30 For 30 Series: Catching Hell

30 For 30 Series: Catching Hell

Charlie Light, Co-Editor-in-Chief

ESPN’s 30 for 30 film series, which chronicles 30 different sports stories in films directed by 30 different directors, debuted in October of 2009. The first volume of films was so popular that ESPN debuted a second volume with The Fab Five, the story of the 1991 Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team which started a then-unprecedented five freshmen.

The second film of the volume and the 32nd overall, Catching Hell, premiered in September 2011.  The documentary relived the tale of Steve Bartman, a Chicago Cubs fan who interfered with an eighth-inning foul ball in game six of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Cubs’ victory in that game seemed imminent just before Bartman knocked the ball from the grasp of Chicago left-fielder  Moises Alou, as the Cubs only needed five more outs to advance to the World Series.

Alou angrily threw his glove and shouted at Bartman, causing uneasiness in the crowd. The Cubs promptly surrendered eight runs to the Florida Marlins and lost the game.

The Cubs lost the final game in what is widely considered the most infamous playoff series in baseball history. While one would think that this collapse was just a freak incident, many fans put the blame on the famous Curse of the Billy Goat (in 1945, a cubs fan was kicked out of a World Series game featuring the Cubs because he insisted on bringing his billy goat into the game. He cursed the team, declaring the Cubs would never win a world series again).

That declaration holds true today; the Cubs haven’t even reached the series since the one they lost in 1945. In fact, they haven’t won the title since 1908, giving them the longest championship drought among all teams in baseball.

Director Alex Gibney not only follows Bartman through one of the most bizarre and fascinating episodes in sports, but examines the nature of scapegoats in general. He points to the 1986 World Series, in which Boston Red Sox first-baseman Bill Buckner let a slow ground ball through his legs to allow the New York Mets to win game six. While everyone blames the loss on Buckner, Gibney points out that nearly everyone forgets how two Boston relievers blew the game before Buckner’s error, allowing the Mets to tie a game they shouldn’t have.

While Bartman isn’t the only one to blame in the Cubs’ loss (he wasn’t the one to surrender eight runs after all), people like to pile their frustrations into one moment. It’s easy for someone to blame problems on just one person or event, and it helps make them feel better.

Catching Hell is easily one of the best films in the 30 for 30 series. It allows the reader to watch previously unseen footage of the whole event, such as home videos taken at the game from angles the television network could not capture. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll learn a lot about one of the most infamous games in the sport’s history; and even if you’re more of a football or soccer fan, you should be able to appreciate the way in which Gibney analyzes the nature of sports fans and how we perceive big moments.