Usually fans only influence games and players by booing and celebrating….usually. Usually players, coaches and referees are the only people blamed when a team loses… usually.
When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series back in 2016, it was a magical experience for everyone involved. The organization, one of baseball’s original franchises, and its loyal fanbase suffered through a 108 year championship drought, the longest in MLB history. By bringing a Commissioner’s Trophy to Wrigley Field, the team finally broke the alleged “curse of the billy goat.” This phrase refers to an incident from the 1940s when the Cubs didn’t allow a man to bring his goat into the stadium. After this odd occurrence, the Cubs were doomed to never win a championship again….until Joe Maddon, the manager, led the 2016 team on a miracle run. What many younger fans may not remember is that the Cubs did come very close to making it to the World Series back in 2003. Up 3-2 going into Game 6 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS), the Cubs were in prime position to secure a date with the New York Yankees in the World Series….until the 8th inning.
This is where ESPN Films: Catching Hell starts up. The documentary, which was released in 2011 and directed by Alex Gibney, revolves around the infamous Steve Bartman incident. The Cubs were up 3-0 on the Florida Marlins in Game 6. They held a 3-2 series lead, and were 2 innings away from the World Series. During the 8th inning, Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo hit a foul ball. Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou went up to attempt to catch it. Bartman, who was sitting in the outfield, reached out to try and catch the foul ball. He accidentally deflected the ball, and as a result he disrupted Alou potentially catching the ball and securing the out. Fans in the stands usually only factor into games by booing or cheering, but Bartman literally interferes with the field of play. The subsequent events could not have been more unlucky. The Cubs went on to give up eight runs in the inning, lose the game and ultimately lose the 7 game series. The documentary follows the aftermath of this incident and the events following Steve Bartman immediately after the play occurred. While there is no concrete evidence to say that Bartman is the reason the Cubs lost, that didn’t stop the city of Chicago from putting all of the blame on his shoulders. Honestly though, who could blame them? They were going on year 95 of the championship drought at this point.
The documentary does a phenomenal job of setting up the incident and then depicting the events as they unfolded. Before the film even gets into the actual incident, Gibney draws comparisons to a very similar event that happened during the 1986 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets. Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner misplayed a routine ground ball during the 10th inning of Game 6. Had he not done this, the Sox would’ve put away the Mets and won the series. Boston went on to lose the game and then the series in Game 7. The Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series since they were led by Babe Ruth, nicknamed The Bambino, in 1918. The team “suffered” from their own curse, known as the Curse of the Bambino, which refers to the decision by the Red Sox to sell Ruth’s rights as a player to the Yankees in 1920. Similar to Bartman, Buckner instantly became the scapegoat of the situation and was the target of hatred for many years, until the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004.
To tie the two story lines together, Gibney interviews different people involved with both the Buckner and Bartman incidents, such as Bob Costas, a sportscaster who was covering the 1986 World Series. He also interviews a variety of former Cubs players and fans who were at Wrigley Field on that fateful night. The main thing that this documentary gets right is that is highlights everything that is wrong with humanity. The amount of disgusting behavior that was thrown Bartman’s way is unimaginable. The problem didn’t go away once he left the stadium. He was continuously harassed, had food thrown at him, and even received death threats from Cubs fans. Catching Hell goes further into detail and showcases how Bartman basically had to go into hiding for a while until the situation died down. While Bartman doesn’t actually appear in the documentary (he has consistently refused to make any kind of public appearances), everyone telling the story does an outstanding job of illustrating the events. What also works very well is how the story explores how this whole incident isn’t entirely Bartman’s fault. There were a number of different factors that contributed to the Cubs losing that game, between player errors, and even other fans attempting to catch the same foul ball that Bartman came down with.
The city of Chicago may never know if the Cubs would’ve actually won that game and the 2003 World Series had it not been for Steve Bartman. But one thing is for sure: the championship in 2016 did manage to heal the wound left by the Bartman incident. The infamous foul ball catch and debacle will forever go down in the history of sports.
Catching Hell is a great watch if you’re interested in learning more about the incident and what it did to the city of Chicago and Bartman! With the 2018 MLB playoffs upon us, it feels justified to talk about this game from so many years ago. If you’re looking to get into the right mindset for the MLB postseason or simpy want to hear a story that challenges what you might believe about accountability, blame and fairness, then look no further.
Catching Hell is available for FREE for a limited time here.
Written by Matt