REVIEW: LONG GONE SUMMER (2020)

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“I say flatly, and with complete assurance, the statistics, and in some cases, the records of people who are known juicers, are inauthentic.”

My father was 9 years old when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in 1961 – a hit that would break Babe Ruth’s well-established record of 60 in a single season. Flash forward 37 years, and there I was, an 8-year-old kid, watching my very own home run race between the St. Louis Cardinal’s, Mark McGwire, and the Chicago Cubs’, Sammy Sosa. My father and I sat there, watching the coverage — the glow of the television splashing across our faces. And with the crack of the bat, McGwire officially broke Maris’ record… but that wouldn’t be the end of story. Long Gone Summer, a new episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, examines the 1998 home run race, which ignited life back into the sport of baseball – following the story all the way to the aftermath of the now tainted record.

Long Gone Summer showcases the captivating 1998 home run race with interviews from fellow players, announcers, television journalists, and beat reporters working in and around baseball during that time. But more importantly, interviews from McGwire and Sosa. We haven’t heard much from McGwire or Sosa in years, and getting their personal take brings a whole new perspective on the events from that summer. Neither player has been heard of in years, and once the race was over, both players never did much to keep people interested in their careers. But my interest in the subject didn’t come from the race itself, but in the aftermath surrounding the players’ use of steroids. Long Gone Summer vaguely touches on that, once in the middle, and then again at the end — never placing blame on one set of individuals. As I watched more of the documentary, I realized the sole purpose of the documentary was not to divulge the dirt that has since been said about these players. The purpose was to tell about a time when baseball brought a nation together. When everyone stopped what they were doing – baseball fan or not – to see if someone would break the record.

This documentary will make you miss the magic, not only of baseball, but of sports in general. The power, and escape, that sports creates when everything else seems bleak. As for McGwire, he was a talented baseball player who could hit the ball at great distances. Could he have hit 70 home runs in a single season without the help of P.E.Ds? Probably, but I guess we’ll never know.

As a kid who had Maris’ poster up in her room for the better part of 7 years, I believe you know where I stand on the issue of performance enhancing drugs tainting the record. I believe, whole-heartedly, that the home run record still belongs to Maris, and it shall remain with him until someone else breaks it — fairly. With everything that’s been uncovered, it’s been hard for me to fully embrace the joy that came from that summer. But after watching, Long Gone Summer, I – as I’m sure many who feel the same way – may learn to except those events as uplifting and entertaining, and may finally be able to appreciate the 1998 home run race as just that.

Long Gone Summer

Directed by: AJ Schnack

Starring: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa

Rating:

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