Miscellany

Review: ESPN's 30-for-30 Catching Hell

ESPN’s 30-for-30 series lived Tuesday with Catching Hell, which told the story of the Boston Red Sox as told by a Boston Red Sox fan. Catching Hell chronicled the pain and suffering Boston fans went through when Bill Buckner misplayed a ground ball in 1986 before the organization finally achieved the ultimate glory of World Series victories in 2004 and 2007.

Last night must have been a cathartic evening for Red Sox fans every … what’s that?

Chicago?

I don’t think so.

Steve Bartman?

Really?

Well, yeah they mentioned that, but that wasn’t really…

No shit?

*checks Tribeca website*

No shit.

Catching Hell was actually about the Chicago Cubs and the night Steve Bartman became a household name. See, ESPN, I kid because I love. Kind of. Only an ESPN production could take a story about the torturous history of the Chicago Cubs and stuff in 40 minutes about the Red Sox under the following bullshit guise:

Alex Gibney probes this topic of sports curses and scapegoats with his signature incisiveness, tracing the roots of our compulsion to focus misplaced blame for an entire team’s legacy on small moments of tangible ineptitude. In the process, Gibney’s comprehensive interrogation of this under-examined sports phenomenon lends insight and a bit of heroic tragedy to Bartman’s own curse of undeserved notoriety.

As Gibney notes towards the end of the film, he’s a lifelong Red Sox fan. There are two scapegoats in this film – Buckner and Bartman. Then there’s a minister shoehorned into the final act to explain the origins of the “scape goat.” This is really just a documentary about Bartman used as another excuse to talk about the Curse of the Bambino and give Billy Buck another strong half hour this fall. Hell, between Catching Hell and Curb, he – and his mustache – have been great this season.

Now having said all that, Catching Hell was good. The only thing it was missing was an actual interview with Steve Bartman, but apparently, no one will ever get that. Maybe that’s why all the Buckner material found it’s way into the story. Doing a documentary on this story without talking to the central character seems a little silly, but it was filled with enough new footage and sides of the story that it was acceptable.

The accounts of the fans around Bartman, including the bar owner who also tried to grab the Alou ball show just how random life can be. If that guy had touched the ball, his bar probably would have been burnt to the ground by the time Moises Alou and Aramis Ramirez had booked the flights back to the Dominican Republic. (That was before Game 7 if you’re keeping score at home…)

The most eye-opening parts of the film were the shots of the Chicago fans. What a bunch of animals. Who’s to say that other fan bases wouldn’t have been shouting the same things and throwing the same beers, but it was – excuse me – jarring to actually hear it. The death threats started immediately and I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Bartman wouldn’t have gotten out of there alive if not for the above-and-beyond care of the Cubs’ security team.

Catching Hell also gave us a look at the way the media felt about the whole Bartman fiasco. Most media outlets zeroed in on Bartman which didn’t help anyone except Alex Gonzalez. We also get a glimpse inside the brain of ESPN. Two years later ESPN’s Wayne Drehs stalked Steve Bartman because his editor basically told him to.

With all the new fan-taken footage, the Stern prank call on SportsCenter, and even a cameo by disgraced Mayor Governor Rod Blagojevich, Catching Hell was worth sifting through all the Red Sox nonsense to find the story of a guy who didn’t do anything any fan would have done by going for a foul ball. No one in the front row has ever boxed out other fans on a pop-up at the wall so the home team could make a play.

At one point late, some said that Bartman had to forgive Chicago. These are the same people who blew up the ball and used its steam to cook spaghetti sauce. These people are idiots and Bartman doesn’t owe them – or the media – anything. It was Prior who fell apart after the missed foul ball. It was Gonzalez who blew the inning-ending double play. And it was a whole Cubs roster that choked away a 5-3 lead in the 5th inning of Game 7.

It’s almost a relief that this documentary doesn’t feature the director knocking on Barman’s door. Gibney does a great job of letting the people who were there do the dirty work in the story. Hopefully, this can close the door on the Bartman story because there’s really nothing to gain by hearing “his side” of the story. All the other sides were good enough. Even the sides that were about the Red Sox.

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