As a fan, how many times have you reached for a foul ball at a baseball game? Most try to catch it every time. But few ever believed that this natural reaction could make a fan the scapegoat for the Chicago Cubs losing the 2003 NLCS series and missing out on a chance to play in the World Series.
On April 24, ESPN Films premiered "Catching Hell" at the BMCC Tribeca PAC as part of the Tribeca ESPN Sports Film Festival. "Catching Hell" is directed by Oscar-winning Alex Gibney and explores the psychology of die-hard sports fans. It also dives into the frightening phenomenon of scapegoating, which turned mild-mannered Steve Bartman into the most hated man in Chicago and a celebrated hero in South Florida.
Going into the theater, many of the movie-goers already knew about the fateful pop fly during Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS that bought Steve Bartman a place in sports history and gave Cubs fans someone new to blame for their cursed century without a World Series title. But Gibney's greatest achievement was in making the story more about human response and relationships than solely about baseball.
The audience seemed to sympathize with Bartman after viewing "Catching Hell," and many claimed that he did not deserve the negative backlash from Cubs fans, which included being showered with beer and obscenities.
When host Michelle Beadle asked audience members if they would have reacted the same way as Bartman, the overwhelming response was that they, too, would have tried to catch the foul ball. The four other fans who were sitting around Steve Bartman at the time all reached for it as well, but Bartman happened to be the unlucky person who made contact.
Steve Bartman did not agree to participate in the film, but Bill Buckner, who can relate to Bartman, spoke about the impact of having the Red Sox fans shun him for missing a ground ball in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. Buckner reflects, "I could handle [the jokes and laughter]. My wife was very upset. That hurt more than anything. Family was the most important thing."
The negative reactions affected Buckner to the point that in 1993, he moved away from Boston to protect his family and try to get away from the hysteria. Steve Bartman still tries to keep to himself these days, and it is unlikely that he will attend a Chicago Cubs game anytime soon.
To experience the "Catching Hell" red carpet and hear from all of the athletes who joined in the festivities, ESPN is producing a half-hour special devoted to sports and movies! The half hour show, which will air on ESPN2 on May 3 at 8 p.m. ET, will be hosted by Michelle Beadle and Chris Connelly, and it will pay homage to some of the best sports movies out there.