The pain gets passed on from generation to generation for Cubs fans. A pain that comes from more than a century without a championship and the countless times that fans have allowed themselves to believe and be seduced by hope, only to be betrayed by fate, bad luck, and a damn billy goat.
Steve Bartman is another part of Cubs history, another part of their epic curse like the goat, the black cat, and Leon Durham’s suspect defense. You know of Bartman, the fan who interfered with a foul ball and cost Moises Alou a leaping grab and — if you believe some Cubs fans — the latest chance that the Cubs have had at a title. Since Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, Bartman has lived in relative peace. He does not do interviews and he has not capitalized on his 15 minutes of fame — something that perversely seems to have extended that fame.
In the documentary Catching Hell director Alex Gibney explores the dark side of fandom and the way that fans — when burdened by a lifetime of watching their team lose — can lash out and latch on to something completely ridiculous as the reason for all that ails their team. High credit goes to Gibney for the way that he profiled the numerous others who were reaching for the ball, the others who could have been Bartman. The documentary also goes to great lengths to show the way that the rest of Game 6 unfolded as well as the Cubs loss in game 7 — things that had nothing to do with Steve Bartman.
Really, Catching Hell‘s only failing is that they failed in their effort to get any cooperation from Bartman, but really, who can blame him for keeping quiet? Gibney re-creates the night of October 14, 2003 splendidly — showing the beginning of Bartman’s solitary confinement as he sat in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113 watching the Marlins score 8 times in that inning while listening to a barrage of boos and curse words and dealing with a shower of beer from more aggressive and surely more inebriated fans. Afterward, Bartman was given a security escort out of the stadium and had to hide out from rowdy and unpredictable fans. The next day he would release a statement of apology, and then he would never feed the machine again, no doubt living his life in privacy.
The film ends with Bill Buckner, the most infamous “goat” in the history of baseball who has now been welcomed back into the history of the Boston Red Sox after their curse finally ended. For Buckner, the story seems like it will have a happy ending but we do not know what would be a happy ending for Bartman. Everyone says that he is “intensely private”, but not courting attention and simply living a normal life is not all that intense. Maybe Steve Bartman’s world and the people in it are uncomplicated and uninterested in reliving and obsessing over a past mistake that could have happened to anyone. Maybe Steve Bartman has moved on and this is his happy ending. Maybe all of those things are true, but maybe we’ll never know — and really, that isn’t Steve Bartman’s problem.
We give Catching Hell 4 stars out of 5 for doing a great job of constructing a movie around this person who is larger then life for all the wrong reasons.