Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Steve Bartman: Sacrificial Lamb

Last night ESPN aired a piece of original programming, a film called Catching Hell.  It was directed by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer) who, apparently, loves colons.  I wish I could say it was a "great" documentary because it's about a story that I find absolutely fascinating, but my fascination is, I think, the thing that saved the doc from being pretty sub-par.

The story of Catching Hell is the story of Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan who may have interfered with a Cubs outfielder attempting to catch a foul ball in the 2003 NLCS.  (That's "National League Championship Series" to you, the round of the playoffs before the World Series)  The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908, are considered (by Cubs fans) to be cursed.

The Cubs were ahead 3-0 when Bartman reached over the wall in the top of the 8th inning of Game 6, but when on to lose that game and the decisive Game 7 to end their hopes of a World Series victory.  The interesting thing for us is the fans' treatment of Bartman, both in the stadium after the fateful play and in the weeks and months following the end of the series.

I won't go into the details, except to say that Bartman has been in hiding, literally, since that day 8 years ago.  He was tracked down by a journalist for this article several years ago, but that's it.  He's been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for appearances, autographs, and commercials, and has turned down every dime.  He's gotten death threats, continually.  It's a tragic story.

In the documentary, a Unitarian Universalist minister, The Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, offers a religious perspective.  She compares Bartman to a sacrificial lamb, chosen by the "congregation" as the vessel into which they could pour their sins (or in this case, their hatred).  Of course, the Rev. Ms. Rolenz is constrained by her beliefs; she can't talk about Jesus.  Being a Unitarian Universalist, she doesn't think he's anything particularly special.  The image of the crowd turning on an innocent and demanding his blood (proverbial in Bartman's case, and literal in Jesus') is a "universal" one, but it's also a particularly Christian one.  Both Bartman and Christ were shouted at, spit on, and reviled.

It is our nature to turn our guilt into shouts of "Guilty!" directed at another.  The stadium that night and the city of Chicago did it to Bartman in 2003 and the world did it to Jesus.  A righteous man makes us all the angrier about our guilt.  Here's hoping that Steve Bartman knows that Jesus went through an even more terrifying version (the weight of the sin of the world versus the scorn of a baseball stadium) of what he did, and that Jesus' sacrifice was chosen.  And not only that, but that Christ died for Bartman, who ruined a game, and for all of us, in the face of all that we ruin.

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