Catching Hell: Part 3 of 3 (2011)
Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney
Cinematographer: Keith Walker
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1 and Part 2...
NOTE: I wrote this a month before the Cubs would go on to win the World Series
We then move to the Cubs on that cool October night, with Halloween right around the corner, with many now putting on sweatshirts, some switching to jackets. The summer was over and their team was finally going to the World Series for the first time in 58 years - or so they were certain. People have lived full and complete lives without ever seeing the Cubs take the pennant. That’s difficult for me to understand, as I too just assume that this is the year, and if not this year, then maybe soon after. But to have died without ever seeing them win must be truly heartbreaking, especially if the game provides your life with meaning - a distraction from an unfulfilling job, life, marriage, or entire existence.
In one of the most thrilling documentaries I’ve ever seen that has used actual home footage, we watch as a couple of fans head out to the game. We see their cheers and incredible amounts of optimism. The place is packed. I’ve only been to Wrigley Field once, but I recall how old the place felt. You can feel the history everywhere you look, as we were sitting on the classic green bleachers, with no jumbotron in sight. It’s as though you’re teleporting back in time. We see the sold out crowd dressed in red, white, and blue, confident. The Cubs were going. It was finally about to occur. Two games ahead. Five outs. It was happening. And then Bartman caught that ball.
One of the most poignant moments comes when one of the attendees mentioned how it was as though the air had been sucked out of the place. The curse was in the minds of all, with everyone hoping it didn’t mean what they thought it meant. In drew memories of 1969, back when the Cubs were battling the Mets for division leadership, and a black cat had passed across captain Ron Santo who was standing on-deck, with the Cubs’ unity then falling apart, eventually concluding as various team factions blamed each other for failure.
While some wanted to blame the 2003 loss on Steve Bartman, or extend it to the curse, I don’t find either reason easy to believe, but I do think that it could nevertheless have an impact on the players pysche. Like music, baseball demands an ability to focus on letting the body do what it does, requiring a fine balance between deliberation and instinct. Clearly some of the players immediately freaked out over what Bartman meant - their minds suddenly began to lose focus. All it takes is one or two to then make that first mistake, causing others to question their actions, and thus begins a domino effect, resulting in the Marlins getting eight runs and going on to win.
And yet Bartman was blamed. It’s here that you get the taste of the super fandom that’s shockingly aggressive and fascinating to witness. As far as fans were concerned, Steve Bartman was the one responsible. Full stop. In the film we watch as they begin to accost him, throwing their beers and trash, with a lawyer going up to Steve to give him his business card, knowing how big the situation was and would become. The most terrifying element is Bartman’s frozen posture, immediately witnessing his team’s demise, knowing that thousands of people are screaming at him from behind. I had known security kicked him out and did not at all know that they had to basically redress him, hide him in the backseat of a car, then take him home, leaving him to face a myriad of death threats and harassment for years to come. He has turned down numerous interview requests, even for this specific film, even with Gibney’s determination to vindicate Bartman as he did for Bill Buckner.
My opinion - Bartman made a mistake, I think the anger was sound, and I think the bullying was absolutely ridiculous. It’s easy to laugh off the curse, wondering how something so close got destroyed, but to focus that energy and disappointment into a single person who made a stupid mistake, going so far as death threats, is something that I think makes you sad about the world - as uninspired as it sounds. Just as Bartman is not the reason they lost, baseball is not the root of why someone’s actually that mad. It’s something far grander and far more complicated, extending far beyond baseball.
Nevertheless, I find the superstition fascinating, and no different than an extra innings ball game. In some ways I didn’t want it to end, hoping and wondering if it could go on forever, keeping you watching and wondering if this was the year. And then there’s the idea of history being made, and witnessing what will be remembered for all of baseball’s future and America's history - the Cubs would go on to beat the Indians in Game Seven of what is arguably one of the greatest games of all time. It’s rare to be part of such moments, while knowing you’re a part of them. The way I look at it - just as I can appreciate numerous teams, I can flow with the curse, thinking there’s something larger than the game watching over it. Or I can see it as the vast mathematical improbability - in how unlikely it is that this team would keep on losing, no matter how good they were. After you watch this film there is no way you’re not waiting for that incident come the World Series. It’s that uncertainty - of the supernatural or mathematical order, whatever you coose - that makes these coming months so exciting. This documentary shows the grand spectrum of fandom and the foundation of their amusement. It captures a precise balance between mythology and calculation, portraying why I love the game.
BELOW: And just like that, after 108 years, they win
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