'Catching Hell' director defends a baseball scapegoat
In Game 6 of 2003's National League Championship Series, a Chicago Cubs fan reached for glory ... and caught hell.
Along with half a dozen other fans, Steve Bartman stuck his hands out for a fly ball hit by Florida Marlin Luis Castillo just as Cubs outfielder Moises Alou also went after it. But Alou didn't quite make it. Instead, the ball glanced off Bartman's hand and into the crowd.
Cubs fans have since blamed Bartman for the team's subsequent loss.
In Catching Hell, part of the American Film Institute's Silverdocs festival, Alex Gibney records the fallout of that fateful flub.
Gibney tells NPR's Neal Conan that Bartman was immediately singled out after the incident.
"The entire stadium focused their ire on him and almost tried to kill him," Gibney says.
When he saw just how furious everyone got over someone doing the most innocent thing a fan could do, Gibney says he knew there was a story there. He also says he doesn't fault Bartman one bit.
"Nobody saw Moises Alou coming," he says. After all, the wall was high and it's natural instinct to reach for a fly ball coming at you. "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 huge role in sports that Bartman's name is now inextricably connected to the Cubs' loss. But Gibney says there's also something darker going on.
"Very often, we look to find scapegoats," he says. "Steve Bartman was a perfect scapegoat."
Bartman was small and meek, with headphones on that seemed to set him apart from the crowd. What made things worse was that 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. "Steve Bartman looked weak. And they rained hell on him."
That day 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 kept quiet. He has close friends and co-workers who stuck by him and helped him keep his life private.
"I kind of wish Steve Bartman would come forward ... for a healing moment," Gibney says.
But Gibney's also realistic.
"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."