Catching Hell

A film by Alex Gibney

With five outs remaining in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, a foul ball descended from the cold Chicago sky, seemingly destined for the glove of Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. But a flurry of hands reached up from the left field stands, and one fatefully tipped the ball away from a frustrated Alou. It belonged to Cubs fan Steve Bartman, and as the cameras subsequently isolated on him trying to stay composed in the stands, most long suffering Cubs fans, including a chorus of hostile ones in Wrigley Field, quickly became convinced that he had swatted away Chicago’s chance of advancing to the World Series for the first time in 58 years. Even though he was one of many who reached for a ball that appeared to them clearly out of play, and even though Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez let a sure inning-ending double play ball go through his legs, and even though the Cubs still had a game 7 left to try to win it, Steve Bartman became the most reviled man in Chicago. The mild mannered Bartman made a sincere public apology, but his fate was already sealed by the Cub fans’ need for a scapegoat to explain a near-century of losing. Although Cubs Nation has since moved on to other seasons and other losses, Bartman remains ostracized from a community he lives in and a team he once loved. Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney relates the scapegoat compulsion to his own frustration as a Red Sox fan when Bill Buckner was similarly singled out for letting a fateful ground ball go through his legs in Game Six of the 1986 World Series. Gibney engages Buckner and his story as a means of exploring what has kept Bartman so silent despite highly lucrative offers to tell his side of the story, and what has led many fans and media people in Chicago to now act as if the whole notorious incident never even took place.


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