Catching Hell is the latest of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series.
Filmmaker Alex Gibney examines the story of Steve Bartman, the unassuming lifelong Cubs fan who became a national pariah after interfering with a foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Bartman managed to avoid a physical altercation but it was a tense situation which could have easily turned violent.
Considering some of the fan violence we’ve seen in 2011, like the Giants fan who was beaten into a coma outside Dodgers Stadium in April, it’s certainly worth taking a look at the circumstances behind the media frenzy that ensued in the aftermath of The Bartman Incident.
Everyone knows the story by now.
The year was 2003, and the Cubs were playing the Marlins in the NLCS; they held a 3-2 advantage in the series. It was the eighth inning of Game 6, and they were up 3-0 with the Marlins at bat and one out.
Then it happened.
The Marlins’ Luis Castillo hit a foul ball to the left field corner wall that was deflected by fans, namely Steve Bartman, before Cubs left fielder Moisès Alou could make the catch.
The Cubs would have been four outs from the World Series had Alou made the play; instead they gave up eight more runs in the game and nine more in the Game 7 loss.
Cubs outfielder Moises Alou slammed his glove down and shouted at fans in the stands.
Fans screamed obscenities at him, and one walked right up to him and poured a beer on his head.
The television cameras continually panned to Bartman as the Cubs gave up an amazing eight runs following the incident.
And as he left the stadium, with a police escort, fans pelted him with food, beer and other debris.
Catching Hell filmmaker (and self-proclaimed Red Sox fan) Alex Gibney isn’t the first to compare the Bartman incident to the Bill Bucker incident.
The Bartman/Buckner comparison doesn’t have much to do with the actions of the men at the heart of two of baseball’s most infamous moments, but rather the “cursed” past of two of baseball’s most beloved franchises.
The unique circumstances that exist in Chicago (now) and Boston (then, because winning exorcised those demons) are what made the media onslaught after each incident an uncontrollable life-ruining circus.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Bartman was heckled by fans and ultimately had to leave the game with a police escort.
Soon after, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (before he was the disgraced former Governor of Illinois) publicly suggested Bartman join a witness protection program and Florida Governor Jeb Bush (home of the World Series Champion Florida Marlins) offered him asylum.
Bartman also received death threats from irate fans with misplaced anger.
Ultimately he issued a public apology and has done his best to stay out of the spotlight.
He was not interviewed for Catching Hell.
Click here to read more thoughts on the film.