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30 for 30: Catching Hell

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Once, back in 2003, it looked like the Cubs were going to win the World Series.  Then, they choked in a playoff game, and it all got blamed on one fan: Steve Bartman.

The act was simple.  The Cubs led the Marlins in the National League Championship Series 3 games to 2, and they led the game 3-0 with five outs left to go.  Then, they allowed a double, and then the next batter hit a long foul ball toward the third base side.  Steve Bartman, an unassuming Cubs fan sitting in the front row, reached out for the ball, along with several other fans.  Bartman deflected it enough the Moises Alou, reaching into the stands, couldn't catch it for the second out.  The Marlins, then hung 8 runs on the Cubs, who went on to lose the game, as well as the following game and then the series.  And so died the most recent good hope of winning a World Series.

Chicagoans have fixated on Bartman as the reason that the Cubs lost that night.  Never mind that Alou was reaching into the stands, where it's allowed by the rules for the fans to catch the ball.  Never mind that Bartman was one of five or so fans reaching for the ball, one of which doubtlessly would have knocked away the ball if Bartman hadn't.  Never mind that the catch was a difficult one, and there's no guarantee that Alou would have caught it.  Never mind that the Cubs pitchers had already allowed a double that inning, or that they couldn't get two outs before giving up eight runs, or that the best-fielding shortstop in the league muffed an inning-ending double play.  Never mind that the Cubs flubbed their chance to win game 7, or that they had already lost two games earlier in the season.

No, this was clearly Steve Bartman's fault, and Chicago let him know it.  This is a shaming moment in the history of sports fandom, not for Bartman, but for everybody who blamed him.  For the people who threw beer and concessions on and at him.  For every one of the thousands of fans who chanted "Asshole, asshole, asshole" that night in the stadium.  For the people who leaked his name and address and forced him to get police protection.  This was a symbol of just how badly things can go wrong when individuals start acting under the mob mentality.

As for the documentary, it does an excellent job telling a very compelling story.  As the director is a Red Sox fan, he compares the incident with Bill Buckner's infamous error in the 1986 World Series.  The connection is apt.  As Buckner's life was ruined, so was Bartman's, though the same vileness and sense of revenge.  This documentary made me feel, and that's a rare thing.

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