I got duped. Bamboozled. Snookered.
“Here,” said my editor, “watch this and write a review of it. It debuts Tuesday night at 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN.”
“Sure,” I said. “What’s it about?”
“The Cubs,” he said coyly. “Remember the name Steve Bartman?”
I did. Knew the name well, in fact. He was the poor soul who became a scapegoat for the Cubs’ 2003 playoff loss to the Florida Marlins in the NLCS.
“Always felt bad for the guy,” I said. “I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan — we know all about scapegoats and silly curses. Happy to watch it.”
But I got hoodwinked. Conned. Duped.
Two and a half minutes in — 150 darn seconds — and what do my eyes see? A crude re-enactment of the ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs and with it, the Red Sox World Series hopes in 1986. I was 16 at the time of that game. It stuck with me 18 long years — haunted me really. Haunted all of us Sox fans.
And here — even after two World Series titles in ’04 and ’07 — I was being subjected to the gruesome memory of a weak grounder sliding past Buckner’s glove. And then soon, thereafter, the real thing — the grainy video of the actual play. And then Buckner himself — modern day Bill with the bushy moustache and the Tom Selleck looks. He looks great really == relieved, even.
You’d think I’d be over Buckner by now. Time heals all wounds, yada yada. Buckner has been re-embraced by the Red Sox Nation. He’s found peace — not to mention a hilarious turn on Curb Your Enthusiasm — and all has been forgiven. In most ways I am “over” him.”
So I kept watching Catching Hell.
Got wrapped up in it, to be honest. Director Alex Gibney (a Boston-native) weaves the ballad of Buckner into the saga of Bartman and it’s fascinating viewing. Similarities and coincidences abound as Bartman’s unfortunate attempt at a foul ball steamrolls into a morality play about the sometimes ugly nature of humans (not to mention the awful singing of the late Bernie Mac).
But it wasn’t the memory of Buckner that had me cursing my editor and this assignment.
It was the deep and revealing introduction to Bartman — even without his participation in the documentary — that got my goose (or goat, in the Cubs’ case). It’s the callousness of the Cubs fans who forced Bartman into a recluse’s existence. It’s the Shakespearean tragedy of quiet and presumably good man who happened to do what just about anyone in his seat (Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113) would have done: attempt to catch a foul ball.
The problem is that I — a lifelong Red Sox fan who has had all my cursed memories removed by two spectacular titles — have now been changed by this poignant and well-executed film.
Bartman is no longer a just a name to me. He’s a cause. He’s the poster boy for getting wrongs righted.
I no longer want the Red Sox to win their next title.
I want the Cubs to win theirs so that Steve Bartman can have that same look of relief that Bill Buckner does. I’m again a fan of a so-called “cursed” team.
Thanks a lot, Editor Guy. Can’t wait for my next assignment.