dir. Alex Gibney
Though it’s never ended up on a podcast episode, writing partner Roger and I have frequently clashed over sports and sports fandom. He's never been into sports and I, though I no longer follow anything, used to be a die-hard Red Sox fan. To Roger, sports fans are nothing but a bunch of aggro meat-heads indistinguishable from the torch-wielding mobs in Frankenstein movies. Having been a sports fan, however, I've always argued that most fans are just stats nerds who are no different from movie fans; they just happen to have different interests. But then I watched 30 for 30: Catching Hell, the documentary on the terror unleashed on unfortunate Cubs fan Steve Bartman by his fellow Chicagoans.
I would like to apologize to Roger. You were right. I was wrong.
Actually, that ain’t entirely true. The awful behavior exhibited by Cubs fans toward poor Bartman isn’t exclusive to sports fandom; any group activity imbued with an irrational, unwarranted level of emotional investment will inspire the same level of assholism (politics, anyone?). But sports sure do seem especially suited to bringing out the worst in people.
But first a little backstory on me (oh God, here we go again). Back in October of 2003 I moved to a shitty apartment in a not so nice area of Brooklyn. This was the first time I moved to Brooklyn—it was done without much forethought and I ended up moving back to Maine by month’s end. But I was hopeful at first. Sure, moving to New York sans job was a little worrying, but this new experience was just so exciting. I had such optimism. I knew it just had to work.
Mostly though, I was excited that the Red Sox had made it to the post-season; it really looked like they had a shot this year. Everything was turning up Millhouse. Many times before I had promised myself not to get emotionally invested in the Red Sox, because I always knew I was just bound for disappointment. But this year was different. This year was always different. I knew it just had to work. Cut to game 7: a rematch between Pedro and Clemens, the pitchers of Game 3. We were gonna get revenge: for that previous game, for 1999, for 1978, for...for everything. But then Grady Little left a tiring Pedro to pitch in the eighth. More Yankees runs. Tied game. Extra innings. And then Aaron Boone happened. Every resident in my New York apartment building erupted with joy. I cried.
Compounding my pain was the fact that the Cubs had just lost their series the night before. I was so hoping for a Cubs-Red Sox World Series. How beautiful would that have been—these two long-losing teams meeting in the World Series for the first time since the last Red Sox win of 1918. But alas, it was not to be. The Cubs blew a lead in the eighth inning of Game 6 and then went on to lose Game 7 against The Marlins. What could have been historic became a Marlins-Yankees World Series—the least interesting combination of teams possible. Fuck it.
I moved back to Maine a couple days after the Marlins beat the Yankees. Sure, I was happy the Yankees lost but what the fuck did it matter? It didn’t change the fact that my guys lost too. I didn’t wanna care anymore. I had to focus on important shit. The next 12 months of my life was an eighties style montage of training for a move back to New York (i.e. saving money). Cut to the 2004 post-season: The Yankees and the Red Sox meet again in the ALCS...and the Red Sox blow the first three games. I was right not to get emotionally invested again. I knew it, they were just gonna blow it again. I was still focusing on New York. My roommate and I were gonna make a trip to the city to go apartment hunting soon.
And then the Red Sox won a game. So what, so they’ll lose the series 4-1, whoop-de-shit. And then they won another game. You’re not gonna fool me this time, Sox; I ain’t gonna start to care again. And then another game. Motherfuckers tied the series. Fuck. Goddamnit, I care again. And then, and then...holy shit, we smoked the Yankees. This couldn’t be real. I would never experience that kind of joy again. We were going to the World Series, but I didn’t even care—we beat the goddamn Yankees.
My roommate and I had planned our New York trip for what would turn out to be the last two days of the World Series. But those games, as I said, seemed more of an afterthought, postscript to a stunning victory; so we didn't really mind missing them.
On the last day, when it seemed our apartment hunt was for naught, after visiting a series of shitholes, we finally made it the last location, a perfect spot. We signed immediately. On the train back to New Jersey—where we were crashing for the night—the conductor announced that the curse of the Bambino had just been lifted. It was a good day.
And you know what? That was the last day I cared about sports. It turns out I didn’t so much want the Red Sox to win as I wanted to root for a time I knew would always sadden me. I was addicted to disappointment. After winning, baseball seemed so cheapened, so crass—how did Yankees fans deal with having to win all the time? Yuck. Why did I even care about sports to begin with? What was the point of any of this shit? A weight was lifted. I was no longer cursed with having to care about sports.
But to go back to Bartman—ostensibly the subject of this post—back in 2003, I was definitely aware of the incident (a foul ball goes into the stands; Moises Alou reaches over to catch it; numerous fans—unable to see Alou on the other side of the wall—reach for the ball, and Steve Bartman happens to be the one fan unfortunate enough to make contact with the ball, spoiling an easy out), but, like I said, at the time I was focused on the Red Sox. I would have liked to have seen the Cubs win it, and I felt bad for scapegoat Bartman, but it wasn’t the first thing on my mind.
Watching this documentary, I was really reminded of the irrational way sports fan can attach themselves to the kind of shit that ultimately doesn’t matter. And Bartman wasn’t even the reason the Cubs lost. He didn’t cause them, after all, to give up eight runs in one inning. Also, as with scapegoat Bill Buckner’s ’86 Red Sox, the Cubs had yet another game to lose. Bartman was just a convenient target for irrational anger. It couldn’t, after all, be the case that another team just happened to outgun the Cubs. But even if Bartman had been the cause of the Cubs loss—which he wasn’t—what the fuck would it have mattered anyway? It’s just a game. Of course, as I discovered with my Red Sox, it isn’t with losing but winning that you realize how pointless this shit is. Here’s to hoping the Cubs win another series, and douchebags learn to leave Bartman the fuck alone.
Also, Fuck people. Fuck people. Fuck people. And fuck people.