Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney
Cinematographer: Keith Walker
by Jon Cvack
Leave it to Alex Gibney to create one of the greatest sports documentaries I’ve ever seen, exploring the role scapegoating plays in sports, focusing on that dreaded day of October 14, 2003, when the Cubs were five outs away from going to the World Series, when a foul ball was popped up by Marlins’ Louis Castillo drifted out to left field, where the infamous Steve Bartman reached over the railing and grabbed the ball that could have been caught by Moises Alou. Up to this point in my life I had watched about two or three games, and I’m sure I only had it on as it hadn’t been since 1908 that the Cubs had won a World Series. The way our computer room was arranged - or study, if I wanted to make it sound far more lavish than it is - was that my family’s computer faced the opposite direction of the television that was in our patio. I recall hearing the incident, not thinking much of it, and then watching as the Marlins went on to score a bunch of runs (eight to be exact), eventually losing the game. It was unfortunate, but I figure they’d come back. Considering I didn’t really enjoy baseball at the time, falling victim to the classic problem of ignorance - thinking the game is boring - I just couldn’t drag myself to watch another game. At only five outs away from the World Series, the Marlin went on to win the series.
I recall the camera cutting to Bartman, with his turtleneck, cubs hat, headphones, and glasses, staring forward as though nothing happened, soon getting kicked out. I recall it being parodied on The Simpsons, smiling that it was the one game of the few games that I actually watched, which was taking on grand cultural meaning and significance. However, it was only after getting heavily into baseball this year, seeded primarily by the 2014 World Series where it came down to the last out of the last inning of the seventh game of the series, as though straight out of your classic sports movie - functioning as the ‘bottle’ discussed in Sideways that hooked Miles to wine - that I finally understood and appreciated the game in a way I never had before. For all my love of literature and film, these were deliberate and planned expressions (aside from a few exceptions that're typically overrated, i.e., As I Lay Dying). The idea that a slow game like baseball could provide equal amounts of thrilling story, all while taking place in live time, with no script or plan in place, made me welcome the game.
However, while last year I only caught a few games, this year I went all out, eventually buying MLB.tv, getting glued to the app, reading half a dozen books, and realizing that this ‘boring’ game is actually incredibly deep, profound, and strategic, relying on a complex system of math and statistics that deconstructs nearly every move executed. The thrill of baseball is witnessing mathematically improbable events - such as Arrieta's no hitter this year (the 15th in Cubs history and his second in two years); a great game such as the first Sox/Cubs game in their second 2016; or the Giants/Marlins game, where Crawford hit seven runs, which has only been done three other times in history since the 1870s. When I see these moments, I’m witnessing moments of sheer mathematical improbability. At .251, the chances of him hitting seven times in a game is ~¼^7 power is 1 in 16,384, and therefore I was watching a near anomalistic moment in all of history.
It’s this exact mathematical element that I think pairs up with the vast amount of superstitions found throughout the game. Long story short, the Cubs are considered a cursed baseball team, where in 1945 Billy Sianis, who brought his billy goat to Game Four of the World Series, was asked to leave, who then placed a curse on the field. The Cubs never returned to the world series, and they haven’t won a World Series since 1908 (I wrote this before October 2016). It got to the point where Billy’s grandson Sam Sianis brought a Billy Goat to Wrigley Fields numerous times in order to correct the curse.
While a Cubs fan, I’ll admit that support really stems from the team’s rich history, existing within the trio only matched by the Red Sox and Yankees, all having existed since the dawn of baseball, and reflecting as much about American Tradition as they do about the sport. I found myself longing to take an hour or so out a busy day to throw down the pillow and turn on a game, serving as one of the greatest forms of relaxation and entertainment I can fathom. It truly is one of the greatest pastimes I know of.
Check out Part 2...
BELOW: Is he bad in any movies?
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