Two Quick Reflections on “Catching Hell”

A couple of nights ago I watched a 2 hour documentary chronicling the famous “Steve Bartman Incident” from the 2003 Chicago Cubs vs. Florida Marlins NLCS game 6.  In case you are clueless, Steve Bartman tried to catch a foul ball hit to left field and prevented Moises Alou from making the catch.  The Marlins went on to score about 26 runs in that inning and essentially ended the Cub’s hopes a World Series showdown.  You can read all the details on the Steve Bartmant Incident Wiki page (yes, there is a wiki page devoted to it). 

To make a long story short, Steve Bartman’s life has been a living hell ever since.  He has virtually disappeared from all public contact, it is rumored he can’t use a credit card, and the outrage by the fans worldwide resulted in multiple death threats and public scrutiny the likes of which no person should endure; least of all a die-hard Cubs fan who tried to catch a foul ball – something every single person in the ball park that night would have tried to do if they had been sitting in Bartman’s now infamous seat in Wrigley Field.  Watching this documentary, appropriately titled “Catching Hell”, left me with all kinds of thoughts.  Here are the two most important:

1.  Humanity is depraved.  We are by nature children of wrath.  The Steve Bartman incident can serve as a wonderful apologetic to the truthfulness of Scripture’s teaching about humanity.  We of course see much worse things – war, murder, suicide, violence – but all those things we can compartmentalize to a certain degree.  War is terrible, but some might argue necessary for the greater good.  Murder is horrific, but it is typically limited to a single individual who for some troubling reason has taken another life.  And so on.  We get no such answers for the Steve Bartman incident.  Here is a group of humans, numbering some 40,000, the majority of which are hurling insults, cursing, throwing beer, screaming violent words, and scaring this lifelong Cubs fan to death.  There is no excuse.  And there is no explanation aside from sin and depravity.  When I see something like the Steve Bartman incident, I am reminded that every single one of us, myself at the top of the list, are prone to the destructive forces of sin.  There was no “greater good” here nor was there just a deranged lunatic on the scene.  This was a mob of 40,000 people who hated an innocent young man because he did what anyone of them would have done – he tried to catch a foul ball.  And because of that, his life was forever changed.  Just a blip on the evolutionary advancement of humans no longer acting like savage animals?  I think not.  This is humanity at its very core – it is who we have been forever; sinful, depraved, and in need of a savior.

2.  Bartman is often times referred to as a “scapegoat.”  As a matter of fact, the documentary was really centered on the theme of a sports fan’s need to find a scapegoat when things go horribly wrong.  There was a brief interlude toward the end of the documentary where a minister was describing the Old Testament understanding of scapegoat (a portion of the documentary that probably left most baseball fans thinking, “who cares?).  Unfortunately, either the minister didn’t come full circle or it was edited out, but the whole point of the Old Testament scapegoat is to point forward to the ultimate scapegoat, Jesus Christ.  Christ was the innocent one who took on himself all the insults, pain, and death that we rightly deserved.  Except in the case of Christ, he truly was completely innocent.  Although Bartman was certainly a scapegoat, the fact is that he did, in fact, try to catch the ball and thus prevented the catch from being made.  All of us would have done it.  But still, it did happen.  For Christ, there was no guilt.  No offense.  No wrong doing.  Just perfect innocence being slaughtered for us.  If nothing else, the Steve Bartman documentary should cause all Christians to turn off the television, close our eyes, and say “Thank You.”  Thank you for the cross.     

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