Following the success of The Last Dance, the hit documentary detailing the history of Michael Jordan’s final championship season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98, ESPN will be airing Long Gone Summer, a 30 for 30 film about another 1998 professional sports season, on June 14. The season in question is perhaps the best-known of all 1998 professional sports seasons in North America, the home run chase between Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals for the single-season home run record then held by Roger Maris.
I feel the title of the documentary is especially appropriate in the current context given the civil unrest currently gripping the United States and the increasingly remote possibility that there will be an MLB season this year following the COVID-19 suspension.
The “first-look” trailer dropped on Friday (see below for trailer). Click here to read a preview and write-up of the trailer by Matt Clapp at Awful Announcing.
As long-time Cubs fans will remember, Sosa ended up coming in second in the home run chase but finished first in National League MVP voting, leading the Cubs to their first playoff appearance since 1989.
I think it will be worthwhile to take a look back at the 1998 season and its aftermath for comparison with the present moment. Sosa and McGwire were credited with reviving interest in MLB after the 1994 baseball strike soured public opinion, but the players’ image became tarnished after their use of performance-enhancing drugs, like androstenedione, came to light. Sosa and McGwire’s record-setting performance became emblematic of what is now known as the “Steroid Era.”
Eleven other MLB players hit 40 or more bombs in 1998. It is now conventional wisdom that this was due to widespread PED usage, even though there was discussion on the field and in the media about a juiced ball contributing to the elevated home run totals.
Fallout from the Steroid Era continues to influence today’s game and the perception of players who have used PEDs. PED usage is now prohibited under MLB’s drug policy, which was adopted in 2006. Known steroid users like McGwire and alleged users like Sosa have been shut out from election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, even though these former division rivals provided one of the most entertaining and memorable baseball seasons of recent decades.
In addition, MLB faces another lost season after COVID-19 shut down Spring Training. The owners and players’ union have yet to come to terms on a plan for resuming the 2020 season after owners demanded salary concessions in addition to a pro-rated salary which players had accepted in March. Is MLB in a position to recover from a lost season, and what will it take to “save baseball” once again if there is no MLB competition in 2020?
Featured Image: AhmadDanialZulhilmi / Shutterstock.com