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‘Catching Hell’ And Blaming Steve Bartman

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
June 22, 2011

In Game 6 of the National League Championship series in 2003, one Chicago Cubs fan reached for glory … and caught hell.

Steve Bartman — along with half a dozen other fans — stuck his hands out for a fly ball hit by the Florida Marlins’ Luis Castillo that shot toward the stands. Cubs outfielder Moises Alou went after the ball, but it glanced off of Bartman’s fingers.

Ever since, Cubs fans have blamed Bartman for the Cubs’ subsequent loss.

In Catching Hell, featured at the American Film Institute’s Silverdocs festival, Alex Gibney tells the story of what happened after that fateful flub.

Immediately after the incident, Gibney tells NPR’s Neal Conan, Bartman got singled out and “the entire stadium focused their ire on him and almost tried to kill him.” When Gibney saw just how furious everyone was, for “doing the most innocent thing that a fan can do, which is to reach out and try to catch a ball,” he knew there was a story there.

Gibney doesn’t fault Bartman a bit. “Nobody saw Moises Alou coming,” he says. “The wall was rather high,” and it’s a natural instinct to reach for a fly ball coming at you. But “unfortunately for Steve Bartman, his hand was just inches above the glove of Moises Alou, who was poised to catch that ball and I think would have caught it.”

Superstition plays such a role in sports that Bartman’s name is now inextricably connected with the Cubs’ fate now. But there’s a darker thing going on, says Gibney.

“Very often, we look to find scapegoats,” he says. “And Steve Bartman was a perfect scapegoat,” small and meek, with headphones on that seemed to set him apart from the crowd. Worse, he stood there like a deer in the headlights afterwards. “It’s an ugly fact that crowds tend to react rather badly toward that,” Gibney points out, and look for scapegoats who are weak. “Steve Bartman looked weak. And they rained hell on him.”

It’s changed Bartman’s life forever. He submitted an apology the day after and continues to live in the Chicago area, but since then, he’s stayed quiet. He has close friends and coworkers who stick by him and keep his life private.

“I kind of wish Steve Bartman would come forward … for a healing moment,” says Gibney. But on the other hand, Gibney hopes he remains an elusive guy. So “maybe that moment will never come, and that will be somehow more profound,” he says. “The wound will always be there, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s a helpful reminder of what an ugly moment that was.” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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