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The “Long Gone Summer:” Where Did it Go?

Photo: @BaseballBros

There are three key facts you should know about me: I’m 21 years old, I love sports, and I really, really love baseball. In fact, I think it’s the greatest sport ever invented. Not many people still think that, and very few of them are my age. But it’s true.

I love baseball like a good friend who’s been by my side for years. I love it for its summer evening magic, the open expanse of green grass under your feet, and plenty of other romantic qualities probably quoted by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams (see last week’s post). But most of all, I love it for its ability to make any given moment feel timeless and meaningful.

Needless to say, the first summer without baseball on TV in my memory has been rough. However, I was recently reminded of that very feeling while watching “Long Gone Summer,” ESPN’s new 30 for 30 documentary on the record-breaking 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs.

I was familiar with the story: two sluggers—one a muscle-bound, all-American first baseman, the other a stocky and genial Dominican outfielder—both competing for baseball’s most sacred pedestal: the single-season home run mark of 61 set by Roger Maris 37 years prior. Both hitters ended up surpassing Maris, with McGwire whacking a whopping 70 dingers, Sosa finishing with 66, and many credited the chase for saving baseball’s popular appeal in the wake of the 1994 strike.  I was also familiar with the infamous controversy that has mired that memorable season, and those that followed, ever since: revelations of steroid abuse by many of the game’s biggest stars, including McGwire and Sosa. For a brief moment, they held the whole world’s attention. Then, at some point, we decided to pretend it never happened.

Here’s another fact for you, to put the length of time since these events occurred in context: approximately one month after the new record was set, I was born.

For most of my baseball education (which consisted of Braves broadcasts, Ken Burns documentaries, and Sports Illustrated features), I had no idea it even happened. In my mind, McGwire and Sosa were nothing more than dusty old baseball cards my dad kept in a shoebox alongside guys like Larry Walker and Sid Bream (you know, this guy!). For most of America, it would seem, the stars (or asterisks?) of the so-called “steroid era” are just that: memories collecting dust.

In recent years, the 1998 home run race has resurfaced somewhat in public discourse. In late 2015, this impassioned plea from Corinne Landrey of was one of several published stating the case for McGwire as he faced his final year of eligibility on the Hall of Fame voting ballot (he was not elected). Then in Summer 2018, as “The Race” turned 20 years old, it was revisited by sportswriters around the country with a sort of symbolic reverence that rings hollow considering the sheer neglect it has received in our collective consciousness for all these years. Frankly, I think it stinks—and I wasn’t even there!

“Long Gone Summer,” which was directed by longtime Cardinals fan A.J. Schnack, appears at first to be the latest installment in this trend—but its popularity could represent a shift in the conversation, if we’re ready for it. Much like the “Last Dance” series on Michael Jordan, the film takes a deep dive into ‘90s nostalgia as it recounts the tense months leading up to McGwire’s iconic 62nd longball. It aimed to remind us of how it felt to be caught up in a truly transformative sports moment, and at that, it succeeded. How can you watch this and not get chills?

McGwire (in red) with Sosa (blue) at Wrigley Field on the day of the record-setting blast. [Photo: @30for30 ]

It’s too late now for McGwire to see his name enshrined in Cooperstown, and Sosa’s time is running out as well (he has two years left on the ballot). I’m certainly not here to here to argue statistics about an era that I’m too young to even remember—and it may well be for the best that the juicers are looked on with a certain degree of suspicion. There’s no doubt that the steroid craze had a negative impact on the game, although it has been called into question how much of an effect the drugs really had on performance. At the end of the day, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to forget; but this part of the game’s history still has its place, and it pains me to see its significance—and lessons—disregarded.

It also strikes me as a shame to see the players who created that sense of meaning for so many people effectively blackballed from the game, à la Shoeless Joe Jackson (have we learned nothing from Field of Dreams? …then again, a cornfield in Iowa with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would be pretty cool). They ought to be recognized in some respect before their memories really are “long gone.”

Now, as Major League Baseball prepares to begin its virus-shortened, mini-season in late July, with rising labor tensions and an electric wave of young talent ready to step into the spotlight, I can’t help but feel like we’re reaching another critical point in the sport’s history. Whatever happens next, I hope we can learn from past mistakes, not ignore them; and I hope that everyone sticks along for the ride, too, just to see where it takes us.

We need it to matter, because that’s why we watch. History can happen at any moment, after all.

Article written by Wynn McDonald

You fellas have nothing to worry about, I'm a professional. @twynstagram

7 Comments for The “Long Gone Summer:” Where Did it Go?

  1. BigBlueFoo42777
    2:56 pm June 28, 2020 Permalink

    If you cheated on a test and got an a then got caught you wouldn’t be given credit for the a this is the same.

    • Wynn McDonald
      3:51 pm June 28, 2020 Permalink

      Well in my experience, most schools don’t give you the shiv and wipe your name clean out of the attendance records just for cheating on a test

  2. ClutchCargo
    3:27 pm June 28, 2020 Permalink

    The Long Gone Summer can stay gone. What I saw was something other than competition, and not good for the game.

  3. lizard king
    5:08 pm June 28, 2020 Permalink

    Baseball isn’t what it used to be in my childhood. I could name all players and actually pronounce their names. There wasn’t as much players switching teams and they played for pride in their team, not for their greedy selves.
    Bonds, Sosa, McGuire ruined the sport credibility.
    I still miss an occasional game with a beer and brat to eat.

    Gone are days of players throwing a ball to the fans now.
    Thanks China.

  4. johntyler22
    1:47 am June 29, 2020 Permalink

    When you started this article I was ready to pounce! “I’m only 21..”. I’m 42 and this was the best summer of baseball ever. I’m a lifelong Cards fan. My parents brought me up right. I grew up an hour from Chicago and hated the Cubs, outside of Mark Grace. The strike hurt us lifelong fans badly.. this was our awakening. As a college junior we took trips to St. Louis to catch this magic and I got to see 47. My parents got to see 66. The internet wasn’t as prevalent so we watched the ticker on ESPN 2 every night to see who hit a dinger. My, since deceased, Granny would record every at bat (over her stories) on VHS and would send them to me priority mail to make sure I didn’t miss anything. We left work early, gathered together, and rejoiced at every Big Mac homer and banged our head at every Sammy bomb. We didn’t care about the person .. Big Mac was known for being an ass and Sammy for his smile … but we didn’t care .. it was about the team on the front and our family and friends hanging on every pitch. They cheated .. I cried when I found out and wrote a story about heroes that always fail you .. but looking back it was about Granny calling every night. It was about mom and dad driving 7 hours just for the chance to catch history. It was about those magical two final days where 67, 68 and then 69, 70 happened. It. Was. Magic. I don’t care if they get in the hall. I don’t care if they cheated. My family and friends were all connected. Those VHS tapes sit in my basement with “McGwire 62!!” and “McGwire 70!!” scribbled on them by a loved one long since lost. When I look back it’s not on what he injected in his arm/ass .. it’s the conversations with the Gran, the 14 hour round trips, the celebrating with high fives, and the movie-like drama that unfolded that summer.

    • Wynn McDonald
      11:16 am June 29, 2020 Permalink

      Thanks for sharing this, man. That’s real. I wish I could have seen it myself

  5. Ned T.
    9:40 am June 29, 2020 Permalink

    I used to like sports, but politics destroyed everything. Never coming back, even to Rupp. I know you will miss me like you miss the dancing man.

    All lives matter, even my white life.