September 28, 2011
Was it a perverted sense of duty? A masochistic desire to relive a nightmare? I can't say for certain.
And I have to admit it was weird watching a documentary of an event I actually attended. It created questions I've never had to confront while watching a movie before. Was it my first-hand experience of covering those final two games at Wrigley Field that made me think director Alex Gibney's recreation of Game 6 in the 2003 NLCS was a perfect portrayal of what it was like to be there that night? Would I still be giving him a good mark if I hadn't been there to actually feel Wrigley Field's mood deflate or hear the anger in the threats shouted at Steve Bartman as I tried to push closer through the crowd to report?
Simply put, was someone who watched the game at home on television having the same sensory buttons pushed by Gibney's film? I could now kind of relate to all the baseball people who found it weird to watch "Moneyball" after holding such a personal stake.
But if you never entered Wrigley that night, but watched Gibney's depiction and could still feel the raw, cool air of that October night, know that it wasn't too far off from being there. Here's what I wrote on deadline for the next day editions of the Kansas City Star:
"(The play) sent Wrigley Field into a tizzy, with people in the crowd starting a profane chant directed toward the unidentified man. The man was hit by a flying beer and was later taken to a secure location," according to Wrigley Field security.
"Go find out who that guy is," screamed one passerby at the media sitting in the upper deck after the game. "Then put his name, address and phone number in all your papers."
Before Game 7, I interviewed a fan holding a sign that said "screw the goat, bring us the jackass!", repeated the infamous "no pardon" quote from then-governor Rod Blagojevich and excerpted part of Bartman's apology to Cubs fans. Through several well-constructed sequences, Gibney and his crew made me feel like I had just filed my story and was packing up for the weird train ride home.
A few more thoughts on "Catching Hell":
• So was it a good movie, worthy of your time and DVR space. TV critic Alan Sepinwall says it is, ranking the movie alongside "The Two Escobars" and "The Band That Wouldn't Die." That surprised me, because I side a little more with Will Leitch. As I state aboved, there's a good documentary here, but ESPN's request that Gibney expand it to two hours fills it up with annoying fluff. There's way too much time devoted to Bill Buckner and the 1986 Red Sox at the beginning and a segment with a minister talking about the nature of scapegoating will have you reaching for the fast-forward button near the end. The movie is still worth watching, especially for some of the effects they used to break down the play. Just don't be afraid to use your remote for a healthy edit.
• It probably goes without saying, but Bartman himself does not appear in the movie. Had he actually agreed to an interview, ESPN sure would have let us know. His absence doesn't handicap Gibney as much as I thought it would — several other sources, including a security guard who provided safe haven at her nearby apartment, give us a new view on the night — but there's no way anyone should tackle this topic again without Bartman's cooperation. Between that mock trial, two Wayne Drehs articles and this documentary, ESPN has officially picked the topic clean. Enough.
• Am I right to understand that Bartman's two friends left the security office and ditched him that night? Worst people ever, if so.
• Actually, check that. The worst people ever are the ones who still come up to Moises Alou and ask him to autograph pictures of that fateful moment.
• The news clip they showed of Steve Bartman's youth baseball team showing up outside his house to support him the next day was great and touching. I had never seen that before.
• There's a part of the movie where Gibney syncs WGN's radio broadcast — which had been delayed by seven seconds — with the actual play so we can hear what Bartman was presumably hearing in his trademark headphones as the foul ball flies toward him. Gibney suggests the delay was responsible for Bartman's ignorance, but I don't buy that for a second. Maybe if Bartman had also been blind.
• Also missing the mark: Gibney's insistence on suggesting that Chicago is still burdened by the way that fans acted that night, like we're a Southern town still healing from segregation or the family of a serial killer. I'd venture to guess that the only times that 99 percent of Chicagoans really reflect back on that night is when ESPN mines it for more programming.
• I'm not an expert in the way that television schedules are produced or determined, but couldn't they have found a day when nothing important was going on in baseball? Say, the entire month of August? Thank God that the microwave is the only device in my house that MLB.tv doesn't stream to or I would've missed a lot of Tuesday's great wild-card action.
• Not to get all Drew Magary on you, but, please people, STOP ASKING IF ANYBODY REMEMBERS WHAT ALEX GONZALEZ DID. No one forgets that he booted what could have been a double-play ball BECAUSE EVERYONE IS ALWAYS ASKING WHY NO ONE REMEMBERS IT. EVEN THOUGH WE DO. Honestly, people who say no one remembers Alex Gonzalez are worse than the people who say "I'm Irish and I don't get upset about Notre Dame, do I?" when you're talking about Native American mascots. PEOPLE HAVE BROUGHT THIS UP BEFORE. THEY WILL BRING IT UP AGAIN. YOU HAVE NOT STUMBLED INTO SOME TERRITORY WHERE NO ONE HAS DARED VENTURE OR OPENED ANOTHER PORTAL TO HUMAN UNDERSTANDING.
• This film did nothing to dispel my belief that Alou would've caught that ball.