“Catching Hell,” another of ESPN’s 30 on 30 episodes about the “Steve Bartman Incident,” is another fascinating study of people.
Sometimes, there’s just no explanation for people. In this case, why would an entire group of them – Chicago Cubs’ fans – want to make life so miserable for Bartman, who in 2003 made contact with a foul ball down the left-field line at Wrigley Field before the ball entered the glove of Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. At least we think it would have entered Alou’s glove. Remember, he wasn’t much of an outfielder.
Chicago led Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins, 3-0, at the time. After the Bartman incident, the Marlins went on an eight-run, eighth-inning binge to win the game and the next night Florida beat the Cubs to win the series.
Bartman, a scapegoat for Cubs fans, has been in hiding ever since. Nobody has been able to get him to come up for an interview or to sign autographs or to cash in on the millions of dollars that surely would await him to tell his story eight years later.
He and Billy Sianis’ Billy goat are the two mammals most closely associated with the Cubs’ almost indescribable futility. It looked like 2003 was the Cubs’ year, just as it looked like 1945 was the Cubs’ year before the billy goat got involved. But because of Bartman, many Cubs fans believe, 2003 wasn’t to be.
There’s another theory, though, that has validity.
What about the error on a double-play ball by Alex S. Gonzalez in that fateful eighth inning? With the Cubs leading 3-1, runners at first and second and one out, Florida’s Miguel Cabrera bounced a ball to Gonzalez, who had to move slightly to his left. Cabrera isn’t a speedster now and he wasn’t one then, so Gonzalez had plenty of time to start a double play.
Instead, he booted the ball to load the bases. Derrek Lee followed with a double to drive in two and tie the score, knocking out starting pitcher Mark Prior. Florida went on to score five more runs.
Why isn’t Gonzalez as vilified in Chicago as Bartman?
It’s interesting to note that Gonzalez played only 34 games for the Cubs in 2004 before being traded to Montreal. Noted as a fine defensive shortstop, Gonzalez’s defense took a noticeable dive after the 2003 NLCS.
During the 2003 season, the 30-year-old Gonzalez made only 10 errors and had a superb fielding percentage of .984 in 625 chances.
In the 212 games Gonzalez played from 2004-06, his fielding percentage dipped to .953 and he made 28 errors in 599 chances.
What did that booted double play do to Gonzalez’s psyche? There’s evidence that it did a lot.
Yet that’s not what the media focuses on. Bartman is the big story and I’m not going to pretend I don’t have a fascination with the subject matter. I do. I was riveted by the “Catching Hell” episode and continue to be amazed at how Bartman, who reportedly is living in Chicago and working at a job, continues to stay out of the spotlight.
As I watched, though, I frequently wondered about Gonzalez. Where is he? What is he doing? Is he haunted by that error? Does he consider himself to be lucky that the Bartman incident overwhelmed his culpability in the Marlins’ rally? What are his feelings for Bartman?
If he had made the play, chances are there would be no interest in the Bartman story. Instead, eight years later, it’s the subject of an ESPN two-hour documentary.