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ESPN Films Catching Hell – a review


If you've never seen this shot before, no worries you'll see it 1000 more times before the end of the documentary. Photo unknown via

After the initial run of ESPN Films’ 30-for-30 series proved to be so successful, the producers of the series got approval to continue the series (albeit not using the original name) in a recurring ESPN Films Presents series of sports documentaries.

The first in the post 30-for-30 series was The Fab Five, a great documentary about the freshman class who took over the University of Michigan’s program in 1991 and ended up playing for two successive national championships.  I thought the documentary was great and showcased how articulate and thoughtful Jalen Rose really is, even if the documentary was really hampered by the lack of involvement from its main protagonist Chris Webber. (The brew-ha-ha about Rose’s comments w/r/t Grant Hill and the Duke players was overblown, and taken out of the context of the flow of the film.)

However, the one documentary that people kept talking about when it came to the post-30 for 30 run was the Steve Bartman documentary.  It was scheduled to run with the first 30 episodes but its Director (Alex Gibney, who is best known for his Enron documentary) asked for more time.  So Catching Hell became a showpiece of ESPN Films on-going documentary presentations and debuted on 9/27/11.

My thoughts: I was a bit disappointed, given the lead-up and all that I had heard about the documentary.  It was too long; they could have fit the content into at least a 90 minute presentation and not stretched it for 2 hours.  By the end of the 2 hour presentation we had probably seen a replay of the play in one form or the other at least 100 times and I remember saying to myself, “ok enough is enough.”

The “scapegoat” theme was a good one, and was one of the salient take-away points of the documentary, but for the film to spend so much time on the Bill Buckner/Red Sox incident was disappointing.  I think its fair to say that the Buckner play is so well known that time was probably “wasted” going over it in such detail, again.  We didn’t learn anything new from the documentary on the play (except perhaps that Buckner himself noted the probable reason why he missed the ball).  I thought the film could have just covered the play and talked about the Buckner-as-scapegoat aftermath and moved on.

The stories from the security guards were fascinating; Bartman was not only taken from his seat under guard but was disguised to leave the stadium and then ended up in someone’s home before getting a cab home. Interviews with some of the fans in the area were well done and offered some insight to the play.  The “never before seen footage” was also pretty cool, even if most of it came from a budding filmmaker of his own making who probably should have been thinking about making this film himself instead of giving up his film after all this time.

However; the film failed to interview Steve Bartman himself.  It also didn’t interview the guy who actually GOT the ball and celebrated as any normal fan would have done, but certainly pointed out that all the outrage in the crowd and the town was pointed at Bartman and not the fan who eventually got the ball (and later sold it for well in excess of $100,000).  Also, the filmmaker failed to interview the two people who accompanied Bartman to the game (apparently they were his guests, as Bartman had purchased 3 seats), but did note that these people visibly distanced themselves from Bartman at the time and then abandoned him once all the melee started.  Nice friends.

The closest it got to Bartman was interviewing an ESPN feature writer who was assigned to track Bartman down and finally get his story … the writer described his pursuit of Bartman (who by this point, and to this day, clearly wants nothing to do with the situation) and his approach, having stalked the poor guy and staked out his office for 8 hours.  At least the writer showed remorse for his unethical behavior, and the story never came to fruition.

In the end; I guess I wanted more “meat.”  Perhaps the over-hyping of the film via promos and commercials led to my disappointment.  I would have least expected Bartman to actually appear on film.  Maybe in the end, there’s just so much you can make of one baseball play.

Written by Todd Boss

October 11th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

6 Responses to 'ESPN Films Catching Hell – a review'

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  1. They’re probably going to harass him until the Cubs wim a World series.
    I have to say, if he really wants people to leave him alone, he could always move. It’s a great big country out there.

    Mark L

    11 Oct 11 at 6:11 pm

  2. I’ve always said it was the stupid headphones that did Bartman in. They made him look like a clueless moron who wasn’t even paying attention to the game.

    Having grown up a White Sox fan, I’ll buy him a beer if I ever run across him in a bar. :)


    11 Oct 11 at 9:13 pm

  3. that fact (headphones) was mentioned as a contributing factor … in reality he was listening to the radio broadcast because he was an uber-fan. Bartman still lives in Chicago and has never once profited from the experience. Honestly I think he’d go a long way towards clearing his name if he did some appearances and showed that he’s a normal guy who made a mistake like any fan would. I’d have cashed in for sure, knowing what a hellstorm my life would have become.

    Todd Boss

    12 Oct 11 at 5:22 pm

  4. Agreed; the buckner story has now become a nice footnote given their wins over the past few years. Sad part is that Bartman shouldn’t HAVE to move; he was a major fan, a native chicagoian. That’s what sucks about the story. He got scapegoated for costing the team an out; nobody talks about Prior falling apart, or the 5 bounce-double play ball that would have ended the inning, or the bullpen implosion that led to 8 runs … or the fact that the team HAD THE LEAD in game 7 and blew it as well. None of that was on Bartman; that’s all on the players.

    Todd Boss

    12 Oct 11 at 5:24 pm

  5. You took the words right out of my mouth Todd. God fobid that the team gets the blame for being choking dogs. The Cubs could have still won that game and game 7. Nothing in this world is preordained (except in the minds of feverish Cubs and Boxsox fans). Go CARDS!!

    Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

    13 Oct 11 at 8:35 am

  6. […] is an ongoing series of personal reviews of ESPN film’s newly released documentaries.  See here for some previous […]

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