On Sunday night, Long Gone Summer, the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, aired on ESPN in the United States and TSN in Canada. I had previously looked forward to it for a chance to relieve the excitement of the 1998 season and hoped for some discussion about the Steroid Era and its impact on today’s game.
After reading an advance review from Awful Announcing, I was aware the film would be heavier on McGwire content and light on hard-hitting commentary and interviews. This makes more sense after learning that the director, AJ Schnack, is a lifelong Cardinals fan. I was prepared for this given that McGwire was the winner of the home run chase.
However, I believe the director’s Cardinals bias and lack of knowledge about Chicago led to some sloppy filmmaking decisions that detracted from my viewing experience. The film featured stock footage from the 1998 season for the home run highlights but was otherwise filled with video from St. Louis and Chicago in the present day.
I noticed footage from Wrigley Field and neighborhood bars featuring prominent Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo jerseys. I also spotted multiple cuts from the Michigan Avenue location of the Billy Goat Tavern, which is associated with the Cubs by way of the Curse of the Billy Goat but not located near Wrigley Field. The Billy Goat is more of a place for downtown office workers to drink their lunch than a sports bar.
In fact, the footage from the Billy Goat looked more like the typical “Chicago” stock video you can see during a national broadcast of any Big 4 game with a Chicago contender than an actual Cubs bar.
Speaking of poor image choices, some eagle-eyed viewers found time-stamped stills that were very obviously not from 1998 (the right field video board was installed at Wrigley during the 2015 season).
By way of contrast, please note this photo which I took, to the best of my recollection, at Wrigley Field on August 20, 1998. (I remember attending a game at Wrigley in 1998 without a Sammy homer but which did include a grand slam by Glenallen Hill. It was likely during August as the school year in my hometown had not yet begun.)
Long Gone Summer is a major let-down from The Last Dance, which featured game footage and video from the 1990s as well as iconic music from the 1980s and 90s. Unfortunately, the choices for video and music used in Long Gone Summer just appear lazy by comparison. The score to Long Gone Summer was composed by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who hails from Belleville, Illinois, which is Cardinals country. While selecting a son of Cardinals Nation was an appropriate choice, the score sounded very repetitive to me. (Admittedly, I am not a Wilco fan.)
I was also disappointed that there was a brief audio clip of a home run call from longtime Cubs radio play-by-play broadcaster Pat Hughes along with a still photo of Hughes in the booth without any text explaining Hughes’ position and tenure with the Cubs.
The filmmakers spent at least an hour interviewing Chip Caray, the grandson of legendary Cubs TV broadcaster Harry Caray, but apparently did not interview Hughes at all. Hughes has spent 24 seasons in the Cubs booth versus Chip Caray’s seven. His thoughts on Sammy Sosa and the 1998 season would have been much more worthwhile viewing given his history as the Cubs’ longest-tenured radio play-by-play broadcaster. Basic research into the Cubs’ media market would have revealed Hughes is much more significant to the Cubs fanbase than Chip Caray.
While the NBA and NHL are expected to resume competition later this summer, there will be a void in the sports broadcasting schedule for at least another six weeks. While it’s unlikely that any new films will live up to The Last Dance, I hope any new documentaries to air during this time period will be of better quality than Long Gone Summer.