Chicago Major League Baseball Northside

Cubs: ESPN’s ‘Long Gone Summer’ was a Missed Opportunity.

ESPN missed an opportunity to fill a baseball void with their accounting of the 1998 Sosa-McGwire home run race.

With Mom and Dad still fighting, the baseball world was once again looking for something to fill the void. On Sunday, ESPN aired another in their fantastic ‘30 for 30′ series, entitled ‘Long Gone Summer‘.

This documentary focuses on a fascinating chapter in baseball history: the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. While it was a fun nostalgia trip, it really neglected to tell the more interesting story.

By choosing to dedicate the majority of the film to the highest of highs surrounding the medically enhanced assault on the records books, and relegating the fall out of the steroid scandal to only the final 15 minutes or so, Director A. J. Schnack’s documentary feels incomplete. The most riveting part of the story is just tacked on at the end, and we’re left feeling only half full from the meal.

I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t enthralled by what Big Mac and Sosa were doing that summer. I was 14 years old and living in that weird transitional time between middle and high school. Three years prior, I had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, I was always a south sider, but without access to the games locally and with MLB Extra Innings unavailable to me, my White Sox fandom kind of fell by the wayside.

When the home run chase got hot in June and the Cubs were getting coverage, it was nice to see my hometown nationally, even if it wasn’t my team in particular. (But let’s be honest, other than Frank Thomas and Albert Belle’s BONKERS second half in 1998, those White Sox weren’t much to write home about.)

Like everyone, I remained blissfully ignorant as to what was really happening. I can remember the Andro in McGwire’s locker back in 1998. We all looked the other way and the news cycle on it lasted about 30 seconds. Unlike Sosa who remains frustratingly evasive and cagey about the whole thing, McGwire actually came clean years later, but in the film brings up the same line of “defense” that every player from the steroid era brings up: that they didn’t test for it, and that everyone was doing it. All of this is boilerplate and known by even the most casual baseball fan. A great documentary teaches you something new.

To just blow past the 2005 Congressional Hearings to serve the feel-good story was a travesty. This hearing had everything: McGwire’s statement, the heretofore effervescent “Mr. Personality” Sosa having his lawyer do the talking for him, Rafael Palmeiro’s finger point. I could watch an entire documentary series about just that hearing and to just gloss over the entire thing was disappointing.

We know that baseball needed the kick in the butt that chasing Roger Maris’ home run record provided after the 1994 strike. Lord knows we will probably need something similar here in a few years if the labor Titanic keeps heading for the iceberg. But, I had really hoped this documentary would have dug deeper into just how much of a price we paid for digging the long ball.  

Random thoughts:

  • We’ve all seen the change Barry Bonds went though in retirement. McGwire looks pretty much the same, just now he’s like, your friends swole older Dad.
  • Footage from 1998, which really isn’t that long ago, looks like footage from 1968 when comparing Standard Def to 4K ultra HD.
  • Ken Griffey Jr.s swing is the best swing in major league history. I don’t think anyone will top it. I also maintain that if he could have stayed healthy, he would have easily broken 61 and 755. No doubt in my mind.

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