Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.

Bartman still is 'Catching Hell'


If you’re Steve Bartman, this is a Game You Should NOT Have Seen. The Cubs fan got in the way of Moises Alou fielding a foul pop when the team was five outs away from first its World Series since 1945. He is vilified by, among many others, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Watch the play (Credit: AP)

My favorite event on the sports media beat calendar is the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, currently in its fifth edition as part of the 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival.

So far I only have seen one of this year's seven ESPN films, but it was by far the most anticipated of the selections:

"Catching Hell," Alex Gibney's look at Steve Bartman, the unfortunate Cubs fan who played a huge part in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.

I attended the premiere April 23 - I snuck away on an off night between the Knicks' Games 3 and 4 - at Borough of Manhattan Community College. It was the toughest ticket in the history of the ESPN festival.

There is one more public screening this Saturday night, April 30, at the festival. The rest of the world will get a chance to see it on ESPN sometime this fall. (After some significant bleeping of curse words.)

What did I think of the film? 

First things first: There is no interview with Bartman, who never has spoken publicly about the incident, a minor miracle in this tell-all age.

Even without Bartman himself, Gibney does a good job recreating the events of that crazy night at Wrigley, blending humor and horror in just the right doses, and exploring the larger implications of fellow fans' reactions to Bartman.

Interviews with fans seated near Bartman and with a security guard who helped him that night are particularly educational.

He even brings in a minister to cover the biblical roots of scapegoating.

My biggest problem with the film: Gibney, a Red Sox fan, spends a chunk of the first part of it telling the too-often-told story of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, including a not-particularly-rare-these-days sitdown with Bill Buckner.

Gibney says the Buckner saga is what led him to Bartman's story, but the connection just doesn't work. Comparing a pro baseball player who messes up in the line of duty to the plight of a fan thrust into the spotlight is a huge, apples-to-oranges stretch.

With that caveat, by all means check out the film when it comes to ESPN.

It originally was going to be part of the "30 for 30" series of 2009-10 but Gibney asked for a delay to add additional material.

Here are some highlights of a Q&A Gibney conducted after the premiere:

On whether he tried to interview Bartman:

"I reached out to Steve Bartman through his attorney. I had 19 conversations with his attorney. We actually sent him an early cut of the film to give him a sense. I almost never do that but I did that in this instance. I tried everything I could think of, but at the end of the day his attorney told me Steve wanted to stick with his plan. He’s over it. He wants to move on."

On using a minister as one of the interviews:

"Somebody said late in the film that this is something beyond baseball. The idea of scapegoating really is an ancient ritual and it’s something seemingly hard-wired in the human psyche. That kind of hard-wired human social psychology interests me a lot.

"I think going forward the only way out of that is to understand it, understand when it might be happening. Part of that understanding came out of that incident. I felt she was very important in terms of reminding us this wasn’t just Wrigley Field, it wasn’t just baseball. It was something way beyond that."

On whether he thinks the Cubs will or should bring Bartman back to the stadium if they win a World Series, as the Red Sox did with Buckner in 2008:

"I had a dream the other night that the Cubs did win the World Series and held a Steve Bartman day and everyone, out of affection, not mockery, was at the event all wearing a green turtleneck, headphones and a Cub hat. And they invited Steve Bartman back, but Steve Bartman didn’t come.

"And in a way I think that would be just now. My personal view is that I think Steve Bartman, had he come out earlier, or had he been a bigger guy, frankly, if Steve Bartman had been 6-foot-6 and stood up after he touched that foul ball and took a bow to the entire stadium I think it would have been over.

"But I do think there is something in the whole notion of scape-goating that because he just sat there, because he had the head phones on, he became the focus of this anger. But in a funny way, even though I think it would be a release for everyone to see Steve Bartman at that event I dreamed about, having gone so far for so long with his approach I kind of feel like that would be a magnificent moment if he stuck with it and even if the whole city gives him a cheer and a parade that he doesn’t show up.

"That’s my personal, perverted view."

On what he would ask Bartman if he had the chance:

"The question I’d want to ask him was, When did you realize what had happened? The moment builds. It’s an insignificant moment at first until the moment builds and builds and builds until suddenly the whole stadium is screaming out, '-----!'

"My second question would be, Why did he make the decision never to come forward?"

Add new comment

advertisement | advertise on am New York

Neil Best on Twitter

advertisement | advertise on am New York