Long Gone Summer: The 1998 Home Run Chase

Mark McGwire being interviewed in Long Gone Summer. Photo credit: Liliana Soto.

Long Gone Summer is a 30 for 30 retrospective that looks back on the 1998 Home Run Chase that saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa facing off.

While the home run record is now clouded by steroids, it wasn’t like this in 1998.  No, baseball needed a story to get people back in the game.  After the 1994 strike shortened the season, baseball fans were hurting.  The drama brought some much-needed excitement back into the game.  For a moment in history, all eyes were on Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr.

Up until Sosa’s 20-homer month in June, he wasn’t even a thought at all.  After all, he was sitting on 13 homers at the end of May!  All eyes in Chicago were on rookie sensation Kerry Wood especially after a 20-strikeout game in May.  By the end of July, it was apparent that it was a 3-way chase for the record.  Entering August, it was anyone’s lead for the taking.  Griffey soon fell out of the race after going on a slump.  Entering the month of September, the battle would be between McGwire and Sosa.  As we all know, Mark McGwire hit 70 homers to Sammy Sosa’s 66.  After falling off the pace in August, Griffey would finish the year with 56 homers.

Documentary filmmaker AJ Schnack brings us in-depth interviews with both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa talking about the season.  One of the things that I didn’t know about McGwire–nor did former Athletics/Cardinals manager Tony La Russa–was that the slugger would write down his hopeful numbers before the season and lock them in a safe until the end of the season.

More than the interviews with those two players, we get interviews with their managers, teammates, baseball historians, beat writers, and other notable commentators.  Through archive footage, we’re able to go inside the booth with Jack Buck and Mike Shannon during the fateful season.  In three different booths, you had Jack Buck, Joe Buck, and Chip Caray.  Former Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray died in February around the start of Spring Training.  Let me tell you, I got chills just watching McGwire launch 62 right over the fence.  Seeing the hit and then watching the replay by way of the other commentators brought all the nostalgia back right then and there.

As far as the archive footage itself, it’s sadly not in HD.  It also shows how far technology has come in the last 22 years!  I can’t complain.  One area that Schnack is able to appeal to both St. Louis and Chicago fans is having Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy compose the music for Long Gone Summer.

It needs to be noted that the film was supposed to premiere during the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.  Because of the virus, the film’s premiere got cancelled.  Furthermore, ESPN would schedule the film’s television premiere for June 14 while AJ Schnack was still hard at work with cutting the film into its final cut.

While steroids will forever plague the season and record, Long Gone Summer recalls a time when fans became passionate for baseball once more.

FEATURING:  Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Todd McFarlane, Chip Caray, Ben Lindbergh, Bob Costas, Monica Adams, Mike Bush, Bernie Miklasz, TJ Quinn, Tony La Russa, Rick Hummel, Ray Lankford, Joe Walsh, George Will, Fred Mitchell, Paul Sullivan, Steve Trachsel, Carrie Muskat, Kerry Wood, Roy Vaughn, Dave McKay, Jim Riggleman, Rebecca Polihronis, Bill DeWitt, Mike Claiborne, Jenifer Langosch, Tim Forneris, Roger Maris Jr., Mike Shannon, Jay Jaffe, Brian Jordan, Dave Kaplan, Kurt Schlogl, Walt Jocketty

Long Gone Summer airs June 14 at 9 PM ET on ESPN and ESPN2. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.