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CATCHING HELL (director/writer: Alex Gibney; screenwriters: Connor Schell/John Dahl/Gary Cohen; cinematographer: Keith Walker; editor: Alison Ellwood; music: David Kahne; cast: Steve Bartman; Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Matt Liston/Chris Karnak; Tribeca Films; 2011)

“A nutty sports story about scapegoating.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”/”Taxi to the Dark Side”/”Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer“) explores in depth a nutty sports story about scapegoating, in an entertaining and thoughtful way. It covers in great detail the infamous incident during the sixth game of the 2003 National League Championship Series in which a Chicago Cubs fan, Steve Bartman, decked out in a Cubbie hat and wearing Walkman earplugs, in the heat of the moment interfered with a foul ball that the Cubs’ left fielder Moises Alou was apparently about to catch. If he made the catch, it would have been the second out of the eight inning and the Cubs with a commanding lead of 3 to 0 would have most likely won the game and been in a World Series for the first time since 1908. But with a new life, the Florida Marlins scored eight runs that inning as the pitchers and fielders of the Cubs became unhinged and the visitors won the sixth game and then the seventh game to get the privilege of playing the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Superstition has it that the Cubs are underthe “Curse of the Billy Goat,” inflicted in 1945 by an indignant fan after his goat was ejected from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Therefore the always disappointed loyal Cubbie fans expected the worse after the Bartman interference and got what they feared. So when Alou displayed an angry reaction and pointed up at the stands to Bartman, one of many fans chasing after the possible souvenir but unfortunately the only one who deflected the ball by touching it, the crowd turned their attention on him and their reaction became so boorish security had to escort him out of the ballpark for his own safety.

Because of the tremendous media coverage and replays showing the interference, the unfortunate Bartman became recognized and was made the scapegoat for the Cubs loss by a large portion of the crushed die-hard fans, even though he actually was like all the other fans around him chasing after a foul ball. Gibney reflects on how the reticent 26-year-old computer analyst had to go into hiding and how his life changed because of the ugly crowd behavior that continues to this day to blame him instead of their home-team’s ineptness for the loss. There are interviews with those who played in the game, broadcasted the game and those who sat near Bartman in the outfield stands. Also there are shots from all camera angles of the incident, doctored shots, enactments and an interview with the now retired Domincan Republic outfielder, Alou, in his native country. Bartman has refused all interviews, refused to appear in this film, turned down all money offers to be heard (some of them quite large) and has remained mute after a relative read a sincere apology that Bartman made that the newspapers printed soon after the incident. Of all the people involved in this episode, the noblest Cubbie of all seems to be the one many Yahoos chose to make the scapegoat.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”