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Steve Bartman catches more hell in ESPN documentary

Steve Bartman: Go out buy navy sweatshirt green turtleneck Sony Walkman Cubs hat.  After you get all dressed up

Steve Bartman: Go out and buy a navy sweatshirt, a green turtleneck, a Sony Walkman and a Cubs hat. After you get all dressed up, go sit in your closet and don’t let anyone find you.

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‘CATCHING HELL’ ★★★★

10 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2, 9 p.m. Friday on ESPN Classic

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Updated: November 11, 2011 2:26PM



ESPN Films’ “Catching Hell” should be required viewing for ­students entering the heavenly world of the media.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney tells the story of scapegoating through the teary eyes of former Cubs first baseman Bill Buckner and the lonesome heart of Cubs fan Steve Bartman. The evocative 102-minute documentary premiered Tuesday and repeats several times over the next week.

Buckner was the Red Sox (and former Cubs) first baseman who let a ground ball go through his legs in the 1986 World Series, leading to a New York Mets World Series championship and the continuation of that curse. Bartman was one of a handful of fans who reached out for a foul ball at Wrigley Field in October 2003 when the Cubs were five outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945.

He did not catch the ball.

This curse has only gotten worse.

Gibney (a self-proclaimed Red Sox fan) uses Buckner as a metaphor for humanity that failed the media in both events, but moreso in the Bartman story.

“Catching Hell” made me ­wonder where we lost our way.

The Red Sox have won two World Series since Buckner’s error. The team brought him back to throw out the game ball on Opening Day 2008. Buckner was received with warmth from the hard-core Boston fans. In an emotional postgame press conference, Buckner said it was most difficult for him to forgive the media “for what they put me and my family through.” His daughter Kristen was at the press conference; she was a ­television reporter from Idaho.

The Bartman story is more disturbing. Buckner was a public figure. Bartman didn’t sign up for any of this. An ESPN.com reporter spent seven hours sitting in the parking lot of Bartman’s workplace waiting for the mysterious Cubs fan to return to his car. Some people could get arrested for that. They finally connect when Bartman tells him this is not the best way to get someone to agree to an interview. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass was sitting near Bartman at the fateful game. His first question to Bartman after the incident was, “Do you realize what you have just done?” Not the most empathetic behavior. Kass apologizes for this in the doc. The Sun-Times is credited for being the first to announce Bartman’s home address in an online story. WFLD-Channel 32 reporter Dane Placko, who also was near Bartman after the muff, describes the scene as “lynch mob mentality.”

Matt Liston did his own wiseacre Cubs documentary, 2003’s “Chasing October,” and he shows up here as a more seasoned voice of reason. (He is listed as a co-producer of “Catching Hell.”)

Liston says the anti-Bartman sentiment was launched outside the ballpark with a fan who wore a television on his head. Fans on the street watched the Bartman replay over and over started chanting “Ass----!” Liston contends that carried over into the ballpark.

I don’t recall any of that, and I was at the game, sitting down the right field line. I was just depressed. And I wasn’t drunk — a friendly confines story for another time.

Liston calls Oct. 14, 2003, the darkest moment in Wrigley Field history, not only for the outcome of the game but for fan behavior. Then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich is shown declaring Bartman “will never get a pardon from this governor!” Priceless.

Buckner says the treatment of Bartman has been “mind-boggling” and that he, too, would have reached for the foul ball as a fan.

Besides Buckner, there’s a handful of good guys in “Catching Hell.” Gibney had an unprecedented interview with Wrigley Field security guard Erika Amundsen, who gives a compassionate account of how she got Bartman out of the neighborhood. Cubs 2003 first baseman Eric Karros reflects the right attitude, recalling how he wasn’t thinking about Bartman in the crucial Game 7, just how the Cubs were going to win. Conversely, left fielder Moises Alou says after missing the foul ball, he knew something bad was going to happen — to the extent that he and teammate Aramis Ramirez booked flights home to the Dominican Republic.

Ohio minister Kathleen Rolenz takes the scapegoat thing farther than I’ve seen, paralleling Bartman as a scapegoat with the Biblical 16th chapter of Leviticus, where a goat carries the sins of the people. And it works. It reinforces the question that Gibney asks.

It’s not: Can Chicago forgive Steve Bartman? It’s: Can Steve Bartman forgive Chicago?



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