A fly ball wouldn't ordinarily seem to be the catalyst for an interesting documentary.
But as everyone knows, there was nothing ordinary about Steve Bartman's attempt to catch Florida Marlins' infielder Luis Castillo's foul ball in the top of the eighth inning in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Bartman, in the eyes of many, prevented Cubs left fielder Moises Alou from recording the second out of the inning—the event that seemingly sparked the the Cubs' epic post-season collapse.
However, should Bartman have been the scapegoat for the Cubs blowing a 3-1 lead in that NLCS? ESPN Films' documentary Catching Hell examined, among other things, the wrath Bartman faced for obstructing Alou's patch to recording that game's 23rd out.
At first, it didn't seem like director Alex Gibney could add much more to the story. Yes, the wheels fell off the bus after the foul ball. But anyone paying attention to that game recognizes the normally sure handed Alex Gonzalez failing to record an inning-ending double play was more crucial than Bartman. In addition, the Cubs had a lead in Game 7 before falling to the Marlins 9-6.
But Catching Hell does a great job of exploring some possibly unknown aspects of that play. For one, most of Wrigley Field was unaware of why Alou didn't catch Castillo's fly ball, as that park is the only one in the majors without a Jumbotron. Also, as people sitting around Bartman were heckling the bespectacled fan, security almost escorted the wrong fan out of the stadium until they were informed of the "guilty party."
And finally, it's probable that Bartman was unable to tell that Alou was making an attempt to catch the fly ball. Bartman was, in all likelihood, listening to the game on the radio. But Gibney noted there was a seven second delay between the radio feed and live action on the field, so if he was zoomed in on the ball, he possibly never saw Alou.
My only gripe about Catching Hell was Gibney focused too much attention on Bill Buckner. That's understandable in a sense, as Gibney is a Boston native and the first baseman was largely considered to be the scapegoat for the BoSox '86 World Series defeat. The director asked why was there a need to make Bartman (like Bucker) a scapegoat while others more involved in the collapses (in Boston's case, Bob Stanley and Calvin Shiraldi) seem have to been absolved of any blame. But he added that Boston—in large part because they've won two World Series titles in recent years—has forgiven Buckner. Can Chicago forgive Steve Bartman?
However, Gibney did a great job of linking the stories of two of baseball's most memorable postseason plays (Buckner played for the Cubs being traded to the Red Sox in 1984. Oddly enough, his replacement—Leon Durham—committed a similar error in that year's NLCS that perhaps cost the Cubs a trip to the World Series). Buckner's story did have a happy ending though, as in 2008, he returned to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch at the home opener.
But will Bartman enjoy a similar day?