Entering 1998, no MLB player had ever hit more than 61 home runs in a season. Then Mark McGwire cranked 70 dingers, and Sammy Sosa hit 66 himself. Heck, Ken Griffey Jr. hit 56 homers too.
The chase to break Roger Maris’ home run record was *the* story in sports. You could find a graphic tracking the home run chase on the front page of the USA Today daily. ESPN frequently had live cut-ins for McGwire and Sosa at-bats, and televised games down the stretch specifically to follow the chase.
The 1998 season was as fun as baseball has ever been, and gave MLB desperately needed positive attention following the 1994-95 strike. At the time, McGwire, Sosa, and co. were praised and viewed as being baseball saviors.
But most people now have conflicted feelings when thinking of the 1998 season, and the word “steroids” (or PEDS, performance-enhancing drugs, juicing, etc) immediately comes to mind.
So, it will be very interesting to see just how ESPN’s upcoming 30 for 30, Long Gone Summer, portrays McGwire, Sosa, and the home run chase. Will the documentary just look back at how damn entertaining the 1998 season was? Or will it go deeply into how steroids have changed our perception of the season and ask the tough questions to McGwire and Sosa?
ESPN released a first-look trailer on Friday for Long Gone Summer. Check it out:
An ESPN press release says that Long Gone Summer will have in-depth interviews with McGwire and Sosa, and looks back at the 1998 season’s “exhilarating highlights, massive impact and lasting complications.”
The press release concludes with, “But when the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout the game came to light in the years that followed, the thrill was gone. Or was it? The PEDs might have cheapened the accomplishment, but the excitement at the time of the chase was real and undeniable.”
ESPN’s new 30 for 30 film “Long Gone Summer,” which airs Sunday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET, looks back at the twists and turns of the 1998 season — its exhilarating highlights, massive impact and lasting complications — including in-depth interviews with McGwire and Sosa talking at length for the first time in more than two decades.
Entering the season, the sport was still stinging from the labor battles that had cut the 1994 campaign short and forced the cancellation of the World Series. But when McGwire, who had hit 58 home runs in 1997, got off to a torrid start in ’98, and was joined on the home run leaderboard that June by the red-hot Sosa, the country became enthralled, desperate for updates. The race for 61 was on.
Both players would shatter the mark, with McGwire reaching 70 homers on the last weekend of the season. But when the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout the game came to light in the years that followed, the thrill was gone. Or was it? The PEDs might have cheapened the accomplishment, but the excitement at the time of the chase was real and undeniable.
Long Gone Summer is directed by AJ Schnack (Kurt Cobain: About a Son) and will premiere Sunday, June 14 at 9 p.m. ET. It’s fitting that the documentary premieres in June, the month Sosa hit 20 home runs and made McGwire aware that he existed in 1998, according to the trailer.