Remembering Hell

Note from Cyn: I wrote this on July 3, 2011.  It’s archived in the old posts but figured it couldn’t hurt to bring it out since the Cubs are finally in the NLCS again.

I reviewed the documentary “Catching Hell” without intending to. I wrote the below because while watching the documentary I started yelling at the television and then remembered I wrote a blog where I could vent my frustrations.  So here it is.

July 3, 2011: So I’m home and going through the On Demand listings and I come across “Catching Hell“, a documentary described as exploring “the phenomenon of scapegoating by examining what the fateful deflected foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS did to Cubs fans and Bill Buckner’s error in the 1986 World Series did to Boston fans”.  Sounds like 104 minutes of fun, right?  This was made for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series and I almost didn’t watch it.  I really go out of my way, even now, to avoid watching anything from Game 6 but in buying this On Demand I made the decision to watch it.  No sense in paying to watch the documentary and skip through the painful parts, right?

I know that it is completely insane that after 2004 and 2007, watching the end of that game is still painful, but it is.  It hurt me physically to watch it.  Really made my heart and body ache.  There was never, ever, a time when I “blamed” Bill Buckner for what happened, never, but there is no denying that there were many who did (truth be told, more in the media and around the country than locally.  I’ve honestly never met anyone who held hatred or anger toward Buckner who lived in the area.  Hell, he got cheered when he came back to Boston as a player…that bit of information always gets left out of any discussions about Bill Buckner).

So I expected to watch this and be annoyed by comparing something that happened in the LCS to something that happened in the World Series (as far as the pain of the fans) but I wasn’t.  Alex Gibney, the filmmaker (and Boston Red Sox fan) did a wonderful job of showing in painful detail how scapegoating both Bartman and Buckner was so ridiculous and unfair that the personal pain kind of went away.  I’ll say this about the Cubs fans, I have a different view of them now.  I will never get over hearing the fans not only chanting “asshole”at him but yelling things like “we’re going to kill you!” and  “Put a twelve gauge in his mouth and pull the trigger” and throwing things at him.  Definitely not a high point for baseball fans.  I did NOT expect to be more upset by the Bartman incident than the Buckner one but the filmmakers really covered it in such detail that I couldn’t help getting upset for Steve Bartman (not the Cubs fans.  Definitely not the Cubs fans) like it just happened.  I was genuinely yelling “Oh my God!” at some of what was shown. How Fox and Steve Lyons hammered the visual of Bartman over and over and how the fans fed off of Moises Alou and instead of supporting the team after that, spent the rest of the game torturing Bartman.  (And, really, based on the audio and video, Lyons and Fox are as responsible for what happened to him as the Cubs fans are. )  Friendly Confines, my ass.

Ironically, anyone who blamed Buckner or Bartman seemed to forget that both games were game sixes.  Each team had an entire game to finish things off and couldn’t seal the deal.  I guess it’s more fun to blame folks than it is to accept that your team failed.

I have to tell you, too, that after watching the replay of Moises Alou’s reaction over and over, I take issue with how he acted.  His actions (or REactions) helped fuel the fire that changed Steve Bartman’s life forever.  It pleased me that Gibney says in a voice over “Moises Alou was NOT a great fielder.  Would he have made the catch [had Bartman not been there]?”  To this day, Alou is “…convinced 100 percent” that he would have made the catch.  Using technology where they erased the crowd from the shot, it does look like Alou would have made the catch.  But we’ll never know.  Is ruining a man’s life a good trade off for your favorite team losing?

The filmmaker wants to get your blood boiling and  he does.  Not only showing us Buckner and Bartman, but reminding us about Jeffrey Maier.  (Interesting that Maier gets treated like a God for legitimate fan interference while Steve Bartman is forever reviled for doing something all the fans around him were also doing.)

All in all an interesting, but also sad look at how fans protect their own feelings by picking a scapegoat so they can continue to root for the laundry.

The majority of the documentary covers Bartman and what happened surrounding what happened in game 6 but it is bookended by Bill Buckner and the Red Sox.  Fascinating to hear him talking about how he really didn’t know how he missed the ball and never watched the replay until recently where he studied in slow motion what happened.  (According to him, the ball went by his glove not between his legs. Not sure what he means specifically by that)  Buckner didn’t watch the 2004 World Series because Fox kept showing his error video.  (Yes, this film is full of more reasons to hate Fox.)

The Boston segment ends with Bill Buckner’s trip back to Fenway in 2008 for Opening Day.  A quote from him at the pre-game presser that I had almost forgotten about gives us more proof of where the whole vilification of Bill Buckner came from.

“I had to forgive, not the fans of Boston per se, but in my heart I had to forgive the media for what they put me and my family through”

On the record for the film he says that he felt the crowd “wanted me to feel better”. We sure did, Bill.

It also gets pointed out that Bill Buckner, in becoming a professional baseball player, asked for the limelight and the good and bad that came with it and Steve Bartman didn’t ask for any of it.  I do agree with this in a sense. I can’t imagine having your entire life change over something you didn’t even realize was happening at the time.

To this day, Steve Bartman is in hiding from Cubs fans.  The stories are that he doesn’t even use credit cards because he doesn’t want to risk anyone recognizing his name.  In a sense, he’s lost his identity because people don’t know where to draw the line.

“There are many who say the city should forgive Bartman but it’s really up to Bartman to forgive Chicago.”  Can’t really say I would blame him if he never did.

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Catching Hell

I’ve been pretty vocal regarding my feelings about the Cubs making it to the NLCS. Let’s just say it doesn’t make me happy.

A fair amount of people have asked me how I could possibly root against a team that hasn’t won a championship in over 100 years. Many are adamant that I’m just spiteful and have no good reason to dislike the Cubs. They bring up the Red Sox drought and how I should feel a companionship with the Cubs fans because as a Red Sox fan I know their pain. This is all too true.

In the 2003 post-season, I was much too involved with the Red Sox/Yankees ALCS to pay much attention to what was going on with the Cubs and Marlins. I probably had the NLCS on but I honestly don’t remember one game of it. So I have no memory of my own of the October 14th “Bartman” game at Wrigley Field.  All my memories of it come after, from the news, the Internet and the documentary “Catching Hell” that ESPN produced for their 30 for 30 series.

Which means I didn’t immediately hold the treatment of Steve Bartman against the Cubs fans. In my mind, initially, it was just fans giving another fan grief because he interfered with a ball in play and it seemed to affect the outcome of the game.  The fans acted like jerks, but all fans act like jerks at one time or another (even you St Louis Cardinals fans) so let’s note they acted crummy and move on with our lives.

Then in 2011 I watched “Catching Hell” on-demand and it changed my view of Cubs fans  forever. What they did went beyond giving a fan grief. They tormented Steve Bartman and ruined his life. Ruined it, genuinely, all over a baseball game. (I should note that “Catching Hell” doesn’t just cover Bartman but Bill Buckner as well.)

The argument from many is that ANY fans (maybe, especially Red Sox fans) would have reacted the way the Cubs fans did. I reject this false premise. I will always reject this because we haven’t seen it happen. There have been plenty of goats in Major League Baseball over the last 12 years and where is the next Bartman?

ESPN has been kind enough to post the documentary in its entirety. I’ll save you a click and share it below.  I implore you to watch it if for no other reason than to understand how some people. such as yours truly, will have a very difficult time ever forgiving the Cubs fans.


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