitcher had given up some singles, and I think a run came in. They didn’t care that Buckner had bad knees and the manager should have known better than to keep him in there. They didn’t care there was a game 7 and the Red Sox should have tried to win that. All they could think of is that their Sox lost and it was Buckner’s fault.
Gibney tries to tie Buckner’s story and Bartman’s story together. Both have a lot in common, I admit. Both incidents involved “cursed” franchises. Both incidents happened late in game sixes of series. Both guys were blamed so badly that they had to put themselves in exile. Bill Buckner and his family moved out of Massachusetts.Steve Bartman continues to live in seclusion in the Chicago area. Buckner played for both franchises. The ACLS, and the NCLS of 2003 featured both “cursed” franchises, Boston Red Sox and Cubs. In both of those series, the Red Sox would lose to the dreaded New York Yankees on a home run in an infamous game where star pitcher Pedro Martinez may have been left in too long, and reliever Tim Wakefield gave up the winning home run to Aaron Boone of the Yankees, and once again be haunted by the Yankees, and the Cubs would also be haunted by the Marlins in the aforementioned Bartman incident game.
I thought though that it seemed like it was a bit too much like a documentary. The director was in it too much. I thought someone else should have narrated it. I understood why he brought up Buckner , and the Red Sox, and I know the guy was from Boston, but if Mr. Gibney was going to make a documentary about Bartman, he should keep it about Bartman. He could mention Buckner in passing as another example, but I really didn’t need about 30 minutes of the film dedicated to Buckner. The lack of an interview with Steve Bartman, although considering the circumstances it is understandable, hurt the product. I certainly understand though.
What I DID like was that the director talked to people who were sitting in the surrounding seats, and get the Bartman story from their perspective. I liked hearing their side of the story how they were also going for the ball. The director also showed different footage from other video cameras of the incident from different angles. You also saw his seat. They show from a different angle how the ***hole chant got into the stadium, and the whole scene became a lynch mob. The TV producers did confess that they may have shown it too much.
They felt that it was such an important play. The director also pointed out that they didn’t repeatedly show Alex Gonzalez’ screw up over and over. The movie also went into how Cubs fans are so used to the team losing that they were waiting for something to go wrong, as that night they were very tense. When Bernie Mac sang “Take me out to the ball game, ” he sang “Root root root for the Champions” or something like that…..that is when , according to the documentary, that fans started thinking that they were doomed. I enjoyed how they got different perspectives on what Bartman did. I loved how they showed his little league team who stood up for him. Overall though, I think it was a good study on human behavior, and well worth watching the repeats on ESPN or any of the ESPN affiliates
I am going to end this by giving my opinion on the Steve Bartman incident. I remember when it happened, and watching the documentary just reinforced my beliefs, so here it goes:
I thought the whole Steve Bartman incident, and especially the overreaction to it was ridiculous, and “Catching Hell” did nothing to change my mind. In fact, all the film did was reinforce my beliefs. I mean this guy’s life was destroyed. The Chicago papers put his name and his home and work addresses out in public. The guy got death threats. When he was being escorted down the hallways, some idiot bully took his sweatjacket off his head, and said that he wanted everyone to know who the person was who cost the Cubs a trip to the World Series. My beliefs then as they are now is that I was embarrassed as an MLB fan and as an American.
How can people treat a human being like this? I mean, over a baseball game? Good Lord. People better get their priorities straight. There was no excuse to ruin the guy’s life. Bob Costas really irked me on the film saying Bartman made “a mistake.” What mistake? Going for a ball like some of the OTHER FANS were doing? The TV producers should be ashamed. That “play” wasn’t so important as they thought. The Alex Gonzalez play was much more important. It was a shame that Bartman had to apologize when it should be that then idiot Governor Blogavich who said “If Steve Bartman commits a crime , he won’t get a pardon from this governor.” and those idiot Chicago Cubs fans who should apologize to Bartman. Funny that Blogavich is learning about what a bitch Karma can be. I just thought Bartman didn’t deserve that horrible treatment he got, and still don’t.
As ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd says, “Let’s take the emotion out of it, and calm down.” Let’s examine what actually happened in the game after the incident, and even during the incident, and maybe get this guy off the hook, shall we?
1. The wind, other fans going after the ball, and Moises Alou.
One thing the movie brought up was that as Castillo’s foul ball was going towards the stands and headed down into the stands was that the wind was blowing the ball back towards the infield. The movie also brought up that Alou was not the greatest fielder on the planet. If you watch the Incident, you can see quite a few other fans going for the ball. People who blame the loss solely on Bartman evidently ignore the other fans going for the ball. There was a part in the movie were several circles were drawn around people going for that ball. Moises Alou wasn’t all that as a fielder that I remember. The wind could have blown the ball past Alou’s glove, even IF Bartman had pulled back. Let’s supposed that Bartman pulled back, and Alou does NOT catch the ball. I just what happened next was going to happen. No one told Alou to lose his temper. Can’t blame Bartman. I wonder why the other fans weren’t blamed in this as well. Can’t blame one and not the others. I mean, Bartman can’t be blamed for the wind. He can’t be blamed for the others going after the ball. It is easy to act like God Almighty and tell a fan what they are supposed to do. Until you are in that situation, you do not know what you would do.
After the incident, Mark Prior started a meltdown which led to him walking Castillo with a wild pitch, and a couple of batters later, giving up a double to Derek Lee which got him out of the game. Well, I would like to know how could Bartman be blamed for that? Prior got THAT distracted by Alou’s hissy fit, or whatever that he could not control his pitches? I don’t see how Bartman can be blamed for that.
3. Alex Gonzalez’ misfielding the ball.
If ANYONE should the so called “Goat” in this game, it should be Gonzalez. Let’s see, he gets a routine grounder that he messes up, that would have been a sure fire double play that would have gotten the Cubs out of the inning? Wow. Instead of THIS error being replayed ad nauseum, it is this poor Bartman guy’s going for a ball. Steve Bartman is the cause of this, how?
4. The 8 run explosion in totality.
The Florida Marlins eventually scored 8 runs after the Bartman incident. The Marlins were there to win the game (and the Series). They kept on hitting, and kept on trying, and took advantage of mistakes made by the Cubs. I just think that the Cubs can’t be that mentally weak that they let some fan in the stands distract them that much. If they are that weak, then they deserve to lose. In other words, the CUBS made the mental mistakes, and such, not Steve Bartman.
Therefore, to paraphrase Vincent Kennedy McMahon, circa 1997, “Steve Bartman didn’t screw the Cubs. The Cubs screwed the Cubs.”
Terri Bey currently blogs for CamelClutchBlog.com about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for F4WOnline.com. Terri can be found here at Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/TerriBey and at Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/missedgehead