Steve Bartman, one of the most reviled people in the sports history of Chicago, had to endure another round of examination during last night’s airing of “Catching Hell,” produced by ESPN.
The filmmaker, Alex Gibney, went to great lengths to present a case for Bartman’s exoneration. In fact, he argues that fans outside the park sparked the ugly reaction to the headphone-wearing Cubs fan who became the symbol of the team’s collapse in the 2003 NLCS.
“Catching Hell” included a review of the Boston Red Sox demise in the 1986 World Series and the vilification of Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.
Gibney recounted steps leading to the infamous missed ground ball and the other factors that led to the Sox’s loss of Game 6. It barely touched on the subsequent Game 7 also won by the N.Y. Mets.
The distinction between Buckner’s mistake and Bartman’s attempt to catch a foul ball, in the opinion of the filmmaker, is that Buckner put himself in the position to take the grief as a public figure and pro athlete.
Bartman was an anonymous fan attending a playoff game who became known only because of television video replays and the vengeance of Chicago media who found him, named him and rendered him the villain.
Bartman’s absence from the public eye in the past eight years would be surprising enough were it not for the existence of stalker-media outlets who make it their business to dig and dig deep for identities, salacious facts and the whereabouts of noted personalities.
Paparazzi find vacationing celebrities for candid shots. Investigators follow politicians to their love trysts and dig up ancient and embarrassing court documents.
Is it possible that media are being careful to respect the privacy of a guy who went into hiding from an entire city of Cubs fans? Is this part of an amends process?
Mr. Gibney tried to get Bartman to contribute to the documentary as Bill Buckner did. Buckner has even played himself, most recently in an episode of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to demonstrate the fact that he’s way over the issue.
It’s hard not to wonder if the latest dredging up of facts and video will serve to drive Steve Bartman further under cover or help him come into the light.
The reaction of fans and viewers today on sports-talk radio and TV seems to skew in favor of amnesty for Bartman. While there are still hard core Bartman-haters, the tone of many callers has changed. They sound as if they are ready for it all to end.
Whether he is ready to forgive media members and Cubs fans for making him the scapegoat for their sad dreams is unknown.
It might just be sweet revenge for Bartman to deny us the healing moment it appears we want.