Catching Hell, directed by Alex Gibney for ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, is the perfect idiom for the nightmare all Chicago Cubs fans experienced in the year 2003. It is so frightful that I thought I was watching a class-A Halloween horror flick. I grew up in Chicago and as a life long Cub’s fan I can tell you that I have seen some scary stuff with this team; but the only thing that is more nauseating than this ESPN tale of terror is the 69 New York Mets debacle: This is a close second.
Transport back to 1986 and we see Bill Buckner (former Cub), muff a ground ball which trickled through his legs and supposedly cost the snake-bit Boston Red Sox the World Series. Buckner became infamous for the game six blunder and later “caught hell” for the incident. He is the set up man serving as a metaphor for the “Steve Bartman incident” during the Chicago Cubs 2003 playoff run. But first things first: what the special did not include were Buckner’s career stats; stats that deserve Hall of Fame consideration.
Buckner played 22 seasons in the major leagues and posted these career stats:
2,517 games with an overall 289 average which included 2,715 hits (498 doubles, 49 triples, and 174 home runs). 27% of his hits were for extra bases (more than ¼ of his total hits). In 1980, Buckner won the batting title with the Cubs, posting a 324 average. One of Buckner’s most amazing stats was that he only struck out 435 times in 9,397 career at bats (a ration of 1 strikeout per every 21 at bats). Comparing those numbers with Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron’s base strikeout ration, it is 2 to 3X’s better. Let’s not forget that his fielding % was an incredible .991. Nobody remembers any of this: all they remember is the ground ball that went through his legs.
Let’s time travel to 2003 when the Chicago Cubs are on the brink of going to the World Series in game 6. While holding a 3-0 over the Florida Marlins, Moises Alou zeros in on a fall ball pop up that would have ended the inning and sticks up his glove to snag it. Bartman instinctively raises his hand from the stands to grab a souvenir and deflects the ball. The Marlins go on to score 8 runs and win the game. Chicago Cub fans that are ready to celebrate a century of drought are dumbstruck. The situation turns very ugly and Bartman sits in his seat looking like a deer caught in the headlights. After being pounded by a monsoon of beer, security decides the poor guy is going to need an escort out of Wrigley Field before he is tar and feathered. Security takes Bartman downstairs, where he puts on a disguise posing as a vendor and is whisked away in a clandestine manner. After the Cubs blew game 7 of the series, Bartman begins receiving death threats and goes into a self imposed, self protection plan.
Have you ever heard the old adage that “fact is stranger than fiction?” You need to see this ESPN documentary to believe it; but if you’re a Cub fan, do not watch it twice: It may lead to suicide.